The best color combinations

The Best Color Combinations

Are you trying to come up with the best colors for a friends gift? Want to know what colors go well together? Well, why not ask an artist what are the best color combinations? Simple color schemes explained. Keep reading for answers to these questions and more. Also, here is another article on wall decor “colors that look amazing together“. Also you might like my “10 color choosing tips”. 10 clever home color choosing schemes you will fall in love with.

Here are the best color combinations answered by an artist

The Best Color Combinations:

  1. Brown, Gray and Green. Neutral colors. These colors are from the earth. Hues are clay, rocks and plants. See my “Fall Colors” clay artwork for an example. Neutrals are one of the best color combos and the great advantage is you can add a punch of color any time to change things up a bit. For example, just add a bolder green to create visual interest.
  2. Red, Yellow and Green. Primary Colors. This is the color palette from which other colors are formed. Each is bold enough to look good while complementing the other. This combination is the boldest of the group. See my “Clay Fish” artwork for an example using this color scheme.
  3. Green and Yellow. These colors are most prevalent in nature and therefore look natural together.
  4. Black and White. This is a tried and true color scheme. This is the sophisticated and elegant color combination. See my “Black and White Clay Cat” artwork.
  5. Green and Blue. This combination is a little more contemporary. This scheme works well by varying the “Value” or lightness and darkness of the colors to get the desired look.
  6. Pink and Green.  You might think this is an old color combo but it actually works very well together. Pink derived from Red by adding white tint. See my clay “trout“. Also know as Dorothy Draper colors.
  7. White and Yellow. White and any color looks great but this combination is less overpowering. Plus as you add more tint to the yellow you end up with a more mustard looking color which is less bold. This would add a more elegant look and feel to any room.
  8. Orange and Blue. These are two bold colors that make a statement together. The orange just shouts out to you and demands your attention when next to blue.
  9. Gray and White. This is the most popular home decorating color for the last several years and most likely in the future. Almost every new home built today has this color scheme. Add black accents or decor to give high visual interest.
  10. Gray and Yellow. This is a very interesting color combo that looks super elegant when a lighter shade of yellow is used. One trick is to change the tone of the yellow color by adding a touch of gray. Your decor will stand out from the crowd with this color scheme.
  11. Red, White and Blue. Bold colors that always look good. Used a lot in nautical themes.
  12. Black, Red, Yellow and Beige. These colors give a traditional look that work well together. See my: “Nashville Clay Artwork” for an example.
  13. Dark Violet, Light Yellow and Red. Very soothing to the eye but at the same time draws attention. Wow! Maybe one of my favorites. See my “Ceramic Birds on Flowers” artwork.
  14. Red and Gold. These tow colors are often paired with a darker green hue. This is the classic house of Tudor colors used in the Elizabethan period.
  15. Red and Beige.
  16. Black, Brown and Beige.
  17. Emerald and Beige.
  18. Blue and Beige.
  19. Coffee, Beige, Aqua and Light Blue. Latte colors, very popular in early 2000.
  20. Beige, Earthy Reds and Sage. Popular in 1900.
  21. Blue, Light Gold, Slate, Dark Gray. These are colors of the future or Artificial Intelligence colors.
Best friend gift color combinations
The Best Color Combinations

One word of advice is not to get caught up in the latest and greatest color schemes.  Color trends come and go and most often look very dated after a few years.

Color Basics and Color Combinations Introduction

The three primary colors Red, Blue and Yellow can be mixed to create other colors. So the color theory suggests or states that all other colors can be created by mixing these three colors in different proportions. And by mixing all three RYB colors together will create a Brown color. Depending on the proportions used will create a muddy brown color.

However in the printer world this might not be exactly true. More on Printer colors later.

Secondary Colors

By mixing the right proportions of the three primary colors you can create what’s called Secondary colors.

Secondary colors are Purple, Green and Orange. So for example, Red and Blue mixed together creates Purple.

Red + Blue = Purple

Blue and Yellow creates Green.

Blue + Yellow = Green

And Yellow and Red creates Orange.

Yellow + Red = Orange

Tertiary Colors

Taking colors even farther. By mixing the Primary and Secondary colors in the right proportions you can create that is called Tertiary colors. These are Red-Orange, Red-Purple, Blue-Purple, Blue-Green, Yellow-Green and Yellow-Orange.

Color Wheel

Taking the colors mentioned above a basic color wheel can be created. The Basic Color Wheel is composed of the Primary colors, Secondary colors and finally Tertiary colors.

Color Terms

What is Hue? Hue is basically the name of a color for example Red is a Hue, Blue is a Hue and so on.

