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Color Theory Basics for Presentation Color Schemes

Basic Color Wheel

Learn how to use color theory basics for presentation color schemes.

Let's get started.

I am sure you are familiar with the basic color wheel.

3 primary colors

3 secondary colors

and 6 tertiary colors.

So, how do you use the color wheel to actually pick colors that work together?

what is color harmony

Within color theory, using color harmonies is the best way to identify colors that work together.

Color harmony is simply how colors interact well with each other.

The more harmonious the better the colors work together.

There are many color harmonies.

To help you the most in picking a color scheme, I will highlight four of them.


The first color harmony is complimentary.

These colors are opposite each other on the color wheel.

With the 12 basic colors, you can create 6 color combinations.

Red, Green
Yellow, Violet
Blue, Orange
and so on

split complimentary

A variation of this harmony is split complimentary.

This is three colors consisting of one primary color and two colors adjacent to its complement.

Instead of Red, Green
the colors are Red, Blue Green, and Yellow Green

In a presentation these complimentary color combinations create a dynamic and exciting look and often convey energy and excitement.

The analogous harmony are colors next to each other on the color wheel, like Blue Green, Green, and Yellow Green.

This is a good color combination when your message is focusing on stability and balance because they provide a sense of unity.


The next color harmony I want to highlight is triadic.

As its name implies it is comprised of 3 colors, what are evenly spaced on the color wheel.

This is the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue
the secondary colors: Green, Violet, Orange
and tertiary colors: Yellow Green, Red Orange, Blue Violet or Blue Green, Yellow Orange, Red Violet

If you want to convey fun and creativity, you can't go wrong with the bold and vibrant triadic color combination.


The fourth color harmony is monochromatic.

As the name implies it is variations of the same color.

This is best color scheme to use for cohesive look.

If you want to convey calm and peacefulness this color scheme will help you do that.

Once you have your colors selected, here are some strategies to make sure you aren't overwhelming your audience with too much color all at once.

60-30-10 rule

First, you want to use the 60-30-10 rule.

Here you divide the color usage into percentages: 60%-30%-10%

For a more in-depth explanation watch my video explaining the 60-30-10 rule.

Another strategy is to use the lighter tints of the main colors in the harmony.

This reduces the intensity of a color and combined with the 60-30-10 rule will create a well balanced color scheme.

The last strategy is use a neutral color like gray, white, or black.

as your predominate color.

This allows you to use your other colors for focal points on the slide.

About the Author

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Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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