Color Theory: A Guide For Nail Artists

Posted by Ren Wu

What Is Color Theory In Art

Color theory is one of the most valuable pieces of knowledge any artist can have. Without it, it can be difficult to make sense of and even create artistic masterpieces!

Key Takeaways

  • Color theory is a practical guide for artists to understand what colors go together
  • The basis of color theory is the color wheel, which describes the relationship between all colors
  • Understanding things like color value can help you make the most stunning color scheme
  • Even if you don't have an artistic hand, color theory can help you discover your creative side and enjoy true self-expression as a nail artist

Here's everything you need to know about color theory when it comes to nail art.

See Related: 5 Pretty Easter Nail Colors And Designs

#1. Where Did Color Theory Come From?

If you want to utilize the power of color theory as a nail artist (or any type of artist, for that matter,) one of the first steps is understanding what color theory really is.

Color theory for artists is sort of the foundation of it all.

But because it's just a theory, it can't actually be proven. That's because it's hard to prove anything in art! However, just because you can't necessarily prove color theory doesn't make it any less accepted or necessary.

The History Of Color Theory

Like any other theory or law in this world, color theory came from somewhere.

It's widely believed that the first instance of color theory was found in a short text from ancient Greece called On Colors. It's not known who wrote it, but it was initially attributed to Aristotle.

This text argued that four primary colors come from the four elements, fire, air, water, and earth. It also stated that all colors come from a spectrum between light and darkness.

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The First Color Wheel

In the 18th century, English mathematician and theologian Isaac Newton published the first edition of his book Opticks, discussing his take on light and color. He argued that white light, instead of being devoid of all colors, was a combination of all colors.

He also discovered that by blending various colors, he could produce new colors that didn't exist in a normal rainbow. Armed with this knowledge, he could wrap the existing color spectrum into a circular shape.

Many believe that this was the first instance of the color wheel.

As time when on, other notable names like German poet Wolfgang von Goethe and German painter Philipp Otto Runge worked to further define the perception of color.

#2. The Power Of The Color Wheel

Color theory isn't just one simple statement that artists use occasionally. In fact, it's built on various principles and parts that go hand-in-hand to support color theory as we know it.

One of the most critical parts of color theory is the color wheel. After Sir Isaac Newton developed the first color wheel, it developed and evolved into the color wheel we know today.

As you go around the circle, you find each color in the order of the spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.)

The Foundation Of The Color Wheel

The color wheel is more than just a colorful circle. There is meaning to the layout, and that starts with primary colors.

Color temperature color wheel different colour combinations primary colour colour relationships learning colour theory for artists yellow green cool colors colour theory primary and secondary colours

Primary Colors

Primary colors are simply red, yellow, and blue. And there are a few reasons why these three shades are so critical in color theory.

For starters, no other colors can be mixed to produce primary colors. That means that they can only be made by using their natural pigments.

Primary colors can also be mixed with each other in order to produce all other colors in the color wheel. That means you can create any other conceivable color you can imagine with just these three shades!

Secondary Colors

After primary colors, we have the shades known as secondary colors. These shades are orange, green, and purple. By mixing equal parts of primary colors, we can create secondary colors!

For example, we can make purple by mixing equal parts of red and blue.

Tertiary Colors

You can get a tertiary color by mixing equal parts of one primary color and one secondary color. There are six tertiary colors: red-purple, red-orange, blue-green, yellow-green, blue-purple, and yellow-orange.

When naming a tertiary color, you should list the primary color first, followed by the secondary color.

Complementary colors

The color wheel is about more than mixing different shades. It's also about understanding the relationship between various colors.

Complementary colors are two colors that sit opposite from each other on the color wheel. Because of this structured relationship, complementary colors tend to clash heavily but can provide some incredibly bold schemes in the act.

Some examples of complementary color combinations include yellow and purple, green and red, or even black and orange for some cute Halloween-inspired nail designs!

#3. Applying Color Values

Now that you understand the basics of the color wheel and its structure, it's time to move on to what is known as color values. As an artist or nail art enthusiast, understanding color value will be extremely important!

The value of a color is the amount of lightness or darkness it has. Therefore, adding white or black to a color can alter its value.

By adding white, you would increase the value by making it much lighter. And by adding black, you would decrease the value by making it darker.

Yellow orange primary and secondary colors colour theory own colour wheel colour theory colour theory colour theory warm and cool colors warm and cool colors complementary color scheme blue green neutral colors

Color Value For Artists

Very rarely do we use the pure shade or tone of a color. We often blend different colors or shades in order to get what we want!

Take, for example, blue.

A light sky blue would carry a much different feeling than a dark, stormy blue. The lightness or darkness of a shade very often can completely alter the entire personality of a hue.

As a nail artist, it's important not to underestimate this fact. If you're looking to create the perfect spring nail design, opt for a bright pink rather than a sultry blood red. Even though these shades are technically the same hue (both stemming from red), they are very much different colors.

