What Is a Color Wheel? How Do You Use It in Miniature Painting?

A color wheel saved my sanity! Nothing is worse than taking the time to clean, prime, and paint a miniature only to be unsatisfied with the final result. It wasn’t that the painting wasn’t on point. The colors just seemed to clash.

What is a color wheel, and how do you use it in Miniature Painting? A color wheel is a circular graph organized by color hue. The color wheel, or color circle as it is sometimes called, gives you a visual reference between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. You can look at the color wheel to determine which colors will fit the scheme of your miniature best.

At some point, we have all learned that the three primary colors are blue, red, and yellow. The secondary colors are orange, purple, and green. They are made by combining two primary colors.

Remember how you learned that? The color wheel! It’s not just kid stuff. There is more to learn about it and how it can bring your miniature painting to a whole new level. 

Color Wheel Basics

Before we get started, take a look at some helpful color terminology to know:

  • Tertiary Colors: Colors made with a mixture of primary and secondary hues.
  • Complementary Colors: Colors that are located opposite each other on a color wheel.
  • Analogous Colors: Colors that are adjacent to each other on a color wheel.

A color wheel helps you pick out complementary colors to give contrast and accentuate your painting.

On the color wheel, just look directly opposite of your chosen color to see its complementary color. 

How to Use the Color Wheel for Miniature Painting

You can use the color wheel to determine which colors look best together. 

Analogous colors are used to highlight your model. These are the colors on the color wheel that are to the immediate left and right of your chosen color. Use an analogous color to make your main color pop.

Triad colors go together well also. If you look at a color wheel, a triad grouping would be three colors that were equal distance from each other.

A triad group usually looks very good together and should be considered on your project. Red, yellow, and blue is one example.

Using the Color Wheel as a Guide

The color wheel is a great guide to help you avoid making errors in your choice of a color scheme. A color wheel will help you pick harmonious colors that don’t clash.

You can purchase a color wheel at most stores where you can buy your painting supplies or you can pull up one online. 

Here is a really cool color wheel tool for designers – play around with it to get an idea of how the color wheel helps you choose colors that work well together.

It’s something you can pull up yourself when you have a great color that you’ve blended for which you want to find a complement.

Although you can memorize the placement of colors, when dealing with different hues and such, I find it much easier to use the color wheel to visually see and plot what colors I want to use on my miniatures.

The right color scheme not only looks good but can be used to create feelings and emotions. For tips on how to use a color wheel for your painting, take a moment to watch this video.

The more I understand about the color wheel, the better my miniature painting skills have become. Keep reading, and yours will be too.

What Are Complementary Colors?

Complementary colors are the colors at opposite ends of the color wheel from each other. For the primary colors, their complementary colors are: 

  • Blue → orange. 
  • Red → green. 
  • Yellow → purple. 

You would pick a complementary color when you want to give contrast or intensity to your miniature or accentuate the base color of your painting.

You see stunning examples of this in nature. The blue sky and an orange sunset or a red strawberry and its green leaves are ones that come to mind.

I was very proud of the majestic look I got from the combination of purple and yellow I used on a wizard. 

Complementary colors, when paired together, seem to bring out the best in each other.

When two perfect complements are matched, the contrast can be fascinating.

Keep in mind, if you are putting text on a colored background, the use of complementary colors, in this case, can make the words difficult to see.

As you may have noticed with each set of complementary colors, every primary color is represented. If you mix all three primary colors, the result is a dark neutral.

Complementary colors quickly neutralize each other when mixed together since all three primary colors are represented in each set. 

Tip: If you want to decrease the intensity of a color that is too bright, add a speck of its complementary color to that color.

Remember, you put those colors next to or close together to get the focal color to stand out. Also, mixing complementary colors together creates interesting neutrals.

Add white, black, or gray for even more beautiful shades of neutral colors.

What Are Analogous Colors?

Analogous colors are colors located close together on a color wheel. You can use an analogous color scheme to create awesome monochromatic looks.

When doing so, you want to choose shades that have enough of a contrast that you can see each one. If not, the colors may blend together and appear like your miniature is all one color.

In an analogous color scheme, it is best to pick one color as the dominant color for your miniature. This will keep the colors from competing with each other.

I usually choose the middle color as the dominant color, but that is my choice. You don’t have to choose the middle color in your analogous scheme.

What looks best is subjective, so experiment with it to see which you like best.

What Are the Warm Colors?

Red, yellow, and orange are considered warm colors. They visually jump out at you and can dominate their appearance on your miniature.

Since they are bold in nature, warm colors can be used to help convey anger, lust, and action in your work.

Each shade of a primary color can lean toward one or the other primary color. This is referred to as the color’s bias. 

For example, shades of red are either more yellowish and called a warm red or the red is more bluish and considered a cool red.

When mixing colors, you want the hue of the color to match in temperature. A bluish yellow and a yellowish blue should be mixed together to get the brightest green possible.

There is also psychology in color temperature.

Warm colors are said to be stimulating and believed to be able to evoke strong emotions, provide a sense of urgency, and promote activity.

You may want to use warm colors on your miniature to create a certain mood or an attitude of anger and rage on your character.

Also, if you are painting environmental props, use warm colors to create chaotic-looking scenery.

What Are the Cool Colors?

Blue, green, and violet are considered cool colors. They go to all the great parties, know all the celebrities, and sorry—bad joke.

The reason they are called cool colors is they give off a peaceful effect and don’t overpower whatever you are painting.

Cool colors are also used to give the illusion of large spaces, just like you see in nature with a blue sky or a violet night.

When using cool colors in your work, they offer an air of calm and relaxation. They evoke a sense of health, tranquility, and wisdom.

They can also be used to convey royalty and respect. When used for scenery, they create a feeling of openness. 

I like using the cooler colors to convey personality in my miniatures. I like to use the purple, blues, and greens on characters that don’t use physical strength first.

Wizards, kings, and archers – I almost always paint those characters with one or more of those three colors as my dominant color or colors.

Bringing the Color Wheel into Your Miniature Painting

If you enjoy giving your miniatures personality and vibrancy, using the color wheel will only enhance your craft. Put it to work for you and bring your figures to life!