Choosing the Right Colours for Your Print Marketing – Part 2: Colour Schemes and Combinations

Last time on the Better Printing blog, we talked about the different colours and their various associations and connotations. This week, we’ll be going through the different ways you can combine colours in your print artwork design – as well as some of the more common colour combinations and their own connotations….

colour-wheel-infographic The colour wheel explained

Before we go through the different types of colour schemes, let’s quickly cover one of the basics of colour theory: the colour wheel.

Also known as a colour circle, this is a tool used to illustrate the transitions and relationships between different colours. It consists of the three primary colours spaced equally around the circle, interspersed with secondary colours (the colours created by mixing two primary colours together) and tertiary colours (the colours created by mixing a primary colour and a secondary colour together.

The colour wheel can be expressed as an RGB wheel (where red, green and blue are designated as the primary colours) or as an RYB wheel (where red, yellow and blue are the primary colours). Digital design software uses the RGB model, so we’ll use this one in our examples below.

Different colour schemes take advantage of the colour wheel’s various adjacent and opposing colours to create interesting combinations. Here’s some of the common colour scheme conventions used by designers.


Not to be confused with ‘monochromatic’ (which we’ll move onto later), an achromatic colour scheme is made purely from shades of black, white and/or grey.

This neutral colour scheme often creates a calming effect, and can be quite striking if you contrast a black background with white graphic elements (or vice versa) – but it’s difficult to create a truly engaging and eye-catching design without utilising other colours.


A monochromatic colour scheme uses a single colour in multiple shades; for example, a blue monochromatic colour scheme might include both navy blue and sky blue.

It’s often the least risky choice for a colour scheme, as it can give your design a more cohesive feel, and it looks far more professional than artwork which tries to cram in every colour of the rainbow.

However, a single colour can be overstimulating in large doses, and it can be hard to create effective contrast between the background and other design elements without adding other colours as well.


A complementary colour scheme uses two colours on opposite sides of the colour wheel; for example, red and green, or blue and yellow.

By definition, complementary colour schemes combine one ‘cool’ colour and one ‘warm’ colour. That’s because warm colours (vivid colours such as red, orange and yellow) and cool colours (calming colours such as blue, green and violet) are located on opposite sides of the colour wheel.

This colour scheme choice guarantees the maximum contrast between graphical elements; helping you create a more striking design. However, they can often make text more difficult to read; you can combat this to an extent by using a lighter shade of one of the colours as the background, or adding an extra achromatic colour for either the text or the background.


This colour scheme type uses colours which are directly next to each other on the colour wheel. Analogous colour schemes almost never clash with each other, and give off a similar calm and cohesive feel to monochromatic colour schemes with an extra level of visual variety and depth.

However, it can be tricky to create good contrast with this type of colour scheme, so important visual elements might get lost in the design. Try using a different texture for each colour to set them apart; for example, your background colour could be accompanied by an image overlay while the text could be rendered in a solid colour.

Split complementary

Take one colour, locate that colour’s complementary partner on the other side of the colour wheel, then take the two analogous colours on either side of that complementary partner.

Those three colours make up a split complementary colour scheme, which creates a similar high-contrast feel to a standard complementary colour scheme but with more colour variety. This is a good choice if you’re new to graphic design, but balancing the colours can prove tricky; try adjusting the shade of each colour until you end up with something that looks good.


Going back to the colour wheel, picture a propellor with three equally spaced blades. Place the propellor in the centre of the colour wheel so that each blade points to a different colour.

That’s a triadic colour scheme! Three colours which are arranged on the colour wheel in a triangular formation; such as red, green and blue, or orange, purple and turquoise.

Triadic colour schemes are certainly vibrant and eye-catching, but they don’t offer the same level of contrast that a complementary colour scheme can provide; plus it’s easy to end up with a set of colours which looks garish and repulsive for readers.

When designing your artwork with a triadic scheme, it’s a good idea to prioritise one colour while leaving the other two as accent colours.


Also known as ‘double complementary’, a tetradic colour scheme uses two pairs of complementary colours arranged in a square or rectangular formation on the colour wheel.

It’s like the triadic colour scheme convention; but more varied, vibrant, high-contrast and even more difficult to balance! Use this colour scheme with extreme caution…

So, these are the common colour scheme conventions designers can use to create their print artwork; but some specific combinations of colours have developed their own associations which you can take advantage of when designing your print artwork. Here’s just a few:

Black and white

The achromatic combination of stark white and pitch black is loaded with implications. Black and white can symbolise the balance of good versus evil or peace vs chaos, as well as honesty, sincerity and simplicity.

Black text on a white background (or vice vera) is very easy to read, which makes a black and white (or similar light and dark colours) a common choice for billboards and road signs. Choosing black as the dominant background colour can give your design a luxurious and sophisticated feel, while choosing white can make your artwork appear pure, straightforward and focused on substance over style.

Blue and orange

This complementary pair of cool blue and warm orange is not only eye-catching and harmonious, but also comes with its own cultural associations. Blue can signify the sky, both in lighter shades during the day and darker shades at night; while orange can embody clouds at dusk, a night-time campfire, the lights of a city at night, or sometimes even the night stars.

You might use orange graphical highlights against a blue background to signify warmth, positivity, hope or a solution in a cold, pessimistic or challenging situation.

Black and yellow

These colours signify danger – both in the natural world and in our human civilisation. Bees and wasps warn predators of their harmful sting via their black and yellow stripes; while us humans use black and yellow stripes or chevrons to label and signpost hazards. (Orange can also be used in place of yellow to create a similar effect.)

This association with danger and risk can work wonders for marketing; particularly for positioning your product, service or event as an experience for thrill-seekers…

Blue and green

This roughly analogous colour combination often signifies the depth and power of the ocean, with green either reflecting the colour of seaweed or algae in the water. Green might also signify grass, leaves and trees with blue signifying ponds, lakes or rivers; giving blue and green colour schemes a strong association with nature.

It’s a great combination to use in your print design if you’re advertising organic products; particularly food and drink items which promise ‘intense’ flavours or a refreshing, revitalising feel.

Red, green and white

Christmas! These colours are used consistently across the festive period; white is the colour of snow, red and white is the colour of Father Christmas’ suit and candy canes, and green and red is the colour of fir trees and bauble decorations.

These colours can make your artwork design appear cosy and comforting; helping you associate your brand with festive cheer over the winter season.

Stay tuned to the Better Printing blog for more graphic design tips and tricks – or for help with your print artwork, talk to our in-house design team today on 023 8087 8037.

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