Colour theory for design in makeup and fashion

Why colour theory?

Ever noticed someone’s outfit or makeup looking perfecting harmonious at an event. How do designers create such jaw dropping outfits or painters create masterpieces with a couple of colours?

The common connection among these is the selection of the right colours. Colours when combined correctly can be used to enhance the features of the subject matter. The easiest way to understand how certain colours when worn together can make or break the look, is to understand the concept of colour theory.

Now don’t worry, this isn’t a complex and lengthy theory like the ones we studied during science class. Understanding the concept of colour theory is simple and its application is even more simple.


The concept of colour theory dates back to a few centuries. Sir Isaac Newton was the first to lay the foundation when he discovered the ‘visible spectrum of light’ back in the 17th century. Quarantined in his room to avoid the plague that ravaged England, he discovered a single beam of white light peeking through the crack split into an array of colours when it passed through the prism.   

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe began his own experiments with colour. His background as a painter and artist led to a fascination with the phenomena of colour but disagreed with newtons scientific approach. Leading him to do his own experiments which were quite similar to newton but much more in depth and richer in understanding. Goethe also went into detail about the psychological aspects of colours and their relationship to human emotions and behavioural traits.

The modern-day colour wheel is based on the colour wheel Johann came up with.

Left – Newton’s asymmetric colour wheel based on musical intervals. Mixing “rays” in amounts given by the circles yields colour “z

Right- Goethe’s symmetric colour wheel with ‘reciprocally evoked colours’




The RYB model is used by painters or illustrators, makeup artist, decorators.

The RGB model is used by videographers, photographers- basically used in print and digital medium.


Colour theory is the practical combination of art and science that’s used to conclude which colours look best together.

Colour theory is a concept used by people in various fields. Painters, decorators, photographers, fashion designers, makeup artist are some of the examples by who colour theory is utilised. All the above mentioned utilise colour theory in various capacities of their work life.

The colour wheel is the best way to understand colour theory and its various elements

COLOUR WHEEL at a  glance

Breaking the colour wheel to understand each element


The three main colours in the colour wheel that are essential and act as the base for the creation of all the other colours.

They are the hues that cannot be produced by mixing other colours together

Red, Blue, Yellow


These colours come into existence when two primary colours are mixed.

The hues that are produced by mixing equal proportions of pairs of primary colours

ORANGE = Red+ Yellow

GREEN = Yellow+ Blue

VIOLET = Blue+ Red


These colours come into existence when a primary and a secondary colour are mixed.

Example- TURQUOISE = Green (secondary) + Blue (primary)

With these tiers of colours understood you can create an endless number of combinations resulting in a new colour.

With this nunderstood let’s dive a little deeper into colour theory


This set of two colours is found opposite to each other on the colour wheel.

Example- Red + Green

                Orange + Blue

               Violet + Yellow


 – When two complimentary colours are mixed together or placed one over the other               they neutralise or cancel each other out.

( That is why when applying makeup, if a person has dark circles we use and orange corrector to cancel the darkness as dark circles have an purple blue colour to them)

-When two complimenttary colours are placed next to each other they enhance each other out.

(when pairing outfits you match your top with your bottom or your jewellery to your outfit. If you’re designing a room or space you keep the colour scheme cohesive by choosing colours that compliment each other. )


These colours are found beside or next to each other on the colour wheel. They harmonies and can be creatively used together for both makeup, Portrait painting and fashion.



This consists of one basic hue in different values or a single colour with different intensities.


Having understood these elements of the colour theory, you can create endless combination with respect to outfits, makeup, painting, design, decor etc.

Throughout the article you must’ve come across terms like HUE, INTENSITY, VALUE, TINT, SHADE. More often than ever these words are commonly interchanged or used in place of another. But each of these terms have a specific explanation to them.


Hue – A hue is used to define a separate colour or a colour in its purest form. Example – Purple, Red, Blue

Tint– A tint refers to any colour/ hue that has been lightened by the addition of white. Tints have a very high colour value. Pastel shades are a tint.

Example – white + orange = Peach (tint)

Shades – A shade refers to any colour/ hue that has been darkened by the addition of black.  Shades have a very low colour value.

Example – Black + orange = Rust (shade)

Value – Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour. A low intensity colour i.e.  shade will always appear darker or duller compared to its contrast a high intensity colour i.e.  tint will always appear ashier.

Intensity – This describes the brightness or dullness of a colour. Example – a clear red is brighter than a duller burgundy.

If you’re interested in learning about fashion designing and styling check out

To learn more on styling for your body type check out

Learn which outfits flatters your body type best

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