What Are Rectangular Color Schemes and How Do You Use Tetradic Colors?

Rectangular tetradic color wheel

Rectangular color schemes are wonderfully vibrant, but it is important to understand exactly how these special colors influence each other in order to use them properly. Rectangular color schemes use tetradic colors. Tetradic colors are simply two sets of complementary pairs of colors that are found opposite each other on the color wheel. These types of colors look their best if only one of the four colors are used as a dominant color. You should also strive for a balance of warm or cool colors within the color scheme.

Before actually using a rectangular color scheme, it is important to have a basic understanding of colors and how they work together. This begins by learning how to appreciate the color wheel.

The Color Wheel

Color theory infographic explaining the color wheel, types, systems and classic color schemes

You have probably come across the color wheel in elementary school. You could have also found it when using Photoshop. The color wheel is nothing new. It is a tool that has been around since the 1700s. Once you understand the fundamentals of using a color wheel, it will be much easier to work with your many color combinations. This includes tetradic hues.

Primary Colors

A basic color wheel consists of 12 color hues located around a central hub. Three essential colors placed equally around the wheel are yellow, blue, and red. These are the primary colors. Every color in the wheel is created from some sort of combination of primary colors. In other words, they are the parents of each and every color. They are the main colors, and without them the world would be a very drab place.

Secondary Colors

Mixing any two of the primary colors will give you secondary colors. These are located between the primary colors on the color wheel. For example, red and blue will make purple. Blue and yellow create green, and red and yellow will give you orange.

Tertiary Colors

Go one step further to create tertiary colors. Mix a primary color with one of the closest secondary colors and you will have a tertiary color. Examples of this include mixing red and orange to create red-orange. Combine yellow and green for yellow-green, and mix blue and green to make blue-green.

Color Terminology

Illustrating color terminology with color palette consisting of tinted and shaded hues

Another bit of knowledge that will help you when using tetradic colors is the terminology. There are many terms used when working with colors, and some of the most important ones to know about are hues, tints, shades, and tones.


First of all, there is hue. Hue is often used interchangeably with the word color, but these two things are actually two different items. The word ”color” refers to all colors, including gray, white, and black. The term ”hue” is applied to the original, or base of, a color. Hues are always primary or secondary colors.


Tint is another commonly used term that refers to a lighter shade of a hue. Think of it as the paler version of the original color. It can be anything from a hue that is hardly lighter than the original color to a white with just a touch of the base color.


Shade is just the opposite of a tint. Think of it as a hue with black mixed in it instead of white. It includes colors with various amounts of black. For example, it can be barely darker than the original color or almost black.


Finally, you have tone. A tone is a hue with gray added. It is very similar to a shade or tint. Tone colors tend to be more sophisticated than a pure hue. The only requirement is that the gray is a true gray. This means it is a gray made from only white and black. As soon as any other color is added, it is no longer pure.

What Are Rectangular or Tetradic Colors?

Illustration of different tetradic color schemes or palettes

Tetradic colors are very similar to triadic colors except they involve a combination of four individual colors rather than three. Tetradic colors are found in an equal distance from one another on the color wheel.

Tetradic colors are easy to find. Just place a rectangle on your color wheel. Each corner will point to a color in the rectangular color scheme. You will notice that they involve two set of opposing complementary colors. The following are a couple of examples of the rectangular color schemes you can come up with using this method:

  • Red, Green, Purple, and Yellow
  • Blue-Green, Red-Orange, Yellow-Green and Red-Violet

Rectangular color schemes tend to be loud and fun. Their vibrancy makes designs stand out whether you are working with interior design, photography, or any craft involving colors. Keep in mind that the vibrancy of the colors involved can cause them to overwhelm one another if you aren’t careful.

Using a Rectangular Color Scheme

Sunny park in tetradic autumn colors with blue sky, green grass and red and orange leaves on tree

A rectangular color scheme is the richest of all available color schemes. This gives you the most variety when working with color. It opens up some fun and creative options for you, but it is also difficult to pull off correctly. Without the right proportions, the results can be disastrous.

Rectangular color schemes work best when you choose one of the four colors to be a dominant color. Use the other three as accent colors. Otherwise, your project may appear too busy and unbalanced. This simply means to avoid using all four colors in equal portions.

Another way to make your results look less gaudy, dilute some of the colors. Using two shades or tints in the mix will greatly soften your final project. Another trick for making rectangular color schemes pleasing to the eye is to balance them with a neutral background. Think about a room with white walls that also uses red, green, blue, and orange pillows, rugs, and window treatments. What you get is a room with plenty of vibrancy, but it is still calm enough that you can relax within the space.

The next time you are looking for a wonderful way to draw attention to a photo, room, or maybe even an advertising piece, consider a rectangular color scheme. Tetradic colors are loud, fun, and vibrant. They quickly wake up an area with their bright appeal, especially when used correctly.