Creating Perfect Nail Art Right AT Home

Do you want to learn more about what it takes to be a nail designer? Maniology's Nail Academy is the perfect place for you if you understand how to create stunning and professional-quality nail designs right at home.

You'll also be able to see our step-by-step process when using our iconic nail stamping kits.

In just five simple steps, you can create intricate and detailed nail designs all without leaving your bedroom. You don't need to worry about taking a trip to the nail salon, and you can forget about trying to freehand anything.

Our nail stamping kits make it incredibly straightforward and simple to get the nails of your dreams! Whether you're a bookworm or more of a cat person, we have a design for everyone.

Bonus: 5 Nail Care Tips For Healthy Hands

#4. Creating Color Schemes

One of the best parts of being an artist is putting together colors. Understanding color theory is just the beginning! Now it's time to utilize what you know to create stunning and gorgeous color schemes.

There are different ways to create color combinations and schemes as defined by color theory. In short, nearly every standard color scheme you create has a name to it.

So, let's get started.

Colour wheel colour wheel colour wheel color theory for artists tertiary colors analogous colors split complementary analogous color scheme color wheel primary colors triadic color scheme blue light blue violet landscape painting secondary color colour temperature mix colours colour temperature

Monochromatic Color Scheme

One of the most appealing color schemes is a monochromatic scheme. This is made by combining different tints and shades of one color.

All you need to do is add white or black to your chosen color in order to make a monochromatic color scheme. For example, if you pick purple, you can combine shades like lavender, mauve, and perhaps royal purple to make your scheme.

If you're looking to create some monochromatic nail art, try pairing up Maniology's Flourish and Baroque purple stamping polishes. It'll give you a to-die-for color combo that will look stunning on your fingertips!

Analogous Colors

Colors next to each other on the color wheel are known as analogous colors. These colors can make some stunning combinations and are easy to pair.

A popular analogous color combination would include colors like red, red-purple, purple, and blue-purple. But the possibilities are endless!

Complementary Color Scheme

Let's revisit complementary colors. To recap, complementary colors are located directly across from each other on the color wheel, which can lead to some stunning combinations.

Some examples include yellow and purple, blue and orange, or green and red.

Warm Colors

Though there are other ways to relate colors to each other through the color wheel (like color triads or split complementary colors), a popular way to characterize color schemes is through their temperature.

Warm colors are hues that are commonly associated with and related to warm things. Red, orange, and yellow are the three warm colors from the color wheel.

Notice how all three of these colors are also near each other on the wheel.

Sometimes, it can be hard to determine the temperature of a color. For example, purple and red sit next to each other on the color wheel, but only red is considered warm. That's because purple contains a blueish hue which causes it to be regarded as a cool color.

Complementary colours other colours colour relationships called intermediate colors primary secondary and tertiary mixing red light watercolor painting triadic colors evenly spaced black paint same color evenly spaced color model triadic colors mix colors color temperature value scale color temperature dominant color

Cool Colors

If a color isn't warm, then it's likely cool. By dividing the color wheel in half, we can define any and all colors as either warm or cool!

Cool colors include green, blue, indigo, and purple. While warm colors often remind us of things like fire or the sun, cool colors are associated with things like water or grass.

#5. Using Color Theory As A Nail Artist

Any artist knows that color theory is critical. It contains fundamental knowledge and provides artists with a practical guide when picking color combinations and creating color schemes.

However, there's no definite guide to making fantastic art. Even if you understand color theory doesn't guarantee you will be able to create an artistic masterpiece!

Nail art is about self-expression and using your inner vision to create something you love. There's no authority on what exceptional art is because art is something subjective to each of us. And because of that, color theory is merely a way to help you understand what color combinations will best suit your vision!

The Key To Amazing Art

The best part about nail art is creating something unique to you. However, nail art can feel daunting when you don't have the professional artistic skills needed to freehand those perfect floral patterns.

Luckily, as long as you have the right tools, you don't need to worry about any limitations in your nail art journey. With Maniology's nail stamping kits, all you need to focus on is expanding your imagination and deciding which colors you'd like to pair together!

Looking to reawaken your mythical creativity? Our Forest Wonders nail stamping plates will let you use your nails as a canvas for your fantasy-inspired creations. Or, if you're looking to be a bit edgy, our Modern Abstract nail stamping plate set will help you make some trendy nail designs.

Being an artist shouldn't be daunting or difficult. It's all about understanding how to use colors and discovering your creativity in the meantime!

Keep Reading: 6 Cute & Flirty Spring Nail Ideas You'll Want To Try Out


At Maniology, we believe your nails are opportunities for adventure, fun, and unrestrained artistic expression. Our nail stamping plates and nail accessories are here to help foster your self-expression in the hopes of building a community of individuality. For more nail tutorials, subscription box updates, and designs, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

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  • Thanks for sharing this! I think it can be helpful. I learned a lot of this in school but this is good time have in the back pocket, so to speak.

    Jackie on

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