What Are Triadic Colors and How Are They Used? Triadic Color Schemes Explained

Illustration of triadic color scheme wheel

Triadic colors are a color scheme that uses three colors paired together in order to create a vibrant and playful feel. When used properly, they can be fun and pleasing to the eye. Once you understand exactly what triadic colors are and how to use them, you will enjoy making them a part of your color arsenal when it comes to photography, interior design, painting or other artwork.

What are Triadic Colors?

In order to understand triadic colors, you need to think about the basic color wheel. Triadic colors are sets of three colors that are equally spaced from each other on the color wheel. When placed side by side, a set of triadic colors can be interesting and vivacious.

Triadic colors are easy to identify on the color wheel. Find them by placing an equilateral triangle on the color wheel. Each point of the triangle will point to a color. When all three of these colors are combined, you will have a traditional triadic color scheme. The following are perfect examples of triadic color combinations:

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

Any time you use triadic colors in a project, it is best to keep them balanced. For example, when decorating, choose one of the three colors as the main color, and use the others as accent colors. By learning how to use triadic color schemes, you will be able to achieve balance perfectly.

How to Use Triadic Color Schemes

Four different triadic color swatches with color wheels

A color scheme describes a selection of colors from the color wheel that are used in art and decorating. Color schemes utilize specific colors on the wheel according to their location. There are seven color schemes in total. This includes triadic colors as well as analogous, complementary, split-complementary, rectangular (tetradic), square, and monochromatic colors.

Many of these color schemes are self-explanatory and simple to use. All you need to do is identify them and get to work. Triadic colors require a little more thought and care, but they can be very powerful. This means that using a triadic color scheme properly allows you to create cheerful and lively results in photography, painting, interior design, and other craftsmanship. Unfortunately, if you use them incorrectly, the result is quite harsh to the eye.

Using Triadic Colors Equally

When you use triadic colors in equal portions, the result is a wonderful child-like appeal. An excellent example of this is when they are used in a child’s bedroom or playroom. Designers, parents, and teachers all love using red, blue, and yellow. This is the primary triadic color scheme. All three colors are bold, and when used for kids, can be stimulating and exciting. It is a color scheme that definitely grabs your attention. That is hard to do with toddlers and preschoolers if you stick to complementary pastel color schemes.

Using Triadic Colors Toned Down

Set of isometric geometry in toned down triadic colors

Don’t let the idea of triadic colors being extremely vibrant scare you away from using them. There are ways to tone down the effect. Tone down your triadic color scheme by using one of the three colors as a dominant color and the other two as secondary colors. Using you equilateral triangle, place it on the color wheel with it pointing to the color you want to use as your main color. The other two points of the triangle will be on your other two colors, or secondary colors.

Whether painting, decorating, or taking a photo, make sure the main color covers the largest area. The other two should be utilized in smaller portions. This lowers the saturation of two of the triadic colors in your scheme for the most cohesive blend.

Triadic Colors in Decorating

Cozy playroom decorated in red, yellow and blue triadic colors

Interior designers use triadic colors quite often when decorating. Any homeowner can learn how to use triadic color schemes properly in order to achieve professional results in all of their do-it-yourself projects. We already discussed using a bold primary triadic color scheme for vibrant children’s areas, but these color sets can be used beautifully in any room.

Most interior designers will use the trick of choosing one of the three colors as the main one with the other two as accents. For example, you can achieve a lovely French country bedroom by using the same red, blue, and yellow colors as in a child’s room. The first thing you need to do is choose pastel shades of these colors instead of the bold primary versions. Think about a buttery yellow, a powder blue, and a red that is so soft it almost goes into a pink shade. Paint the walls in the buttery yellow. Use this same color for the bedding and window treatments, but choose fabrics that incorporate a soft blue print. Florals work perfectly, especially if there is a rose-tone found in the pattern too. Complete the design by using the red in throw pillows, picture frames, and other small pieces.

Let your imagination run wild as you discover all of the triadic color schemes available to you. Think about how those colors will look together in their most vivid shades as well as how they can work together in softer hues. The more comfortable you feel using these colors, the more creative you can become.

Photography and Triadic Colors

Triadic colors purple, orange and green at sunset sky and clouds in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Using triadic color schemes in photography can be a bit more challenging. When using triadic colors in man-made creations you have total control over shades, hues, and proportions. When searching for the perfect triadic colors in nature, it isn’t so easy, but when you find that perfect balance of triadic colors, you can take a photo that looks pleasing to the eye with plenty of contrast.

While it is easier to make your own triadic color scene than to find it naturally, it is not impossible. Start by choosing a triadic color scheme that you like. We will once again use the red, blue, and yellow triadic colors as an example. Once you find the triadic colors you enjoy, memorize them. Next, you head out into the world like a detective in search of these colors.

If you are just starting out, you will have an easier time locating your triadic colors in an urban setting than you will in rural areas. Walking down a city street, you will find your triadic colors used more often than you would expect. They might be found in a parking lot where a car is your main color and the building in the background use your secondary colors. Advertising in windows and on billboards often use a triadic color scheme in order to be pleasing to the eye while definitely getting your attention.

After some practice, your eye will pick up on triadic colors more easily. At this point, head out into nature. Search through the woods and flower gardens for triadic color schemes. You will be surprised how common they actually are, and when you get that perfect photo of a large red rose blossom with buttercups and bluebonnets in the blurred background, all of your effort will certainly pay off in one amazing piece of art.

Don’t Shy Away From Triadic Colors

Don’t be afraid to use triadic colors in your creative projects. While they may seem intimidating at first, you will love the results you can achieve. Balance is key, no matter where you use a triadic color scheme. Keep in mind the proportions of the colors, the lighting, and placement. When used correctly, triadic colors are extremely rewarding.