top of page
  • Writer's pictureSwarnavo Datta

Color Color what color do you want?

Think of this scenario. You have made the sketch, the line work and you are pretty happy with it. You have managed to ink it perfectly as well. And now it’s time to color it.

And that’s where the question daunts you. How do you choose the correct color?

You may have had some bad experiences in the past where you ‘spoiled’ a perfectly good sketch by choosing wrong colors.


This article is to help you answer that question. Making the process a bit easy.

Let’s talk about very important things in this article:

1. Color theory (applicable for both traditional and digital medium)
2. RGB & CMYK (applicable more for digital)


Color theory:

Now don’t let the word theory put you off. This is really helpful.

To keep it simple Color Theory is a great way to understand the relationship between different colors. The colors that ‘go well’ with each other. Finally giving your artwork a sense of harmony.

Trivia: Color theory dates back to the times of da Vinci. And the first color wheel was created by none other than Sir Isaac Newton. He made it easy for us.

The color wheel can be divided into 3 major categories of colors:

· Primary: Red, Blue, Yellow

· Secondary: Green, Orange, Purple

· Tertiary (mix of two primaries): Vermillion, Amber, Chartreuse, Teal, Violet, Magenta.

Trivia: If you have the 3 primary colors in your palette, you can mix them to form any color.


Now lets quickly look at a few terms we will use a lot:

· Hue: this is majorly the dominant color (wavelength) in a particular shade.

Ex: The hue of Navy is blue. The hue of burgundy is red.

· Saturation: this is the ‘purity’ of the color. Higher the saturation, more vibrant, you lower the saturation and you go towards greys, blacks and whites.

· Value: How light or dark is the color. Close to white or close to black. To increase the value of a color, add white/yellow to it. To decrease the value, add black/blue/brown to it.

· Temperature: If you look at the color wheel again you will notice that it goes from ‘warmer’ colors like yellows and reds to ‘cooler’ colors like blue.


Okay that’s enough terminology. Now lets look at a few basic color combinations. Essentially this will help you choose your color palette/scheme for an artwork.

1. Complementary colors: They are the opposites in the color wheel. They have a strong contrast and vibrancy. Good choice to make things vibrant. But overuse of these colors will make the whole thing a little too busy. Your eyes will get tired too fast looking at all the contrast.

A good idea is to choose one dominant color, let’s say Yellow and use it more in the illustration. On the other hand use Purple (the complementary of Yellow) in less quantity to accent few parts of the artwork.

2. Analogous colors: This looks more relaxing. These are colors placed next to each other on the wheel.

So choose one dominant color and two neighbouring colors to go as secondary and accent.

3. Triadic colors: Imagine an equilateral triangle inside the color wheel. The colors at the 3 corners will come together.

This again may become too vibrant, so use it carefully.

4. Split complementary colors: This is a good one. Helps you come up with something interesting, really fast.

Imagine another triangle, not equal.

With this we come to the end of this lesson in Color theory. Well at least the basics.

Use the above information to make interesting color palettes for your next artwork. This will also cut the confusion of what to use.

Don’t let these combinations restrict you though. I generally start with one combination, and as time passes, I keep making my own colors from the ones I selected earlier. Even I am learning!

Now let’s move to the last part of this article. More from the digital perspective.



I am sure you have seen these acronyms somewhere. Let’s talk about what they mean and why they are important. I will keep it short.


This stands for Red, Green, Blue.

RGB comes under the category of Additive color mixing model.

Let’s put it simply…You are mixing colors (digital medium). In additive model, the more colors you add, the lighter the resulting color becomes. So if you add Red+Green+Blue…it results in White.

Coming to the use of RGB. All screens (TV, computer, phone) use RGB model. So if you are creating your artwork for only screens (no printing) make sure to select RGB as your color mode.


This has happened with me way too many times in the beginning. I make an illustration (colored) on my iPad. It looks good. I am happy with the colors. I take to the the shop for printing, and what comes out of the printer, makes me unhappy. The colors aren’t exact. They lack vibrancy. To a point where parts look ‘muddy’. I complain that the printer is not good, when in reality it’s my color mode choice.

CMYK stands for Cyan (Blue-ish), Magenta (Red-ish), Yellow and Key (Black).

Printers use this model. Anything that you see in print around you. From your graphic tshirt to the newspaper, is in CMYK mode. Even when you paint with your traditional stuff. The same thing applies.

This is the exact opposite of additive model and uses something called subtractive model (surprise!).

Subtractive because you are subtracting the white of the page by adding colors. So unlike the additive model, the more colors your add, the darker it gets. Mix all C+M+Y together and you get Black (K)!

Next time you read the newspaper, notice at the bottom, just outside the border of the page. You will see these 3 colors CMY printed.

So if you want to print your digital artwork in future, make sure you select CMYK mode before starting! Tadaaaaa!

Wow you read the entire thing. Amazing patience (unless you skipped parts)!!!

Hope this helps you make better choices in life (at least in terms of color). Happy Sketching!

74 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page