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How To Use a Tetradic Color Scheme

How To Use a Tetradic Color Scheme

Design Process
8 min read

Design is a complex phenomenon. A project succeeds when all its parts are balanced and work for the defined goals. One of those parts is color. It’s known to influence people's emotions and behavior. It's a powerful tool that, when used correctly, helps convey the desired message. You can discover more about the importance of color psychology in your design in our article.

Here, we will share our vision of using the color wheel, which we have tested and successfully applied in projects for our clients. Together with you, we will analyze the options for color combinations within its limits, look at the tetradic color scheme definition, and discover how to work with this scheme.

Color Wheel

Let's start with the basics. Working with color has its own rules, although it can look like an exclusively creative process. The basis of the combination of different shades is color circles or schemes. This is a spectrum of all colors and their shades in the form of a transition. 

The original circle was the seven colors of the rainbow, with purple acting as the unifying color for the beginning and the end, that is, for red and blue. Later, the circle was improved by adding five more colors. Therefore, the basic scheme looks like this:

  • primary colors: red, yellow, blue
  • secondary colors: orange, green, purple
  • tertiary colors: red-orange, yellow-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green

Characteristics of Colors within The Color Wheel

The traditional circle was once used for mixing paints, so the colors had very practical characteristics:

  1. Hue 

Hue is what most people refer to as ‘pure color’ — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, etc. It reflects the color’s position on the traditional color wheel. Hue is identified in a unique color code, such as #ffff00 for yellow.

  1. Value 

Value is the lightness or darkness of a color, which is determined by how light or dark it is on the spectrum from white to black. For example, for primary yellow, the lighter shade will be the number #ffff99. That is, this color is closer to white than to black.

  1. Saturation 

Saturation is the level of visual difference of one shade from the same one in lightness of color. Or, in other words, the intensity of color, its depth, juiciness, or purity. 

Saturation determines the purity of the hue, meaning the most intense version of the color will be the purest of all, while the less saturated will be closer to gray, muted, not pure. For yellow, the primary #ffff00 will be an intense option, and #cccc33 is a less saturated shade accordingly.

Color Combinations

Although the existing spectrum of colors is unchanging, there are many ways to work with it and combine its elements. Here are some ways to mix shades using the color wheel.

Analogous Colors

This is a combination of colors and their shades, located next to each other on the color wheel, one after the other. They are easy to combine because they do not create a striking contrast but harmoniously cooperate in the design. 

For example, red, orange, and yellow can be used for warm compositions. The disadvantage of such a combination may be an uninteresting, too-static design. Try using shades of analog colors that are different in saturation or brightness to add contrast and dynamics.

Complementary Colors

Such a comparison is more contrasting than analog. Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. They are entirely polar and create two accents in the composition. Complementary combinations are fresh and dynamic, but you should work with them carefully. 

For example, make one color the main and leave the other for details. If your design is already saturated with elements, such sharp contrasts can overload the composition. Examples of complementary combinations are red and green, blue and orange.

Triadic Colors

It is more difficult to use not two but three colors. Triadic is a combination of three shades located at the same distance from each other on the color spectrum and conditionally form a triangle. This mix also creates contrast, like complementary pairs, but makes it more balanced. 

In order not to overload the design, use the same advice as for working with two colors: make only one dominant and add the other two in the form of details or small text. An example of a triad is a combination of yellow, blue, and red.

Tetradic Colors

This mix of colors is also called double complementarity. A tetrad is four colors, that is, two pairs of complementary combinations. Tetradic color scheme examples are green with red and blue with yellow. The four selected shades connected should form a rectangle within the color spectrum (not necessarily a square). That is, pairs can be located far away, as complementary, or quite close, as analogous or triadic.

On the one hand, using several colors opens up many opportunities for creating the desired mood for the final result. But at the same time, the double contrast must be successfully implemented in the design so as not to oversaturate and lose balance in the composition. 

The advice on adjusting the accents will help here, but it is a bit more difficult to apply it with four colors. You can choose the main, secondary, and two additional shades and form the design according to this scheme.

Square Colors

Another double complementarity that requires contrast of the strongest level. Instead of forming a rectangle with any distance and boundaries of the color wheel, this mapping requires the same distance between the four colors. The principle of the triad, but with one additional nuance.

Among the examples of tetradic color scheme of this kind is using orange instead of yellow, together with blue, green, and red, or their shades, which are located at the same distance. Accordingly, the level of saturation will also be identical. So that the design is not too loud and active, minimize the number of colors of one pair, focusing on two accent colors.

How To Use a Tetradic Color Scheme in Design?

The combination of four colors opens up many possibilities for design but requires a successful and deliberate use within one composition. Several rules will work for any type of good tetradic color scheme.

Watch for Cool and Warm Hues

Since the contrast in combinations of four colors is already off the charts, you should not create additional accents by playing with the warmth of shades. Try to work only in a cold or a warm range. As an option, you can choose one accent color, which will differ in warmth and not just dominance in terms of quantity in the design from the rest.

Work on Balance

In addition to warmth, consider the saturation of contrasting colors, the frequency of their use, and the background of the design. Of course, the best option would be to apply only one rich color as an accent and reduce the intensity of the others. In addition, choose a neutral background that will neutralize an aggressive combination.

Keep It Simple

Do not add extra details if you already use four tetradic colors within the same composition. Keep the design simple, with readable fonts and clear shapes. Complementary colors will add dynamics and depth, emphasize elements of the composition, strengthen the idea, and not overshadow it with their intensity.


Use this theoretical knowledge to better understand your designs and tips on how to work with the tetradic color scheme for successful compositions and combinations. Keep an eye on the balance and warmth of shades, and experiment with saturated and pastel options. And most importantly, follow the rules, but don't forget to be creative.

If you need professional help choosing the right color scheme for your digital product — we are here for you. With seven years of experience in UI/UX design, we know how to do it right. Contact us and leverage our expertise! 


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