5 Tricks Designers Know about Combining Colors

In my experience, papercrafters either love combining colors, or they hate it! They're either quite confident in their choices, or they're always experiencing a teeny bit of apprehension over their decisions. Either way, they all love discovering a really great new combo that really knocks their socks off, because it makes everyone feel like a smashing crafting success when everything comes together.


Did you know the color wheel has been around since the late 1600's? We can thank Sir Issac Newton not only for the law of gravity but also for documenting that colors in a prism follow a natural progression. So we've got all our colors, and they're in a logical order… now what?

Here's 5 quick tips top designers know about combining colors!

  1. Opposites bring out the best in each other. Look for two colors directly opposite on the wheel, like red and green or blue and orange, and pair them in uneven proportions. Why uneven amounts? Because the two colors are equals and will "fight" each other for dominance. Use at least 75% of one and no more than 25% of the other. If you chose the "hot" color to be dominant, go with a cool neutral like white. If you chose to play up the "cool" color, use a warmer neutral like cream.
  2. Yes, colors have a temperature. Many studies show that people perceive blue and green rooms to be cooler than rooms painted yellow or orange, even though the rooms were exactly the same temperature. Whenever you have a "troublesome" color that is giving you problems, try combining it with other colors. If it's a "warm" color, choose a "cool" color to pair it with, and vice versa. Cool tones help spread the "hot" colors out and diffuse the intensity.
  3. Every piece of patterned paper you have in your possession is a "cheat sheet" for a great combo created by someone trained in color theory and design principles. Identify the main color, secondary colors, and accent color, and you're good to go. Check out the samples in catalogs and magazines for more. You might as well take advantage of the knowledge that professionals are already sharing every day.
  4. Use any accent color proportionally to all the other colors. As a general rule, designers strive for 50% main color, 30-35% secondary color, and 15-20% accent color. If there's four colors involved, it's typically 50% main, 25% secondary one, 15% secondary two, and 5-10% accent. Works for home decor–and paper projects!
  5. If you're having trouble breaking out of a color rut–that's ok. It must be a real knock-your-socks-off combo, or you wouldn't be so stuck on it in the first place! Try subtracting just one color out of your favorite "go-to" combo and subbing in a new color. Play with that one for a while, then do it again–take out one and sub in one. You'll be delighted to have expanded your repertoire but stayed within comfort range at the same time.

Many people think they are "no good" at choosing color combos. Once you start looking at it as a matter of pairing warmth and coolness, considering opposites, and divvying up proportions, you'll find yourself much more pleased with your combining skills!

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