Illustration by Rouba Shabou
One of the first tools that designers are introduced to while learning color theory is the color wheel. The basic color wheel contains 12 colors: Three primary colors, three secondary colors, and six tertiary colors. When two colors sit opposite from one another on the wheel, they are referred to as complementary, which means they will work well together within a design.
Like complementary colors, analogous colors are also a set of colors that work well together. But rather than being opposite of each other, they sit side-by-side in sets of three. Analogous colors work so well together due to their representation of color palettes that regularly occur in nature. For example, imagine you’re inspecting a leaf that you found on a hiking trail during the summer. This leaf would likely have many shades of green, yellow-green, and yellow visible within it, which makes it an analogous color scheme.
The psychology of analogous colors
Since analogous color schemes are seen so often in natural settings, the human eye has been conditioned to prefer them over color palettes that do not normally occur in nature. This doesn’t mean that analogous color schemes should be the only color schemes used, however, as it really depends on the use case.
Analogous color schemes are also often used by designers to help articulate some type of expression that they wish to emphasize in their designs. Depending on the color set they choose, an analogous color scheme can be used to convey themes like romance, luxury, or nature. An example of this would be pairing blue, blue-green, and green in your design to create a sense of calmness, like you are laying in a field of grass and looking up at the sky. Another example could be using orange, yellow-orange, and yellow to make your design bright and vibrant, like a summer day.
There are many feelings, emotions, and experiences that can be expressed through analogous color schemes, as they provide designers with a unique way to use design psychology to connect with their intended audiences.
How to choose the right analogous color scheme for your next design
As you start thinking about how to incorporate analogous colors into your next design, it’s important to make sure that you include your color choices in your design system tool. That way, no matter which designer is working on the project, the color set you selected will be easy to source from start to finish.
Additionally, to help ensure that your color choices are making it into the final project, it is important to think about the designer-developer handoff and how you can make that experience more efficient. A great tip is to always include hex color codes during the handoff to ensure that the right colors are being used.
To better understand how you can start using analogous color schemes in your designs, let’s take a look at all of the possible color combinations available, as well as some real-world examples.
Analogous color list
There are 12 analogous color combinations that designers can choose from. Each color scheme is a group of 3 colors, with each group occupying a section of the color wheel. To better understand what colors are organized into each of these groupings, take a look at the analogous color list below:
- Yellow – Yellow-green, yellow, yellow-orange
- Yellow-Orange – Yellow, yellow-orange, orange
- Orange – Yellow-orange, orange, red-orange
- Red-Orange – Orange, red-orange, red
- Red – Red-orange, red, red-violet
- Red-Violet – Red, red-violet, violet
- Violet – Red-violet, violet, blue-violet
- Blue-Violet – Violet, blue-violet, blue
- Blue – Blue-violet, blue, blue-green
- Blue-Green – Blue, blue-green, green
- Green – Blue-green, green, yellow-green
- Yellow-Green – Green, yellow-green, yellow
Analogous color schemes in art
Artists have long used analogous colors in their work to convey meaning, tone, and emotion. When used correctly, an analogous color scheme can create a personal connection to a piece that would otherwise be difficult to replicate.
Artist Claude Monet is renowned for using analogous colors in his paintings. In his painting Water Lily Pond, you can see how he used the green analogous color set—containing blue-green, green, and yellow-green—to create a sense of liveliness.
Another example is the painting Spring by Franklin Carmichael. In this painting, Carmichael uses the yellow color combination, which includes yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange to create a sense of rejuvenation.
Analogous color schemes in nature
The most amazing part about analogous colors is that each color scheme can be located somewhere in nature. Let’s take a look at some of the analogous color examples found in the wild.
Snake plants are common household plants that feature long, striped leaves. These plants are a wonderful example of the yellow-green analogous color combination, as they have shades of green, yellow-green, and yellow.
This sunset from Amboseli, Kenya, is a beautiful example of analogous color harmonies, as the color scheme ignites a sense of calmness and tranquility. This set of colors makes up the orange analogous color combination, as it includes shades of yellow-orange, orange, and red-orange.
This tropical coral reef can be found in the Caribbean, and its tentacles are naturally bright blue and violet that together creates a vibrant, electric effect. This coral reef’s color combination falls into the blue-violet analogous color scheme, as it includes shades of violet, blue-violet, and blue.
Discover the power of analogous color schemes
As a designer, utilizing an analogous color scheme is an effective way to connect with your audience on both a visual and emotional level while contributing to the principles of design unity. The next time you explore the great outdoors, bring your camera with you and take photos of analogous color schemes you discover so you can add them to your design inspiration collection.