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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Bleil

Colors of Beads and Newton’s Color Theory

Updated: Dec 7, 2023



Beads come in many colors. How many there are specifically, is not an easy number to determine. It is feasible that you can find beads in every color that exists. Even that number is not easy to determine. Scientists estimate that there are 18 decillion colors. That’s 18 followed by 33 zeros!


That is one thing that draws me to beadwork: the abundance of color. Seed bead manufacturers, for example, offer many hues. Preciosa brand seed beads, aka rocailles, come in 3000 colors! Miyuki brand delica beads come in over 1100 colors. Choosing which colors to use in your designs can sometimes be overwhelming. A little knowledge or review of color theory can help you design your beadwork with confidence by choosing which colors from the color wheel to combine. The color wheel shows you how colors are related.


First, a few definitions:

Hue: this is the same as color. Hue is what we mean when we say color.

Tint: hue plus white

Shade: hue plus black

Tone: hue plus white and black


Aristotle, an Ancient Greek philosopher, and scientist who died 2,344 years ago (322 BCE), developed the first known theory of color. He theorized that color came from lightness and darkness and related them to the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.


Over 2000 years later in the 1660’s CE, Sir Isaac Newton, a physicist and mathematician in England, developed a new theory of color and the color wheel. The color wheel is a visual tool, with hues arranged according to wavelength.


There are other scientists and thinkers that have added to our knowledge of color since Newton but for the purpose of exploring color combinations in beadwork, we are going to stay focused on Newton’s theory, the one most of us can remember learning in elementary school.


In Newton’s theory of color, he determined that there are three primary colors: Red, Yellow, and Blue. They are said to be primary because these hues cannot be made from any others.

Combine two primary colors to get secondary colors: red and yellow combine to make orange; yellow and blue make green; and blue and red combine to make purple.

Combine a secondary color with a primary color to obtain tertiary colors, for example, orange and red combine to make red orange.



The graphic above shows a primary color wheel and ways of combining colors on the color wheel.

  • Monochromatic: tints, tones, and shades of the same hue.

  • Analogous: combine a hue with the next two adjacent hues on the color wheel.

  • Complementary: choose two colors directly across from each other on the color wheel. For example, combine blue with orange, red with green, or yellow with purple.

  • Split complementary: a color and the colors adjacent to its complimentary color.

  • Triadic: choose 3 colors that are equidistant on the color wheel. For example, the primary colors red, yellow, and blue are in a triadic relationship on the color wheel. The secondary colors, orange, green, and purple, are also in a triadic relationship on the color wheel.

  • Square: choose 4 colors equidistant on the color wheel


By using a color wheel, you can explore different color combinations or choose a monochromatic color scheme for your beadwork. There are so many possibilities! I look forward to hearing about how you use color in your designs.


By Cynthia M. Bleil of Mt. Cynthos Beadwork


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