Itten’s col­or wheel is a cir­cle of 12 col­ors. When using sim­ple rules with the help of a cir­cle, you can har­mo­nious­ly com­bine col­ors. Know­ing what schemes are, you can eas­i­ly select clothes, acces­sories, make-up for a mod­el for shoot­ing, based on a cir­cle, and then from mem­o­ry, as well as achieve beau­ti­ful col­or com­bi­na­tions in post-pro­cess­ing.

We’ll show you how to use Itten’s col­or wheel and show you col­or schemes from 1 to 6 col­ors.

If you bring a pho­to to the Itten cir­cle col­or scheme, it will become more visu­al­ly coher­ent. At the same time, the vari­ety of schemes does not dri­ve into the frame­work, but gives a huge space for exper­i­ments / Pho­to: Eliza­ve­ta Chechevit­sa

Itten circle — how to use and what it consists of

The col­or wheel in the form in which we know it now was devel­oped by the artist and teacher Johannes (or in some inter­pre­ta­tions Johannes) Itten. He taught at the world-famous Bauhaus school of art and indus­try, which defined the archi­tec­ture and design prin­ci­ples of the 20th and 21st cen­turies. For exam­ple, IKEA is still inspired by the ideas of this par­tic­u­lar school.

The col­or wheel is not Itten’s sole inven­tion. Cre­at­ing it and improv­ing it, he was guid­ed by the devel­op­ments of his pre­de­ces­sors who stud­ied col­or. For exam­ple, Isaac New­ton and Johann Goethe. More details about col­or com­bi­na­tions, their con­trasts, har­mo­ny, and how they affect each oth­er and the view­er can be found in Itten’s text­book “The Art of Col­or”.

The Itten cir­cle is a cir­cle of 12 col­ors that fade into one anoth­er. This is done for ease of per­cep­tion, since, of course, there is also a huge vari­ety of shades between col­ors. So, for exam­ple, green does not imme­di­ate­ly become yel­low, but grad­u­al­ly turns into it.

The basis of the cir­cle is three col­ors: yel­low, red and blue. These are the base col­ors, since all oth­er col­ors and shades can be eas­i­ly obtained from them by mix­ing them in dif­fer­ent pro­por­tions. By mix­ing the pri­ma­ry col­ors in pairs, we get three addi­tion­al ones:

  • green (a mix­ture of blue and yel­low);
  • orange (mix­ture of red and yel­low);
  • pur­ple (a mix­ture of red and blue).

All this can be eas­i­ly checked by tak­ing a sheet of paper and three cans of gouache.

One of the pri­ma­ry col­ors is yel­low. This is no acci­dent. The fact is that yel­low is the light­est col­or of all and can­not be obtained by mix­ing dark­er col­ors / Illus­tra­tion: Eliza­ve­ta Lentchevicha, Photostore.Expert

In the cir­cle, col­ors are giv­en in their max­i­mum sat­u­ra­tion and close to the ref­er­ence bright­ness (remem­ber yel­low, which is the light­est; but we all know that yel­low can be dark, just like any oth­er col­or of the spec­trum).

This is impor­tant to remem­ber when using the Itten cir­cle — in addi­tion to col­or, we com­bine oth­er para­me­ters of which it con­sists, name­ly bright­ness (the amount of black or white in a col­or) and sat­u­ra­tion (pale col­or or juicy).

It turns out that the col­ors do not have to be brought exact­ly to the form that is on the cir­cle. So, red can be light (that is, pink) or dark (bur­gundy, almost black).

An exam­ple of one col­or with dif­fer­ent bright­ness and sat­u­ra­tion / Illus­tra­tion: Eliza­ve­ta Lentchevicha, Photosklad.Expert

Using the Itten col­or wheel is incred­i­bly sim­ple. You can find it online, buy it on paper, or make your own with yel­low, blue, and red paint. After that, just select the desired col­or and fit it to one of the col­or schemes below. This will help you find the col­or or col­ors that your cho­sen base col­or will work with.

