Color Theory Unleashed: Maximizing Conversion Rates with Strategic Color Choices

McCarthy Owie,

Marketing Designer @Curt.

Learn to make strategic color choices that drive conversions, using the color wheel for navigating primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

"I am a believer that color affects people's moods."

You may be wondering why I began with a statement by Lily Pulitzer, a renowned fashion designer. It’s simple. It explains to a large extent, the relationship between color and emotion and how it can influence your prospects’ decision-making.

Color is a significant influencer.

You can use it for aesthetics, convey meaning, attract attention, and compel actions. But a crucial element to consider when combining colors to achieve all that is their contrast. 

Contrast is how well one color stands out from another and how it can guide people’s attention.

Say you want to increase click-throughs. You’d have to make sure there is a contrast between the CTA button and the rest of the design. 

Take a look at our landing page👇

If the button on this landing page wasn’t outstanding —due to its contrast— it would totally defeat the idea of the call to action.


What am I trying to say?

Colors give visual cues meaning. It defines our reaction to what is right before our eyes. It sets the tone for what you want your prospects to see, feel (and do).

Consider another scenario. Imagine your marketing team was to redesign a large accept button, but you made it red. It could confuse the prospect or site visitor because our brains are wired to see the color red as something that denotes danger, negativity, or simply rejection in this context.

The color theory provides a systematic approach to color selection and uses, helping designers and marketers create harmony between color schemes, communicate emotion and compel action.

An important concept to highlight in color theory is harmony, which will be covered as we progress in this article.

Understanding color theory:

  • The color wheel
  • Categories of color
  • Color harmony/schemes
  • How color affects conversion rate

The Color Wheel

Developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666, the color wheel is an essential color theory tool that shows the relationships between different hues (colors). The traditional color wheel has 12 hues: red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, violet, and red-violet.

It is a tool that can help your marketing team visualize which hues or colors are best paired together.

It doesn’t end there.

The color wheel also helps to achieve simplicity, A study by the University of Toronto on how people use Adobe Color showed that most people prefer simple color combinations that are reliant on just two to three colors.

Colors help to pass a message, using too many colors will make the message confusing, and the color wheel helps to solve that problem.

Categories of Color

There are three basic categories of color:

  1. Primary color
  2. Secondary color
  3. Tertiary color

Primary color

These are the colors that can't be created by mixing other colors. In traditional color theory, the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow, all other colors are derived from these (3) hues.

Renowned color psychologist, Jill Morton said it best:

“The primary colors are like the alphabet of colors. "You need to know them to understand how color works."

Secondary Color

It consists of purple, green, and orange. When trying to analyze colors, the diagram of a family tree comes to mind. In this case, the primary color is the parent, and the secondary colors are the offspring.

Secondary colors are born when two equal amounts of primary colors are combined.

  • Blue + Yellow = Green
  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Red + Blue = Purple

Tertiary colors

They are derived from the combination of some primary and secondary colors.

Trying to mix tertiary colors can be confusing because some primary and secondary colors do not mix well. 

Color theory offers a solution that advises us to combine the primary and secondary colors closest to each other on the color wheel to get the purest form of tertiary color.

Tertiary colors are often more subtle and gentle to the eyes than primary and secondary colors and can add depth and nuance to a brand/design.

The six (6) tertiary colors:

  1. Yellow/Orange(amber)
  2. Yellow/Green(chartreuse)
  3. Red/Purple(magenta)
  4. Red/Orange(vermilion)
  5. Blue/Purple(indigo)
  6. Blue/Green(turquoise)

Hue, Tint, Tone & Shade

These are the various attributes of color. They determine how color can, be classified.

The human eye, for example, sees a different shade of color when light is cast on an object, now that variation of color you see is highly dependent on the brightness of the light.


Hue is the dominant color family of color, the pure color of an object or surface, It's what we naturally think of when we hear the word "color."


A tint is typically a lighter variation of color with a higher value and lower saturation. In much simpler terms it is the result of a hue mixed with white. For example, pink is a tint of red.


The tone of a color is obtained when it is combined with black & white, or gray. This darkens the color and makes it appear more subtle to the eye, making it the least intense of all the attributes.


Shade, on the other hand, refers to a color that has been mixed with black. This results in a darker version of the original color, with a lower value and lower saturation. A good example is maroon, which is a shade of red.

Color Harmony/Scheme

One of the critical concepts of color theory is color harmony.

Color harmony is the relationship between different colors and how well they can be combined to create a pleasing and harmonious visual effect that will pass the message you want it to. 

At we pay great attention to this, as it can be a deciding factor on how your design is perceived.

Let's see how it works:

  • Complementary 
  • Split complementary
  • Analogous
  • Triadic.

Complementary colors

Complementary colors are those colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. When you put them together, they make each other look good, like they were meant to be together.

Looking at the color wheel, it is clear that blue and orange are complementary colors because they are opposite to each other. When you put them together, they create a nice contrast that sends a powerful message and looks pleasing to the eye. 

Similarly, green and red are complementary colors, as are purple and yellow.

Split complementary color

Split complementary colors are a little bit like complementary colors, but instead of just using two colors that are opposite to each other, you use three colors.

Here's how it works:

You start with one color on the color wheel, and then you find the two colors on either side of its complementary color. For example, if we start with the color green, the split complementary colors would be red-orange(vermillion) and red-purple(magenta).

When you use split complementary colors together, they create a nice balance of contrasting and harmonious colors. It's a great way to add variety to your designs without using too many colors.

Just like complementary colors, It's fun to play with color and create something unique and eye-catching!

Analogous colors

Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel are called analogous colors. They are mainly used to create a warm and harmonious visual effect. For example, a combination of red, red-orange (vermillion), and red-purple (magenta) can create an analogous color scheme.

Triadic color

Triadic colors are just three colors that look good together. To find them, you draw a triangle on the color wheel; each triangle point is one of the triadic colors.

For example, if you start with the color red, the other two triadic colors will be blue and yellow because they are evenly spaced apart on the color wheel

When you use triadic colors together, they create a nice balance that is pleasing to the eye. It's a great way to add some variety and interest to whatever you're creating, whether it's a website design, a CTA, or even just an infographic.

How colors affect conversion rate

A study by Kissmetrics suggests that people make a subconscious judgment about a product within ninety seconds of viewing it, and up to 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.

Therefore, by understanding color harmonies and the psychological effects of color, your marketing team can create harmonious color schemes, communicate empathy, and create a desired visual impact for your brand, which will lead to an even better conversion rate. 

Talking of branding, we’ve seen numerous times how colors can significantly influence consumer behavior.

Take Heinz for example:

In a marketing experiment, they changed the color of their signature ketchup from red to green and sold over 10 million bottles in the first 7 months, resulting in $23 million in sales. At the time, it was the highest sales increase in the brand’s history. 

Another example?

The software company Performable is also a good example. They changed the color of their call to action (CTA) button from green to red, resulting in a 21% increase in conversion.

Now this is the question: how can you utilize all this information? Or how can you choose the right color that will enable you to communicate a message to your customers and persuade them to take action? 

I have created a short guide that will help answer some of your questions.  

Overall, the important thing to note is this: People have different emotional interpretations of color, and this can sometimes rely on language and personality, making it difficult to predict their reaction to colors. Therefore you should not generalize, but test out new color samples with your customers, so as to study their reactions and adopt the most viable option.

McCarthy Owie

Marketing Designer @Curt.

A designer that loves simplifying complex problems

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