Combining Colors

As I work on the Spark Kits that will be officially announced in a few weeks, I’ve been considering some different color combinations. I even went as far as laying out some color sets the other night, just to see what looked right.

Spark Kit color variations

Spark Kit color variations

For this first batch of Spark Kits I’m mostly starting with what I have in inventory from the CPR Kit extras with a few more things tossed in. That gives me 6 colors to work with, and I want two coordinating colors per kit.

Does anyone else remember how to figure out the number of possible combinations from math class? The image above is a big clue!

There are 15 possible combos that I could pick three of and be done. And while it’s as simple as deciding what looks best together, the reason WHY they look right or wrong is worth discussing.

Opposites Attract

In some cases it’s important to have colors that have a high amount of contrast between them. Think about your high school colors or your favorite sports teams’ insignia. Combinations like Black and Yellow/Gold, Red and White, Purple and Gold/Yellow, Blue and Orange, etc. are pretty common. Why? Because the different in the colors are easy to pick out on a football field or sign thanks to the high amount of contrast between them!

These colors are usually across from each other on the color wheel (white and black being the notable exceptions). And this practice of color matching goes all the way back to Medieval times. I mean, just think about how hard it would be to figure out which banner you were following or fighting against if the colors blended nicely on the flags and pennants. Contrast is in!

Kissing Colors

On the other hand, colors opposite each other, when mixed in a liquid form, often make murky browns and greens, eventually edging towards black.

Remember that black is the combination and culmination of all colors and this starts to make sense. If the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow and you’ve picked contrasting colors purple and yellow for your work, the red and blue that make up the purple, when combined with yellow, are a recipe for black (but usually comes out brown because of pigment strength, binders, and other stuff).

To avoid this, you want to use analogous colors, or those that are next to each other on the color wheel. With primary colors you’ll end up with a pretty secondary color where they meet (like the red and blue making purple), or if you’re working with a fuller spectrum, you can get various shades between when you pick, say, red and purple as your colors.

Shades of Grey

Of course, just because red and blue are next to each other on the primary color wheel doesn’t mean that all versions of red and blue will look right together. That’s where white and black (or light and shadow) come in. The value of a color (that’s how bright or dark it is, not it’s monetary cost) affects whether it will look right with another color.

Glancing back up to the sample picture, look at the red and pink cardstocks together. Now we know that red and pink are pretty close together on the color spectrum, but these two don’t look quite right, do they? That’s because the pink is a full-on vibrant pop of pink with a lot of white mixed in while the red is a deeper, darker version with a good dose of black mixed in. They have distinct value differences, and while they could be pulled together if done very carefully, they’re not necessarily a good match as is.

So the next time you start to pull colors down off the shelf, consider not just what effect you’re going for, and what medium you’re using to get there. There are exceptions to everything, and ways to make even the most contentious color combinations work together with some choice additions of white or black, but a few moments spent considering your options will help your colors make a love match!

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