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Blue and orange sunroom. Nat Rea

Picking out paint colors can be a confusing experience, leaving you racked with indecision as you peruse swatches from paint companies intent on re-creating all of the 7 million colors distinguishable to the human eye.

Color Wheel Guide

Color wheel showing complementary color combinations. iStock

Trying to figure out which of those colors will mix harmoniously on your living room wall is enough to make you turn straight to the ecru- and eggshell-white family and never leave.

How do I find out what paint colors go together?

One way to go, however, is to use a complementary color scheme. Proving the rule that opposites attract, these pairings can always be found at opposite ends from each other on a paint color wheel.

When put together, they bring out the best in each other, making both colors look cleaner and brighter than if either were mixed with, say, a neutral gray or a different shade of the same hue.

An essential tool for paint pros everywhere, the color wheel is constructed to help you see the relationships between different hues. The bases are three primary colors: red, blue and yellow. These are then combined to make the three secondary colors: orange, green, and purple. Finally, the remaining six colors on the wheel are known as tertiary colors and are mixes of the secondary colors, including such hues as red-orange and blue-green.

Color Wheel Complementary Colors

Familiarizing yourself with the color wheel can help you understand how to best mix and match a cool color with a warm one, for a naturally balanced room. Here are some examples of how to use these color pairings effectively.

Red and Green

Green kitchen with red furniture and curatins. GAP Photos

When considering paint colors, remember to figure in the finish of any woodwork in the room. In this rustic kitchen, the green hues brushed onto the walls and lower cabinets complement the red tones of the red sideboard, rug and drapes.

Red-Orange and Blue-Green

Blue-green painted bookshelves and wall with red-orange accents. GAP Photos

The two colors you choose don't have to have equal prominence in the room to work. You can use one as the main color and the other as an accent, or bring small colored accessories into an already painted room to see how you feel about the pairing.

Orange and Blue

Room with blue wall and orange accents. Courtesy Kathleen Virginia Page/Jessica Lagrange Interiors

Keep the furniture you already have in mind when considering a new paint color. The deep blue paint on this wall accentuates the bright burst of orange on the pillow, mirror, and shelving unit.

Yellow-Orange and Blue-Violet

Room with blue-violet wall and orange-yellow accents. Courtesy Scott Hargis/scotthargisphoto.com

Bright colors can breathe new life into traditional woodwork and work especially well in casual living areas. When working with more saturated hues, remember that the colors will often appear more intense on the walls than they do on the strip.

Yellow and Violet

Purple painted kitchen with yellow cabinets. Courtesy Susan Teare/Cushman Design Group

If you're a bit timid about suddenly splashing a couple of cans of color onto your walls, consider using two complementary colors as accents in the same room, like these deep violet walls and soft yellow cabinets.

Yellow-Green and Red-Violet

Red-violet wall with a yellow-green cabinet. GAP Photos

Make sure the intensities of the tones you use are balanced. In this room, the pale yellow-green sideboard meets it’s match with the reddish-violet paint on the walls.