What is Saturation? Saturation is basically the intensity of a color. It can also be referred to the purity of a color as well. For example taking the color Red and it being high intensity is referred to as being high in saturation. De-saturation would be the exact opposite. Taking the color Red again for example, being low in intensity is referred to as being de-saturation. The color Red would then look grayed out or very light in Red color.

Red Color Saturation Example

What is Value? Value is the lightness or darkness of a color. Value varies from being light, to mid-tones to dark. So for example, White is considered light in Value while Gray would be considered the Mid-tone Value. And finally Black would be dark on the Value scale.

What is Shade? Shade is a color of Hue created by adding the color Black. For example adding Black to Red you create a darker Shade of Red called Maroon.

What is a Tint? A Tint is created by adding White. You can think of a Tint as being the opposite of a Shade. So if we take Red for example and add White we create Pink. Pink is a Tint of Red.

What is a Tone? A Tone is a color or Hue created by adding amounts of Gray. So on a scale at one end would be the Hue Red and on the other extreme opposite end would be the Hue Gray. In between would be varying Tones of Red.

What do artist mean when they talk about Temperature? When an artist or designer talks about Temperatures they are referring to the Warm Hues such as Reds, Oranges and Yellow or the Cool Hues like Purples, Blues and Greens. The use of opposite Temperatures creates a visible contrast. For example, a Warm Orange next to a Cool Blue creates a visual contrast. Warm colors are associated with feeling of warm, happy and joyful feelings while Cool colors are associated with being dark or mysterious or even doom or gloom. However, the exact feeling greatly depends on how the Hue is presented and the contrasting Hues.

What is a Monochromatic color scheme? Designers and artist often talk about monochromatic colors or using a monochromatic color scheme. This refers to the use of only one Hue and adding varying amounts of Black, White or Grey to create Tints, Shades and Tones.

What is a Complementary color? What are complementary colors? Basically complementary colors are colors that are directly across from each other on the Color Wheel. For example Red and Green are complementary colors. The most popular complementary colors are Red and Green, Purple and Yellow and Orange and Blue. As stated above the use of complementary colors can create visual impact and a lot of contrast. In fact depending on how used can create too much visual impact and create an overpowering effect.

What is an Analogous color scheme? When a Designer or artist talks about the use of an analogous color scheme they are talking about using two to four colors next to each other on the color wheel. For example the use of Amber, Yellow, Light Green, Green and a darker color Green would be an analogous color scheme.

What is a Triadic color scheme? When a Designer or artist discusses the use of a Triadic color scheme they are referring to the use of colors that are spaced around the color wheel evenly. For example the use of Orange, Purple and Green would be a Triadic color scheme. Another Triadic color scheme is Red, Yellow and Blue.

What is a Split-Complementary color scheme? This is an interesting color scheme because it uses one base color and two adjacent complementary colors. For example the Primary color is Blue and its complement is Orange so you would use the adjacent two colors next to Orange which would be Orange-Red (Vermilion) and Orange-Yellow (Amber). So the colors are Blue, Vermilion and Amber.

What is a Tetradic color scheme? Now we are getting more complicated with colors. A Tetradic scheme is the use of four colors. This color scheme uses two complementary pairs of hues. For example, colors used are Orange and Blue and Yellow and Purple.

What is a Square color scheme? Can you take a guess? A Square color scheme uses four colors that are complementary and evenly spaced. For example, the use of Red, Green, Orange and Purple is a Square color scheme. Red and its complementary color is green and Orange and its complementary color Purple.

Conclusion to Color Basics and Color Combinations

So there you have it. I hope this article about basic color schemes was of value to you. You now have an excellent understanding of color basics. It’s going to be helpful to know the different color schemes when talking about design. Please feel free to refer back to this post if you do not remember the different schemes. In addition, as I write more articles I will most likely refer back to this post referencing the various color schemes.

Printer Colors

For color printers I believe there’re are five primary colors. They are RYB, Red Yellow Blue and White and Black. Printers do not have an actual White color so printers must adjust the opacity of colors to create different effects while printing on a white surface. This is very different than if you are mixing your own colors with paint for example.

In addition, I noticed on my printer that I primary use a lot of Black, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. This leads me to believe that in the printer world these are the real primary colors and not Red and Blue but really Cyan Magenta and the use of White via opacity (various shades) and Black. So in the Printer world mixing of colors and what is considered primary colors may be a little different.

In this article I am not really discussing Printer colors. That will have to be another main topic for discussion since it can be rather complex.

Color Advise From an Artist

Solid Color Advice

The best color combinations that stand the test of time is Black and White with vivid accent colors like Red, Yellows and or Greens from the Active color spectrum. Continue reading for more details.