For exam­ple, you are try­ing to fig­ure out what clothes to choose for mod­els so that it looks beau­ti­ful against the back­ground of sum­mer foliage (then the base is green) or an autumn park (the base in this case will be orange, yel­low or even red). Or maybe your mod­el has bright blue eyes and you are won­der­ing what acces­sories and make­up will empha­size their col­or.

An impor­tant clar­i­fi­ca­tion: flow­ers do not need to occu­py the same large area in the pho­to. As a rule, one col­or dom­i­nates, occu­pies almost the entire space of the frame, and the oth­er col­ors go in a small­er vol­ume, plac­ing accents.

And remem­ber the most impor­tant thing: the Itten col­or wheel is a great start­ing point for mak­ing your pic­tures bet­ter and more har­mo­nious in col­or, but you can devi­ate from any rules.

Color combination — Itten Circle

  • Mono­chro­mat­ic scheme. The sim­plest scheme. Using it, com­bine one col­or, adjust­ing only its bright­ness and sat­u­ra­tion in the pho­to.
  • Ana­logue or relat­ed. This scheme con­sists of 2–3 adja­cent col­ors on a cir­cle. Such com­bi­na­tions of col­ors are con­sid­ered quite calm, since the col­ors do not con­trast with each oth­er, but, on the con­trary, cre­ate smooth tran­si­tions. In addi­tion, such a scheme con­veys a cer­tain mood well. For exam­ple, a com­bi­na­tion of red, orange and red-orange is per­fect for warm cou­ples, fam­i­ly and chil­dren’s pho­to shoots.
  • Relat­ed-con­trast­ing. A more com­plex ver­sion of the ana­log cir­cuit. With this scheme, we com­bine 4–5‑6 adja­cent col­ors on a cir­cle. This scheme cre­ates an inter­est­ing effect: on the one hand, there are many col­ors, but at the same time they are still close to each oth­er.
  • Tri­ad. It is formed by three col­ors at the ends of an equi­lat­er­al tri­an­gle. Most often, in such a scheme, one col­or is the lead­ing one, and the oth­er two are used for accents.
  • com­ple­men­tary scheme. This is a con­trast­ing and bright com­bi­na­tion, as well as the most com­mon and well-known scheme. It con­sists of two col­ors locat­ed on a cir­cle oppo­site each oth­er. For exam­ple, red and green are the sym­bol of the New Year. And the com­bi­na­tion of blue and orange is often used in movies for back­light­ing.
  • Com­ple­men­tary with split­ting or con­trast tri­ad. If you want to bal­ance the com­ple­men­tary scheme, make it not so con­trast­ing and at the same time diver­si­fy the palette, use this scheme. In it, one of the oppo­site col­ors is replaced by two neigh­bor­ing ones. For exam­ple, the com­ple­men­tary pair yel­low-vio­let can be replaced by the tri­ad yel­low-ultra­ma­rine-kraplak.
  • Rec­tan­gu­lar. Con­sists of two pairs of com­ple­men­tary col­ors. Using this scheme, you will get a con­trast­ing, bright pic­ture with a wide vari­ety of col­ors.
  • Square scheme. It looks like a rec­tan­gle, but the col­ors in it are equidis­tant from each oth­er on the col­or wheel.
  • chor­date. Con­sists of two col­ors at the ends of the line (as in the exam­ple below). Some­times two lines are drawn instead of one. Then the scheme expands to four col­ors. As a rule, one pair of col­ors is the main one, and two oth­er con­trast­ing col­ors com­ple­ment and place accents.
  • Hexag­o­nal. In fact, these are three com­ple­men­tary pairs com­bined in one scheme. A rather com­plex com­bi­na­tion that requires atten­tion and fine tun­ing of col­ors in terms of sat­u­ra­tion and bright­ness. This is nec­es­sary so that the col­ors do not inter­rupt each oth­er. The advice from the pre­vi­ous scheme works here — select 1–2 main col­ors that will be the bright­est or will take up more space in the pho­to, and make the rest addi­tion­al — they will be dim­mer or take up less space.


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