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Primary and Secondary Colours and How To Use Them

Updated on February 20, 2012

The Primary Colour Wheel

The primary colours, colour wheel.
The primary colours, colour wheel.

Primary Colours

As you may or may not have realised by now, i'm English and so I will be typing 'colour(s)' with a 'u'. Sorry about that if you're American.

Anywho, the three primary colours are Red, Yellow and Blue. These colours are primary in the fact that they are the basic colours, the beginning of any colour. These three colours cannot be made using any other colours, they can only make more colours.

Secondary Colours

Secondary colours are what can be made from mixing two of the three primary colours. This is more easily explained below:

Red + Blue = Purple

Red + Yellow = Orange

Blue + Red = Purple

Blue + Yellow = Green

Yellow + Red = Orange

Yellow + Blue = Green

So which ever way you choose to mix 2 of these 3 primary colours you can only ever produce 3 secondary colours: Orange, Green and Purple.

The Primary and Secondary Colours, Colour Wheel

Above is the primary and secondary colour wheel. It shows the secondary colours slotted in the original primary colour wheel next to their makers. For example, red and yellow make orange, so orange is slotted in-between red and yellow.

The Itten Colour Wheel

When researching primary and secondary colours, you may easily find yourself looking at one of the most famous colour wheels. The Itten colour wheel. Johannes Itten (11 November 1888 - 27 May 1967) was a Swiss expressionist painter.

He created his wheel which effortlessly shows the primary and secondary colours, and the effect they have on each other. If we look at the red and blue primary colours in the center for instance, we can see how they blend to make purple. On the outer ring of the wheel the purple goes from light to dark. It's more towards red on the right, with the more red added, making it lighter. It's more towards blur on the left, with the more blue added, making it darker. An this is replicated with all three of the primary and secondary colours.

However, as well as showing the relationship between the primary and secondary colours, this wheel helps to show which colours complement each other, and which do not.

We'll use purple as an example again. Either side of purple is red and blue. Therefore, you know that red and blue go well together with purple. This relationship is repeated for all of the secondary colours and has several practical applications. Artists for instance may refer to this wheel when painting, as well as interior decorators - they need to know what colours go well together. Fashion designers may also refer to this wheel when designing clothes. You get the idea, - it's a useful wheel.


So if you got here by typing 'What are the primary and secondary colours?' into a search engine, then the short answer is:


  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Blue


  • Purple
  • Orange
  • Green

So go fourth and enjoy your art! For top quality art products, visit Mr Art!

Your Primary Colour!

Just out of curiosity...what is your favourite primary colour?

See results


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    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • Hawkstryker profile imageAUTHOR

      Matt Dawes 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi Joe, cheers! Welcome yourself! I hope you enjoy my hub(s). This is a fairly simplistic view of primary and secondary colours and how to use them. I'm trying to keep my hubs down to the point, with the facts. After studying Product Design and university, I know how it is to search high and low for facts! I'll be sure to read you hub too it looks very interesting.

      Thanks again!

    • retrojoe profile image

      Joseph Ritrovato 

      7 years ago from Vancouver, WA (nextdoor to Portland, OR)

      Hi Matt, Welcome to hubpages! I have only been here five weeks myself. I am very interested in color so I'll be back to check out this hub in more detail when I have the time. There's a hub I put together based on color also. It relates to astrology and the pride flag. If your curious you can check it out here:



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