Trendy colors sometimes look dated very quick. One color I can’t get out of my mind is Avocado Green of the 70s.

When looking for color combinations take note they can make or break your art. If your color combinations are not good no matter how well your art is your art work is it will not look appealing. I’ve been to many art shows where the artist did a fantastic job on the painting but their color combinations were off and it made the entire artwork look bad.

In my opinion, color is the single most important part of your artwork.

Stay away from trendy colors unless you are a well-established artist and know what you are doing. I’ve been in art for more than a decade and as a rule of thumb I stick to the basic complementary color schemes. And by doing so, my artwork will look good for years to come well after the trendy colors have faded into the past.

What is The Most Used Color in Art?

One color that stands out and is the most used color in all of art is white. White is the color of the canvas therefore that’s where it most likely gets is it ranking as the most used color. White is a great color to use and combines well with most all other colors. White and blue, white and red and white and black especially go well together. You can’t go wrong with white but be careful not to use too much white otherwise your home decor or artwork will look washed out and very boring.

Also, along with white is beige. Beige combines well with white and also combines well with blue, red, black brown and emerald.

Another universal color like white is black. Black looks good in most any combination and stands out when combined with red, pink, orange, yellow and a leaf green. When in doubt you can always use black and white as your colors. These are timeless and looks great in most any art project.

To use the table below just select your primary color using the column on the left and the individual color combinations you can use with your primary color is on the right. You can’t go wrong using these tried and true colors together.

Download my Primary Color Chart PDF by clicking the link above.

Color Examples You Can Use

Black, Red, Yellow and Beige

Color palette combinations of Black, Red, Yellow and Beige. This works so well together you can’t go wrong with these colors! I used these colors when creating my ceramic flat top guitar artwork.

Blue with Light Yellow and Cyan

Amazing Blue combination with Light Yellow and Cyan. The Light Yellow and Cyan color scheme just pops! This color scheme made my blue ceramic plate stand out. It turned a somewhat boring solid blue plate to a very interesting and colorful design.

Dark Violet, Light Yellow and Red

New combination (new for me) of Dark Violet, Light Yellow with Red. This is one of my favorites! Instead of using a suggested Light Orange, I used Red and it worked out excellent. The combinations are very soothing and turned out to also be appealing to the eye.

What are the Most Popular Color Combination Schemes?

One color that stands out and is the most used color in all of art is white. White is the color of the canvas therefore that’s where it most likely gets is it ranking as the most used color. White is a great color to use and combines well with most all other colors. White and blue, white and red and white and black especially go well together. You can’t go wrong with white but be careful not to use too much white otherwise your artwork will look washed out and very boring.

Also, along with white is beige. Beige combines well with white and also combines well with blue, red, black brown and emerald.

Another universal color like white is black. Black looks good in most any combination and stands out when combined with red, pink, orange, yellow and a leaf green. When in doubt you can always use black and white as your colors. These are timeless and looks great in most any art project.

Combinations do not have to be confusing or hard to figure out. It’s actually easy one you know some simple guidelines. There are 6 basic color schemes that you should be familiar with. All the schemes use a color wheel and involve basic shapes. You should remember these shapes:

  • Straight Line
  • Regular Triangle
  • Tall Triangle
  • Rectangle
  • Square
  • Combination of 4 adjacent colors on the wheel

What is a Color Wheel?

Color Wheel Example

Before we can talk about the different color schemes it’s a good idea to get familiar with the color wheel. If you already know what a color wheel is you can skip ahead. A color wheel or color circle as it’s sometimes referred to be a visual representation of colors that are arranged according to their color spectrum or chromatic relationship. The color wheel can be divvied into several major sections for better understating and ease of use.

What Are The Primary Colors?

Primary Color Example

These are colors that are basic. They cannot be created by mixing other colors. Therefore they are primary. Primary colors can be mixed to form other colors.

Secondary Colors are formed by combining two of the primary colors. For example, Orange is a secondary color. Tertiary colors are formed by mixing primary and secondary colors. For example Violet.

Active and Passive Colors

There are what’s called Active and Passive colors. Active and Passive colors basically divide the color wheel into two major ranges that are either visually active or passive. The cool dark colors are less visually than the active warm, more saturated colors.

Color Schemes Explained

Straight line scheme

Is also known as color contrasting or choosing a color’s complementary color. Looking at a color wheel it’s the colors that are directly opposite of each other on the wheel. You can draw a straight line between the two colors. Refer to the straight black line in the diagram on the right. Red and it’s complementary color Green.

