How to pick complementary colours for your flyer design

Colour is powerful in design.

It helps you send a message to your audience without using any words. How do you pick your brand colours?

The right colours can attract attention, evoke certain emotions, and even influence purchasing decisions. In fact, studies show that ads in colour are read 42% more often than the same ads in black and white. 

But choosing colours for your flyer design can be overwhelming. Where do you start? 

Enter the colour wheel. 

A colour wheel is a tool used by designers to understand colours’ relationships with each other and which combinations work best. But it’s not limited to designers; scientists and artists have been using the colour wheel for centuries (the first known colour wheel was used by Sir Isaac Newton in the mid-1600s). And there’s a lot we can learn from how artists and scientists approach colour.  

How does the colour wheel work?

The colour wheel presents a logically arranged sequence of pure hues. There are three categories you need to know: 

Primary Colours

All other colours are derived from red, blue and yellow. What makes these three colours unique is that they cannot be mixed or created using a combination of other colours. 

Secondary Colours

Mix the primary colours and you get secondary colours e.g. yellow + blue = green. 

Tertiary Colours

Mix a primary colour with a secondary colour and you get a tertiary colour, e.g. yellow + orange = yellow-orange. 

Simple, right?

Pick colours that work together

You can use the colour wheel to create “colour harmony”, which is the technical term for colours that work together. There are a number of ways to create great colour combinations. Here are three techniques to try:

Colour Scheme #1 Analogous colours

Analogous colours are any three colours that sit side by side on a 12-part colour wheel. So you might pick yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. Typically with analogous colours, there’s one dominant colour, either because it appears in the design more often or it stands out more in comparison with the other colours. The other colours are referred to as “accent colours”. 

Nature is the best example of analogous colours in action – you can find endless inspiration for harmonious colour schemes simply by looking out your window or searching on Instagram.  

Colour Scheme #2 Complementary colours

Complementary colours are two colours that sit directly opposite each other on the colour wheel. Red and green is a popular complementary colour combination (Christmas, anyone?). 

Complementary colour schemes create maximum contrast and high intensity – perfect when you want something to stand out – but they can be difficult to balance and therefore jarring in large doses.

Colour Scheme #3 Groupings

Finally, there are different ways you can group colours:

  • Triadic groups any three colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel. This scheme tends to be vibrant, regardless of which colours you choose.

  • Split complementary uses any colour on the wheel, plus the two bordering its complement. This creates visual contract without the jarring of a pure complementary colour scheme.

  • Tetradic (rectangle) uses the four colours of two complementary pairs. This results in an extremely eye-catching design [link to IVE Design page] with lots of possibilities for variation. It tends to work best if one colour is dominant.

  • Square uses four colours spaced evenly around the wheel. Again, it works best with one dominant colour.

Explore and play

The best way to find out what works is to take inspiration from the scientists of yesteryear: experiment. Check out one of the many free colour tools online, like Adobe Color CC, Paletton or the Color Calculator. 

Ultimately, the colours you choose for your flyer come down to what works for your brand and your audience. Why stop at one colour scheme? Keep exploring and trying new things to see what gets the best results. That’s what great marketing is all about. 

Ready to create your next flyer design? Our designers are ready to help. Call us on 1300 725 628 to get a quote.

Get a quote
Tell us about your project and we'll be in touch asap.