How to Use Split Complementary Colors in Design

Split complementary colors comprise a base color and two others on either side of its complementary color. The three colors form a variation of the complementary color scheme with two accent colors.

Split Complementary Colors

In color theory, complementary colors are opposite on the color wheel. A split complementary color scheme maintains the strong contrast of the complementary scheme. It also offers more variety and visual harmony.

Split Complementary Colors in Color Theory

Color theory explains how colors interact and how humans perceive them. Key aspects of the color theory include the color wheel, color harmony, contrast, and color psychology.

The color wheel is an essential tool when choosing a color scheme. A color scheme could be complementary, analogous, triadic, or split-complementary. Instead of using one complementary color, a split complementary combines two colors next to it.

How to Identify Split Complementary Colors

You can identify split complementary colors using the 12 primary colors on the color wheel:

  1. Select a base color: Choose a base color from the color wheel. In this case, we’ll use blue.
  2. Find the complementary color: The base color’s complement is on the opposite end of the color wheel. Orange is blue’s complementary color since they sit opposite each other on the color wheel.
  3. Identify split complementary colors: Instead of using orange on the palette, select the colors next to orange on the color wheel. In this case, the split complementary colors would be yellow-orange and red-orange.
  4. Apply the scheme: Use the base color (blue) as the dominant color. The split complementary colors (yellow-orange and red-orange) will serve as accents.

The Role of Split Complementary Colors in Color Harmony

Color harmony is a color combination that’s both aesthetically pleasing and balanced. While split complementary colors contrast, designers balance their intensities and proportions for visual harmony.

Split complementary color harmony is essential in fashion, interior design, graphics, landscaping, and website design. The color scheme combines warm and cool hues, creating contrast and balance in the design. Here are some examples of split complementary color schemes used in real-life.

Base ColorComplementary ColorSplit-complementary colors
BlueOrangeYellow-Orange, Red-Orange
RedGreenYellow-Green, Blue-Green
YellowVioletBlue-Violet, Red-Violet
GreenRedRed-Orange, Red-Violet
OrangeBlueBlue-Green, Blue-Violet

Split Complementary Colors in Practice

Split complementary colors are popular in art, interior design, fashion, and graphics.

In Interior Design

Split complementary colors are suitable for wall painting, furniture and upholstery, and decor. Use the dominant color on the room’s focal point. The base color suits larger areas such as walls, furniture, or flooring.

Incorporate accent colors through accessories, artwork, textiles, or architectural details like trim or moldings. Consider the proportions of each accent color to ensure a balanced distribution throughout the space.

If the dominant color is bold and vibrant, opt for less saturated or muted shades as accents. You can add neutrals such as white, beige, or gray as transition elements between the colors.

For instance, in a kid’s room with a blue base color, include yellow-orange and red-orange elements. Incorporate the colors through curtains, rugs, paintings, or wallpaper. These accents will draw attention and provide a lively contrast to the primary color.

Blending Split-Complementary Colors With Patterns

Patterns add texture and emphasize specific elements of a design. Use the color that stands out the most or covers the largest area of the pattern as a dominant color for the palette. Identify its complementary color on the color wheel. The two adjacent colors to the complementary color will serve as accents.

Consider the distribution of the split-complementary colors throughout the design. The dominant color from the pattern should be the most prevalent. Add the split complementary colors in small proportions.

In this split-complementary color scheme, red-violet is the base color. Muted patterns combining yellow and blue-violet create a casual and luxurious finish.

Color NameHex CodeCMYK Color Code (%)RGB Color Code
Red-Violet#2BE22E81, 0, 80, 1143, 226, 46
Blue-Violet#8A2BE239, 81, 0, 11138, 43, 226
Yellow#DEE22B2, 0, 81, 11222, 226, 43

In Graphic Design

The split-complementary scheme allows designers to incorporate a wider range of hues while retaining visual balance. Graphic designers use the HSB model to adjust the colors’ hue, saturation, and brightness for optimal appearance.

Color calculators, such as Adobe Color CC, Paletton, and Colormind, help generate a color scheme in different formats. When you enter a primary color, the color calculator will suggest split complementary colors for your design.

Color NameHex CodeCMYK Color Code (%)RGB Color Code
Vivid Orange#FE66010, 60, 100, 0254, 102, 1
Cyan#00FFFF100, 0, 0, 00, 255, 255
Blue-Violet#8A2BE239, 81, 0, 11138, 43, 226

The base color (Vivid Orange) in this color scheme provides a strong, warm base for major elements. Blue-Violet suits larger areas to provide contrast without overwhelming the Vivid Orange and Cyan. Cyan highlights the key aspects of the design.