Definition of a triadic color scheme

Written by katherine harder
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Definition of a triadic color scheme
Blue, yellow and red make up one version of a triadic colour scheme. (Primary Colours image by Mart 61 from

As you could probably glean from its name, a triadic colour scheme uses three colours. More specifically, the triadic colour scheme uses three colours equally distant from each other on the 12-section colour wheel. In general, colour schemes are used to create an attractive colour arrangement in commercial design, interior design and artworks.


Picture the colour wheel as a pie; now cut that pie into three equal pieces, and the three colours through which those lines cut will make up a triadic colour scheme. Another method for finding colours for a triadic colour scheme is to visualise an equilateral triangle in the centre of the colour wheel, with each of its points touching the border of the wheel. The three points of the triangle fall on three colours, which are members of a triadic colour scheme. Either method will create a triadic colour scheme regardless of how you rotate the triangle or where you cut the pie pieces, as long as your cuts or triangle sides remain equal.


Artists, designers and others use triadic colour schemes to create vibrant, rich, stongly contrasted pieces. The only colour scheme which affords more contrast is the complementary scheme, which uses two colours opposite from each other on the wheel, but often the triadic scheme is favoured over the complementary scheme as the colours in a triadic scheme seem more harmonious.


Probably one of the most easily recognised triadic colour schemes is the grouping of primary colours: yellow, red and blue. Find green, orange and violet on the colour wheel and you'll notice that the three colours are equidistant; they are also part of a triadic colour scheme. Further examples include yellow-green, red-orange and blue-violet as well as blue-green, yellow-orange and red-violet.

Triadic Color Schemes in Art

The website Tiger Color recommends using one colour in the triadic colour scheme as your dominant hue while allowing the remaining two colours to serve as accent colours. Andy Warhol famously used a triadic colour scheme in his work "Shot Blue Marilyn"; the colours in his work include yellow, blue and a red tint.

Triadic Color Schemes in Interior Design

In an interview for an article on HGTV, design firm president Michelle Pollak suggests that triadic colour schemes work best with modern or contemporary homes. Pollak recommends this colour scheme for rooms that need to be imbued with an energetic mood instead of calm.

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