Good morning! Welcome to this month’s color installment! Today I thought we’d take a look at triadic color schemes. By definition triadic color schemes are a combination of three colors with equal space between them on the color wheel. Because the colors are in high contrast to each other, these color schemes can be quite bold. To help visualize the triads or triangles of color, I decided to put together a more complete color wheel than I have for previous posts.

So far, I’ve focused on the primary and secondary colors of the color wheel, but most color wheels include tertiary colors as well – six additional colors created by mixing primary and secondary colors, and thus falling in between the two colors on the wheel that were used to mix them. Obviously, I didn’t mix the colors above, so it’s really just a simple interpretation based on the colors we have available. But I wanted to expand the wheel as best as I could to better illustrate the possibilities. With a twelve-color wheel, you end up with four triangles. The primary and secondary triads plus two tertiary triads. I use the first two often and associate each with specific occasions or topic as you will see next with a couple of examples from the archives. But I rarely use the tertiary triads, so I wanted to give more attention to those and create something new with them in order to play outside of my typical box – or triangle as the case may be! First up, the basics.

The most well known triadic color scheme is the primary color triad of red, blue, and yellow. Or for us, Pure Poppy, Blueberry Sky, and Bright Buttercup. Many of us probably use this trio a lot. For me, it’s an ideal color scheme for kids’ cards. I love a bundle of primary colored balloons or even simple design elements for a pop of color! It’s a perfect gender-neutral color scheme or with a swap of pink in place of red, it can be a little more purposefully girly.

I also think of primary colors when it comes to superheroes too. I even created my whole Zappy Birthday and Superhero collections with these colors in mind. This card from the original release of Zappy Birthday is the perfect example. The high contrast is very upbeat and fun and really pops.

The secondary color triad of orange, green, and purple is also probably well-known, although perhaps not used as often as the primary triad. From our wheel, we have Orange Zest, New Leaf, and Amethyst Allure. I do use this color scheme often, but usually for one specific holiday… Halloween!

I get tired of simple orange and black, preferring a more colorful Halloween look. Since purple and green are typically used for witches and ghosts, this triad and minor variations of it are very Halloween to me. The card above, from a long-ago release of the now retired Haunted Borders, is a great example. Spooky potions, right?! And because I think of ghosts in a lighter green, I swapped Limeade Ice in for New Leaf, but on a pumpkin or witch card, a darker green would be perfect.

So now, let’s take a look at the two tertiary triads. In basic color terms, this one consists of yellow-orange, blue-green, and red-violet. Or as I’ve gathered, Summer Sunrise, Hawaiian Shores, and Lavender Moon. Once you get into the third level of color mixing, the colors are a little less sharp. They still have more contrast than analogous colors, for example, but they’re a little more subdued than the first two triads.

I immediately thought this color trio would create a nice flower. I also thought it had a bit of a vintage feel, so I reached for Vintage Linens and I love the results. I would never have pulled these colors specifically if not for the color wheel! For a card with a little more pop, you could swap in a stronger hue of red-violet.

Luckily, the flower pieces helped me portion out the colors, kind of naturally following the 60-30-10 percent rule of thumb for three colors on its own. Sometimes I like an equal balance of color – it depends on the design for me – but this little rule is perfect for colors that might compete with each other too much. The resulting flower looks really crisp on the white, while the smokey shadow behind the die cut pattern grounds it nicely and adds interest.

The second tertiary triad includes red-orange, yellow-green, and blue-violet. Or from our wheel, Terracotta Tile, Limeade Ice, and Winter Wisteria. At first, I thought these colors were speaking Halloween to me like the secondary colors automatically do. But once I got into them and saw more red than orange in the Terracotta Tile, I thought they would make a pretty butterfly.

So out came my favorite Life is Beautiful butterfly die. I decided to use paper rather than ink on this card, die cutting open butterflies in each color plus one in white, along with a solid butterfly, also in white. I pieced the colors into the white butterfly adhered to the solid one, again somewhat following the 60-30-10 percent rule. I tend to use it more as a guideline of more, less, and a little than actual measurements.

I decided to showcase half the butterfly with a larger sentiment inside of the stitched oval detail, kind of like it’s landing on the sentiment. Weathervane is the perfect neutral base color, allowing the color trio to really shine on the white butterfly. Again, we have three colors that I never would’ve put together on my own and I love the result!

So there you have it! Just like every other concept, I encourage you to use these color combos as kind of a jump start. You can try one of the basic triangles or make trades that represent the same colors for a similar effect. While I don’t think the tertiary triads will end up on my go-to list, it really was fun working with colors I normally wouldn’t choose and I do like the results. So who knows? Maybe they’d be good for when I find myself in a rut! What do you think? Do you like the contrast? Have you used these colors together before? Often? Will you try them out now? Please share in the comments!

