If you're not a particularly craft-smitten person, you may not have given much thought to colors until it was time to choose colors for your wedding. All you need to know is a little about how colors work together and a little about yourself. Here's the color lowdown.
You've probably seen a color wheel before. It's the spectrum of pure colors laid out in a circle. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue (these can't be created by mixing other colors). Secondary colors – purple, green and orange – are made by mixing two primaries. Tertiary colors are a mix of primary and secondary ones. Of course, the color wheel is a spectrum, so there are many, many colors in between the ones we've just defined. Beyond these terms, you might also want to know that the intensity of a color (it's brightness or dullness) can be altered by adding white or black. A shade of a color is made by adding black; a tint of a color is made by adding white. Shading and tinting colors in your mix can alter the amount of contrast between them (a mix of pastels have little contrast versus black and white which offer the most when put together).
On to choosing your colors...
There are several different ways to choose a color scheme. A monochromatic scheme uses different intensities of a single color. It gives a very soothing, clean and elegant feel. If you have one single favorite color, this might be the way to go. Similarly, an analogous scheme uses adjacent colors (for example, blue and purple) from the wheel for a slightly enriched feel.
For more pizazz, you might use a complementary scheme which incorporates two colors that are opposite each other on the wheel. Complementary colors really stimulate the eye; think of the red and green combo of Christmas. Purple/orange and yellow/blue have a similarly stimulating effect. Keep in mind that you can tone down the level of stimulation by changing the intensity of complementary colors (i.e. maroon/forest green or pink/pastel green). Another zippy, but still balanced, color scheme to consider is a triadic scheme, which uses three colors equally spaced on the wheel. The most common of these is yellow/red/blue, the primaries. While pure primary colors are probably better for a kid's room than a wedding, you can change the intensity to suit your occasion – pink/pale yellow/light blue.
So, what does all that mean? If you are fairly traditional, a monochromatic scheme is probably best. Choose your favorite color and accent either with a color that's close to it on the wheel or with a neutral (black, white, brown). For a bit more boldness, accent your favorite color with its complement. If you really want to shake it up, consider a triadic scheme. Start by looking around you at the pictures and objects that inspire you and make you feel happy. What colors are reflected there? Go shopping and collect colorful things that are beautiful to you or browse through magazines and tear out the pages that have fun color combinations. Pay attention to the specific emotions the colors evoke. Colors can be beautiful in peaceful, happy, relaxing, invigorating and even sad ways. The colors you ultimately choose for your wedding should reflect the mood you want for the day.
Now go to your computer. The World Wide Web is here to help with some great color matching resources. Visit Brides.com and "spin" the color wheel for great color ideas. Or, be even more customized at www.pantone.com. The site is a bit cumbersome, but if you register and create a mypantone account (it's free) then you can play with all kinds of great color. Finally, and perhaps the most useful, try www.colorofinspiration.com. This (also free) site from Sherwin Williams allows you to upload your favorite photo; then they give you color suggestions to match it. If you're starting from scratch, choose from the many photos already loaded on the site and start your color exploration.
A few more tips: No matter what kind of color scheme you pick, use your accent color sparingly for the most impact (so the bridesmaids dresses might be the main color with the accent color picked up in jewelry and flowers, or tablecloths would be the main color and centerpieces incorporate the accent color). Also, consider the visual "weight" or the amount that each color stimulates the eye. What you are after is harmony, not too bland, not too stimulating. Avoid color schemes that are associated with major holidays (for example, orange and black or red and green in the U.S.) unless you are having your wedding on or near that specific holiday. Finally, what looks like pretty pink to one person could remind another of Pepto-Bismol. Color harmony is a subjective thing, so collect the opinions of those you trust and then make your own decision for the big day. Here are some ideas to get you started.