Complementary color scheme is one of the basic Color Schemes for artist, illustrator. In my personal experience, this color scheme is use the most by painter, concept artists and illustrators alike. It is not difficult to implement and often get good result.

The complementary color scheme is made of two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. This scheme looks best when you put a warm color against a cool color, for example, red versus green-blue. The complementary scheme is intrinsically high-contrast.
When using the complementary scheme, it is important to choose a dominant color and use its complementary color for accents. Using one color for the background and its complementary color to highlight important elements, you will get color dominance combined with sharp color contrast.

Example: *This one is the closet to the complimentary color scheme I could find at the moment. It is somehow on the boarder line…it could be split complimentary because of the range of hue in the picture. But you get the idea…it’s still in the same family.

Here is an example of complementary color scheme.

Complement color scheme

Complement color scheme

Here is a traditional Color Wheel: The opposite pole are the true complementary color. You can play around and have it slightly wider in range, it will possibly work out if you figure out how to harmonize them. Similar to harmonizing warm and cool color, this color scheme is about trying to to balance the opposing color that will compliment each other.

color wheel

color wheel

Here is digital color wheel. It is slightly different, but the principle remains. For precise accuracy of complementary, look at the traditional wheel.

Pros: The complementary color scheme offers stronger contrast than any other color scheme, and draws maximum attention.

Cons: This scheme is harder to balance than monochromatic and analogous schemes, especially when desaturated warm colors are used.

Tips: 1. For best results, place cool colors against warm ones, for example, blue versus orange.
2. If you use a warm color (red or yellow) as an accent, you can desaturate the opposite cool colors to put more emphasis on the warm colors.
3. Avoid using desaturated warm colors (e.g. browns or dull yellows).
4. Try the split complementary scheme; it is similar to the complementary scheme but offers more variety.

The split complementary scheme is a variation of the standard complementary scheme.

It uses a color and the two colors adjacent to its complementary. This provides high contrast without the strong tension of the complementary scheme.

split complimentary color scheme

split complimentary color scheme

Pros: The split complementary scheme offers more nuances than the complementary scheme while retaining strong visual contrast.

Cons: The split complementary scheme is harder to balance than monochromatic and analogous color schemes.
Tips: 1. Use a single warm color against a range of cool colors to put an emphasis on the warm color (red versus blues and blue-greens, or orange versus blues and blue-violets).
2. Avoid using desaturated warm colors (e.g. browns or dull yellows), because this may ruin the scheme.

You might be interested in related topics.
-Monochromatic and Achromatic color scheme
-Analogous color scheme
-Color vs value artist’s tips

Complementary color scheme

About The Author
- Xia Taptara (黃曉聲 Huang XiaoShēng), currently a freelance concept artist for games and films, formerly a character concept artist for ArenaNet/NCsoft (GuildWars & Guildwars 2). I also work on various projects for Game of Thrones, Square-Enix, Paizo Publishing, Fantasy Fight Games, Disney Interactive, and many publishers & clients. I use Wacom Tablet Intuos and Photoshop CS2,3,4,5 to do most of my professional art work. I use pencil, pen, and traditional medium in my free time. I founded ( in 2007 to motivate myself to create more and better art. Also I get to draw and paint whatever the hell I want to. Hopefully I can inspired some young soul and old soul alike. *QUESTIONS & COMMENT: PLEASE POST THEM ON THE BLOG. Business Inquiry please e-mail me.