Make Your Designs Stand Out with Unconventional Color Combinations

written by aext on December 7, 2010 in Graphic Design and Web Design with 9 comments

Want your visual design to stand out? A simple way to do that is to find and use a unique color scheme. And this article will show you how to easily find unconventional color combinations using the color wheel.

Regular text and shapes will stand out more when using a unique color combination. Much more so than if you used standard color combinations like black and white, red and blue, yellow and green, and so forth. And luckily, there’s an easy way to find unconventional color combinations and make your visual design stand out: use the color wheel. This way, you won’t have to blindly guess combinations or use trial-and-error.

Specifically, use the color wheel systematically. Look at the color wheel, cross out the obvious color combinations, and you’ll be left with the unconventional ones. In other words, use the process of elimination to hone in on the more unique color combinations. Yep, those color combinations will be the ones that are “wrong” – but that’s what makes them unconventional. It’s when you break the rules that innovation, remarkableness, and just general uniqueness happens.

Make Your Designs Stand Out with Unconventional Color Combinations

Here’s how to use the color wheel to find unconventional color combinations and help make your designs stand out…

1: Identifying Primary Colors

Primary Colors

The elementary forehead-slapping-obvious first step. But identifying primary colors is in this guide for completeness sake. Here are the three primary colors:

  • Blue
  • Red
  • Yellow

Okay, that was Colors 101. Why does this matter? It helps to cross out the first list of conventional combinations. Don’t use any combination of primary colors if you want an unconventional color scheme. Any of the primary colors go well together, so no unconventional color combinations are possible here.

2: Identifying Secondary Colors

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are when 2 primary colors are mixed. Again, pretty obvious, but knowing these will help in crossing off conventional color combinations. Here are the three secondary colors:

  • Purple (blue + red)
  • Orange (red + yellow)
  • Green (yellow + blue)

Time to cross off the next batch of no-good color combinations (since they’re so conventional). In this case, it’s any combination of a primary color with it’s opposite secondary color. They’re known as contrasting a.k.a. opposite colors. Contrasting colors are natural matches, as you can see by looking at the color wheel:

  • Blue and orange
  • Red and green
  • Yellow and purple

These are no good since they’re so conventional. Now onto step 3, which is where you can find your first two unconventional color combination opportunities.

3: 1st and 2nd Batches of Unconventional Color Combinations

First Unconventional Colors

The first batch of unconventional color combinations is any two secondary colors:

  1. Purple and orange
  2. Orange and green
  3. Green and purple

Second Unconventional Colors

The second batch of unconventional color combinations is a primary color with a secondary color that’s next to it:

  1. Blue and green
  2. Blue and purple
  3. Red and purple
  4. Red and orange
  5. Yellow and orange
  6. Yellow and green

Those were only the first two batches of unconventional color combinations. Once the tertiary colors are identified, you’ll have another two batches with even more unconventional color combinations.

4: Identifying Tertiary Colors

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are when primary and secondary colors are mixed. Here are the six tertiary colors:

  • Blue violet (blue + purple)
  • Red violet (purple + red)
  • Red orange (red + orange)
  • Yellow orange (orange + yellow)
  • Yellow green (yellow + green)
  • Blue green (green + blue)

Now that the tertiary colors are identified, the next two batches of unconventional color combinations can be found and used. Remember: we’re systematically using the color wheel. So now that all of the conventional combinations have been crossed off, you’re left with the final collection of unconventional ones. Process of elimination, baby.

5: 3rd and 4th Batches of Unconventional Color Combinations

Third Unconventional Color

The third batch of unconventional color combinations is a primary color with a tertiary color one step removed:

  1. Blue and red violet
  2. Blue and yellow green
  3. Red and blue violet
  4. Red and yellow orange
  5. Yellow and red orange
  6. Yellow and blue green

Fourth Unconventional Colors

The fourth and biggest batch of unconventional color combinations is any two tertiary colors:

  1. Blue violet and red violet
  2. Blue violet and red orange
  3. Blue violet and yellow orange
  4. Blue violet and yellow green
  5. Blue violet and blue green
  6. Red violet and red orange
  7. Red violet and yellow orange
  8. Red violet and yellow green
  9. Red violet and blue green
  10. Red orange and yellow orange
  11. Red orange and yellow green
  12. Red orange and blue green
  13. Yellow orange and yellow green
  14. Yellow orange and blue green

Combining More Than Two Colors

This is good and all, but what if you want to combine more than two colors (excluding the background color)?

Use the Color Wheel to Find Unconventional Color Combinations

colors

Image: Team Dalog

By using the color wheel to easily find and use unconventional color combinations, you can make your designs stand out. The process of elimination will help you cross out the conventional color combinations so all you’re left with is the unconventional ones. And since they’re all laid out in front of you, it’s easy to pick out which ones you want to use – rather than rely on trial and error.

To recap, here are the four batches of unconventional color combinations:

  1. Any two secondary colors
  2. A primary color with a secondary color that’s next to it
  3. A primary color with a tertiary color one step removed
  4. Any two tertiary colors

What other unconventional color combinations have you used to make your designs stand out? Share your favorite ones in the comments.