Regular Triangle

Draw a regular triangle on the color wheel and the colors at each end point are the three colors of choice. These are colors of harmony when used together. See the Black Triangle in the diagram on the left.

Tall Triangle

Similar to the regular triangle, draw a steeper triangle.  See the tall black triangle in the diagram to the right.


Draw a rectangle on the color wheel and the four corners represent your colors. For example, Red-Orange, Blue-Purple, Blue-Green and a Yellow-Orange.


Draw a square on the color wheel. The colors are vivid but complement each other. For example, Red-Orange, Purple, Blue-Green and Yellow.

Combinations of 4 adjacent colors

And lastly there are colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. Pick four colors on the wheel next to each other.

I hope I have helped and made it easier for you when choosing colors for your decorating or art project. For many people choosing colors is the most challenging aspect of their project. So don’t feel defeated before you begin, just review this article again. One you get the hang of it you will feel more confident on future projects.

What Did Newton Have To Do With Color?

Newton and the Understanding of Color

Some interesting facts about the color wheel and the understanding of color. Sir Isaac Newton is best known for being a mathematician and astronomer and can be considered one of the most if not the most influential persons of all time. Some of this lessor known achievements are contributions to the branch of physics involving the properties of light.

In 1666 Newton first observed what is called refraction of light. Refraction is when light waves travel through a medium such as water causing a change in direction of travel.

For example, light passing through a drop of water. This is easily seen when looking through a drop of water on glass.

By studying the refraction of light answers the question of how rainbows are created. He sees the refraction of light being composed of the following colors Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Violet.

At that time, back in the 1600s many thought color was comprised of light and darkness and that Red for example was almost white light at its brightest to the absence of light going to Dark Blue.

This of course as we know today is false thanks to Newton. Newton was able to project a wide spectrum of colors using a prism. He was also able to refract the light back together again. By doing so he proved that light and light alone was color.

What is Refraction?

What happens when light is refracted in a prism is that light enters the prism from the top and is bent by the glass. The light is separated into different spectrums where the violet light is bent more than the red or yellow.

For us artists this was very useful and eventually evolved into what is called the painters wheel. The color wheel is derived from Newton’s color circle. Newton arranged the colors of the light passing through the prism in to a circle where each wavelength was represented. This eventually became the painter wheel and then the color wheel being refined over time.

What Are The Best Color Combinations?

There are of course many color combinations but there are a few that stand out over time. For example, Black and White. Black and White is probably the most classic and comes across as being very sophisticated and elegant.

House of Tudor Colors

Back in the 1400s through 1600 in England which included the Elizabethan period up until 1603, the classic House of Tudor colors are Red and Gold. These two colors are often paired with a darker Green. Many homes of this era featured a Red and Gold dining room giving off a warm feeling.

In the Louis XI days a more airy palette evolved. These are colors like light Blue, Yellow and cream. King Louis XIV died in 1715 and was one of the longest serving in European history. During this time France was the major power and considered the leader in arts. One of the most extravagant places on earth at that time was the Palace of Versailles. The light Blue, Yellow and cream could easily be a classic of the time. Nature gives us colors that are timeless. Wheat fields full of yellow and gold painted by Van Gogh for example. Combined with natural Greens nature is saying colors of Yellow and Green work very well together and are timeless. To spice things up a bit other colors such as Reds and Blues can be added.
During the 19th century Pink and Green became very popular. These colors were mainly attributed to Dorothy Draper an American interior decorator. She was well known for using bright colors such as Hot Pink and large prints that covered entire walls that mimicked giant paintings like in Palace of Versailles.
Interior Decorator Dorothy

She also is attributed to what is known as the Hollywood Regency era where metallic and glass accents were used in combination with Turquoise and white or very dark contrasts. Dorothy’s color combinations are colors that look good together but are unexpected. Other colors that fall into this category are Turquoise and Pink, Yellow and Pink, Gray and Purple, Yellow and Cobalt Blue, Teal and Pink and finally Lilac and Periwinkle.

Going more natural, earth tones are timeless colors. These colors never die and provide a neutral color scheme that is pleasing to the eye. These are colors like Red Clay, Vintage Gold, vibrant Peacock Blue and traditional Fields-tone colors. Most consider the top colors of all time to be neutral natural colors starting with White, Beige, Gray, Desert Sand, Taupe, Tan and Black. So by choosing one of these colors you are guaranteed to look good hundreds of years from now.

Color Combinations You Should Never Use

We often talk about what color combinations are best and what color combinations you should use. But now let’s discuss what color combinations not to use. Here are my top graphic design and home decor tips from a real artist that you can use while decorating your home or working on your art project.

