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I often find myself trying to determine which colour is the "complementary" one of (or would nicely fit with) two colours imposed by the client brand. At times, only one colour is imposed, and I want to find two colours that would fit it.

Is there a quick and easy way to figure it out?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

There is a wealth of tools out there. If you use Illustrator, it has a colour guide option (other SW might have similar options):

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Of online tools there are loads. Here are but a few:

Adobe Kuler

Color scheme designer


Color Hexa

You can also find user-created colour schemes:

Color lovers

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Kudos! For the awesome tools :) – CheeseCake Feb 26 '14 at 16:36

If you want a quick and easy solution, you can use and select "triad" option for two complimentary colours.

Other options are available depending on how many subsequent colours you need.

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+1 for a great site. Thanks! – ckpepper02 Feb 26 '14 at 14:20

Try playing around with the HSB colour selection model. In HSB (Hue, Saturation, Brightness), Hues (H) are laid out in a circular fashion, with their H values varying between 0 degrees (red) and 360 degrees (red again). If you want a colour's complementary hue, sample its H value and add 180 degrees to it (or subtract 180, whichever gives a valuw between 0 and 360) to get the complementary. Thus, red (H=0) has a complementary in cyan (H=180).

If you want a colour's full complementary, you should also invert the S and B values, which are expressed in precentages. For example, a dark desaturated red (read: brown) has a complementary in a light, saturated cyan.

HSB is available in the colour pickers of most (if not all) Adobe software.

This is only one method. There are multiple other colour models, with their own sets of complementaries. The classic complementary pair red-green, for example, are not complementary in HSB.

If it's creating colour schemes that you're after, you should try more than just complementary colours: there are multiple ways of looking for hues and colours that go well with a base colour. Try playing around with Illustrator's Color Guide ( Window > Color Guide or Shift+F3), where you can choose a base colour and multiple 'harmony rules' to create a scheme. You can try Adobe Kuler for an online version with even more customisation options.

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The simple solution is to subtract each RGB value from 255. If you want to try more advanced solutions, you could look at the color schemer.

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You could even directly subtract the hex color code from FFFFFF. Iʼm surprised that only two people actually answered with “scientific” explanations

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Hi smoothly-driven, welcome to GDSE and thanks for your answer. Don't be too surprised: design is only part science, a large part is art :). If you have any questions, please see the help center or ping one of us in Graphic Design Chat once your reputation is sufficient (20). Keep contributing and enjoy the site! – Vincent May 12 '15 at 7:46

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