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Planning Palettes with a Color Wheel

Martha Stewart Living, September 2009

The color wheel is a spectrum arranged in a circle, with dark tones in the center and lighter tones on the outer edge. It is useful when planning a palette because it lets you see how colors relate to one another, which is crucial when it comes to creating successful combinations. Keep in mind that a color wheel can't show every hue possible -- a pale aqua, for example, is a mix of blue and green and would fall where those colors meet on this wheel, on the outer edge with the other light tones. Here are three ways to use the color wheel.

1. Analogous Colors
An analogous palette uses colors that appear side by side on the wheel: yellow, orange, and peach, for instance. Colors like these usually mix without clashing, especially in their subtlest tones. 

2. Monochromatic Color
This type of palette consists of one color in a variety of shades. It offers surprising freedom: Limit the color and you can go wild with the variations -- a dozen shades of green can coexist happily in a single room, for example.

3. Complementary Colors
A complementary palette is based on colors opposite each other on the color wheel, such as purple and yellow, or green and red. These pairs of colors offer high contrast; at their brightest, the effect can be jarring. Using them in muted tones produces a softer, more sophisticated effect.

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