Yellow on Green

First and foremost colors not to use are Yellow on a Green background.I see a lot of Yellow on Green used in advertisements. The main purpose is to grab your attention and that they do. They do a great job at grabbing you attention but after it’s got your attention is starts to look offending real fast. Plus these neon colors are almost impossible to read.

Red on Green

Red on Green spells Holiday season and Christmas. If you want to be remembered during the holidays then this is the colors for you but for the rest of the year they simply look out of place. Plus either way, Red on Green text or Green on Red text is very hard to read. The colors just clash too much to be able to focus on reading. To me when I read Red on Green text my eyes seem to tire more easily. When I see Red and Green decorations, accents and wall colors I immediately think of How The Grinch That Stole Christmas.

Purple on Green

But just wait there is an even more offensive color combination than Red on Green. It’s Purple on Green. Purple on Green has mostly the same effect as Red on Green except when I see Purple and Green walls or Green a wall with Purple accents colors I think of Barney the dinosaur. You know America’s favorite dinosaur. In my mind I immediately think of singing and dancing with young children. I might even feel compelled to go on an adventure. Purple on Green is just not a trustworthy color combination and definitely not very readable or if used on the wall or decor not pleasing to the eyes. It does not give off a relaxing atmosphere.

Red on Black

This is a horrible color combination. It just so scary. It spells Halloween and Dracula. When I see Red walls and Black accessories or accents I think of blood and Dracula.It’s so depressing of a color combination to use. Also, Red on a Black background is very hard to read. a Black background is too vivid for most any color text, even white. There are much better color combinations that can be used.

Blue on Red

These colors is for all you red blooded Americans! When I see Blue walls and Red accents I think of some of the most patriotic things like July 4th. It like Red on Green except I don’t think of Christmas but 4th of July instead. These two colors when used on top of one another cause my eyes to vibrate back and forth between the two colors. They look great on the flag but not on walls or used for text in any kind of print. For readability there are much better colors that can be used. If you really want to use Blue and Red together then I would suggest using White as the main color and accenting with Red and Blue.

Conclusion for what colors not to use

If you stay away from the above mentioned color combinations you should be OK. These color combination are very vibrant and cause your eyes to tire very quickly. In addition, if you are trying to create a relaxing atmosphere these colors do the exact opposite. When used as lettering or text they are next to impossible to read. In some cases they actually make my eyes tear up or water when reading for a long period of time.

What Are Popular Color Trends Through The Years?

Let’s start out by look at today most popular color combinations and collections. One way to find out what’s popular in today’s world is just look at what’s driving down the road. Look at newer model cars and you will find White, Black, Silver and grey to be the most popular. Today America is graying out. Gray and Silver cars and Gray wood flooring even gray painted interior walls. Popular indoor colors are also gray with shades of white.


  • Shades of Gray
  • Black
  • Beige and off White


  • Coffee and Latte colors
  • Off White
  • Aqua and light blue


  • Beige
  • Earthy Reds
  • Sage


  • Miami Vice colors
  • Pastels
Avocado Green 1970


  • Avocado
  • Amber
  • Gold and Light gold
  • Gold and Green tint
  • Brown and Amber
  • Brownish Beige


  • Pink
  • Yellows
  • Black
  • White
  • Orange
  • Light Purple


  • Pastels
  • Light Pink
  • Light Turquoise
  • Light Yellow
  • Light Gray
  • Greenish Yellow

1940 and 1930

  • Creams
  • Creamy Green
  • Creamy Yellow
  • Tan
  • Creamy Pink
  • Maroon
  • Green


  • Neutrals
  • Shades of Red
  • Blues
Sorry you will have to use your imagination on this one

1880 through 1910

  • White
  • Grey
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Earthy tones

1830 through 1900

  • Victorian colors
  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Gold
  • Purple

What Are The Colors of The Future?

Who can predict what will be fashionable in the future? I put together, just for fun, a collection of colors that might be possible in the future. These color combinations are grouped together into different fun categories depicting certain behaviors and or qualities. Hope they give you some ideas and fun looking at them. In addition to the colors below please check out my art decor ideas and wall art gallery on my home page.

The Stockbroker

Intelligent colors with a New York flare. Colors that have a touch of international and global hues mixed in. These are strong fearless but also humbling colors.

Artificial Intelligence

Computer blue colors, memory gold, speed of light, powerful and accurate. Colors that are grounded but also have virility. Many of these colors have stood the test of time.

Child’s Play

These are bold colors that capture your eye. Each color is resilient, creative, assertive and curious. Each can stand on its own but also interacts well with others.
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