Secondary Colors: Create Striking Color Schemes

Secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors. You can use secondary colors to add depth and interest to your interior design and create the mood you desire. Secondary colors connect the distance between primary colors and create a striking contrast in color schemes. These colors also provide a useful way to alter the temperature of primary colors.

Secondary Colors

The Basics of Secondary Colors

What are the secondary colors? This depends on what model you use. There are several distinct color models that produce different types of secondary colors. Experts define these color models in terms of whether they are additive or subtractive color systems.

Additive and Subtractive Color Models

Additive Secondary Colors: RGB Model

The RGB model is what experts term an additive color model. This means that you can create color by adding light together in various ways to produce distinct hues. This is the model that technicians use for digital displays. Red, green, and blue are the primary colors in this model. Together, these three colors produce white light. The secondary colors in this model are produced by mixing the primary colors together. Red and green produce yellow, green and blue produce cyan, and red and blue produce magenta.

Subtractive Secondary Colors

We use subtractive color or subtractive color mixing models to define colors that are in physical mediums such as print, textiles, or paint. These mediums display color by absorbing the color waves rather than reflecting them. We see distinct colors in these mediums because as the pigments absorb the light, they remove certain wavelengths associated with other colors. The remaining light reaches the observer’s eye as a particular color. There are two types of subtractive color models.

1. CMY or CMYK Color Model

The CMY or the CMYK model is the model that technicians use for color printing. This model works by partially or completely covering colors on the white background. In other words, the ink in particular colors reduces the light that is reflected back to the viewer’s eye resulting in the desired color. In this model, the primary colors are cyan, magenta, yellow, and sometimes black. The combination of all three colors together is black. Red, green, and blue are the secondary colors that you produce when you mix each of the primary colors with another primary color.

2. RYB Color Model

The RYB model, standing for red, yellow, and blue, is the model with which most people are familiar. This is another subtractive color model and the one that artists and interior decorators use. In this model, the primary colors mix together to form orange, green, and purple. This model is the most useful for our purposes because this is the basis for the color wheel. The color wheel contains the roadmap for how we can best use secondary colors to create striking color schemes.

Creating Secondary Colors

By now, we know that mixing two primary colors produces a secondary color, but you can mix these colors in different ways. Mixing two primary colors in equal parts produces a basic secondary color.

In the traditional RYB model, mixing red and yellow produces orange, mixing yellow and blue together produces green, and mixing blue and red together produces purple. Yet, you can alter this formula to produce a secondary color that is more nuanced and leans in a cool or warm direction. For instance, when you mix blue and yellow to produce green, you can use more blue than yellow to produce a green that has cooler undertones and a more blue-green tint. Alternatively, you can increase the amount of yellow in the green mixture to warm green with a yellow tint.

How Can I Use Secondary Colors?

Secondary colors are one of the best tools in your design arsenal. These colors work with their complementing primary colors to present bold contrast. We will use the RYB model as this is one that interior designers use based on the traditional color wheel. In this model, the secondary colors are orange, green, and purple.

Three Color Rule

The use of three colors provides a balanced color scheme for interior design. When using three colors, it is best to apply the 60-30-10 rule. This means that one color will be dominant, the next color will support this dominant color, and the third will show up in small pops of color throughout the design. You can use this design principle in all three methods we suggest. You can choose the dominant and supporting colors based on your own tolerance and taste for colors.

Complementary Color Schemes with Secondary Colors

Complementary Color Schemes with Secondary Colors
Cory Connor Designs

You can find complementary colors directly across from each other on the color wheel. These are some of the most daring combinations of color, but you can diminish the strength of these colors with an addition of neutrals with these complementing color tones.

  • Orange + Blue + Cream – Shades of orange and blue work well together as the cool shades of blue work to calm the vibrant and bold look of orange.
  • Green + Red + White – Shades of reds and greens are striking together. Pair unusual shades of these colors together including sage and burnt sienna or forest and rust to get the full scope of possibilities.
  • Purple + Yellow + Gray – Purple and yellow are a vibrant and bold color scheme that you can soften with the addition of a neutral like gray. Choose muted shades of purple and yellow for a more laid-back iteration of this scheme.

Analogous Color Schemes with Secondary Colors

Analogous Color Schemes with Secondary Colors
Laura Fox Interior Design

Analogous color schemes pair colors that are similar together. You can find these colors adjacent to one another on the color wheel. These colors share a similar warmth or coolness.

  • Orange + Red/Yellow + Warm Whites – Create a warm and vibrant color scheme with the warm tones of orange paired with red or yellow and warm whites. This palette will inject a sunny style into even the drabbest rooms.
  • Purple + Blue/Red + Gray – Cool and soothing colors work with a broad range of design styles. Varying shades of purple look stunning punctuated with pops of blue or red and supported by gray.
  • Green + Yellow/Blue + White – Green is another soothing color choice, but you can add vibrancy with yellow or enforce the muted earth tones by choosing blue color accents.

Monochromatic Color Schemes with Secondary Colors

Monochromatic Color Schemes with Secondary Colors
Summer Thorten Design

Monochromatic color schemes work well with both minimalist and maximalist designs. The key to develop a monochromatic color scheme with interest is by layering different shades of each color to develop a more textured design. Layer the color by using textiles, wallpaper, furniture, and wall decor with different hues of the same basic color. Be sure to add neutral colors if you want to dilute the intensity of your base color of choice.

  • Shade and Tints of Purple – Some of the most popular shades of purple include lavender, mauve, wisteria, amethyst, periwinkle, fuchsia, magenta, aubergine, violet, indigo, and dubonnet.
  • Shades and Tints of Orange – Popular shades of orange that you can include in a monochromatic orange room include pumpkin, salmon, burnt sienna, coral, apricot, peach, clay, amber, tangerine, and sandstone.
  • Shades and Tints of Green – Some common names for varied green shades include moss, juniper, forest, sage, basil, mint, emerald, seafoam, pine, olive, and lime.