Have a colorful day!
🙂 lexi


Hello There card
STAMPS: Vintage Linens
INK: Hawaiian Shores, Lavender Moon, Summer Sunrise, Smokey Shadow
PAPER: Stamper’s Select White, Smokey Shadow
DIES: Vintage Linens, Shape Shifters: Square 1
OTHER: MISTI, foam tape

Thinking of You card
STAMPS: Penned Elegance
INK: True Black
PAPER: Stamper’s Select White, Terracotta Tile, Limeaide Ice, Winter Wisteria, Weathervane
DIES: Life is Beautiful, Shape Shifters: Oval 1
OTHER: Quickstik Craft Tool, Zig 2-Way Glue Pen, foam tape

Zappy Birthday card
CLICK HERE for the original post

Happy Halloween card
CLICK HERE for the original post

Papertrey Ink

Author Papertrey Ink

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Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • 1
    Em says:


  • 2
    Adele Holcomb says:

    Thanks as always for a very informative post. I can’t say I love these tertiary color combos, but I like seeing how you put them together and I may play around with the idea. As in previous color posts, I especially like that you have shown us sets of 3 colors that demonstrate the color theory you are teaching.

  • 3
    Merryf says:

    Lexi I love your color lessons each month! Actually making a wheel with the inks is a great way to see coordinating colors — thanks for this tip! Love the Vintage Linens combination!

  • 4
    SueCD says:

    Your color lessons are so very clear. Simple explanation, clear/specific examples and then an invitation to the reader to participate. Perfect in my book! Thank you.

  • 5
    Stephanie Clapper says:

    Hi Lexi! This is a very good explanation! I’ve tried to study my color wheels on my own but the way you’ve laid out the colors, makes sense. Finally, I understand triads, plus the fact you can substitute colors within reason. I didn’t know about the 60-30-10 rule. I am learning a lot from your posts, thank you Lexi. This will help me with the card I’m making, but was having trouble with my 3rd color. I look forward to your color theory classes, very much.

  • 6
    Cindy H. says:

    I can’t say that I am fond of tertiary color combos …well, except for the Halloween colors 🙂 Lexi, I love the lessons and tips you share each month. Thank you!

  • 7
    Brenda says:

    Lexi, I too love your article on color combo’s. I really like that they make you think of other color combo’s. I always read your articles on color and truly enjoy them! Keep up the great work!

  • 8
    Janetb says:

    Thank you for your clear explanation of the color wheel, and the 60-30-10 rule. There are so many things about color that I’m not familiar with, and I’m learning a lot from you. There are definitely some combinations I would never think to use, but seeing your samples, I will try to step out of my triangle, too.

  • 9
    kellyv says:

    i learn so much by reading your colour ambassador posts. thank you for being so thoughtful and thorough in putting them together!

  • 10
    Luanne Ford says:

    I just love this series of yours. It is so helpful and I feel like I learn more with every post. Thank you so much Lexi, you’re awesome!

  • 11
    Ohhh Snap says:

    Love your use of the tertiary colors! Your posts are always so informative.

  • 12
    Cindy says:

    I’ve been so delighted and learned so much from this series, Lexi. I am kind of new to PTI colors so I especially appreciate your specific use and photos of the color combos. Love the card samples too!

  • 13
    Linda says:

    Wow, such a good lesson on color combinations. Love this post.

  • 14
    christal mclean says:

    Like many of the above comments, I’m grateful for your in-depth explanation of combining colors. This was a tremendous help. I struggle to just grab something I like and then it ends up not having the harmonious look I had envisioned. Thank you. Is there a printout for quick reference? Thank you, Lexi!

  • 15
    iris shubert says:

    I love this Lexi, thank you so much. I’ve never had any formal art classes, but I’ve always “made” things. This really helps me so much. I would love a print out of this too! . PTI is the best company out there! I appreciate all the posts and videos you all do.

  • 16
    Michele W says:

    Thanks, Lexi, for helping me to finally understand the color wheel. I’ve tried to figure it out on my own without much success. I’ve also tried reading other explanations but nothing really made sense to me until your post. Your explanation and fantastic visuals really did the trick. I will be printing this post so I can refer to it in the future. Thanks so much!

  • 17
    Greta H says:

    Thank you so much for a wonderfully informative post, Lexi! The visuals are so helpful for me & your cards are so inspiring! Printing this off to add to my resources from you!

  • 18
    Elizabeth McGregor says:

    Thank you for the great tips on choosing triads! I’m finding these posts very helpful and a true way to grow in my understanding of color.

  • 19
    Susan Ringler says:

    What a great visual! I go with what I like but I always like it best when the shades “match” or compliment each other. Your color wheel shows me why I keep going to the combinations that I use. Thanks so very much for the explanation. It’s so nice to know that there’s a reason I gravitate to the colors I do, or I said should say the shades of the colors.

  • 20

    Very helpful! I loved seeing PTI ink colors presented this way. I’m printing out your photographs for reference and will include them in the front of my 3 ring binder that holds each months Inspiration colors and sketches. I consider it one of my best resource guides. Thanks Lexi!

  • 21
    Marcia Hill says:

    Another great and informative post Lexi!! I love how simply you lay everything out…makes it so easy to understand and use! I have not tried the last two color combo’s you used, but rather than going to the same old, same old colors again and again, I am definitely going to try your color wheel triangles! I had forgotten about the 60-30-10 rule too, so thanks for reminding me about it! A GREAT Saturday lesson Lexi…thank you!! :0)

  • 22
    Catherine Milne says:

    Thank you for yet another wonderful lesson. Lexi, you are an excellent teacher. Your explanations are interesting and clear and you always give lots of examples. I always look forward to your blog posts.

  • 23
    Debbie Neuman says:

    Love the color wheels ! Great post !!

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