Color Theory Improvement Tips for Cartoons
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Make use of the color wheel
  2. Explore warm and cool colors
  3. Apply color harmonies
  4. Utilize value and saturation
  5. Consider color in lighting and shadows
  6. Use color psychology
  7. Create color scripts
  8. Test colors in grayscale

When it comes to making your cartoon characters pop off the screen, one of the key tools in your artist's arsenal is a solid understanding of color theory. If the thought of choosing the right shades and tints makes you a bit nervous, don't worry. In this blog, we'll share some easy-to-follow tips on how to improve color theory in cartoons, transforming color into your new secret weapon. Let's dive right in!

Make use of the color wheel

Remember the color wheel from art class? Well, it's time to dust it off because it's about to become your best friend. The color wheel is an invaluable tool for selecting harmonious color palettes for your cartoons. Here's how it can help:

  • Primary colors: Red, blue, and yellow are the big three—your superhero team of hues. You can mix them to create all other colors.
  • Secondary colors: When you blend two primary colors, you get secondary colors—green, orange, and purple. They sit between the primary colors on the color wheel and add a bit more spice to your palette.
  • Tertiary colors: These are the result of mixing a primary color with a secondary one. They add nuance and depth to your cartoons, making them look more sophisticated and interesting.

Playing around with the color wheel, you can discover unique color combinations that can make your cartoon stand out. Remember, the aim is not just to color, but to bring your cartoon to life. So, why not experiment with the color wheel and see how it can improve your color theory in cartoons?

Explore warm and cool colors

Did you know that colors have temperatures? Not in the literal sense, of course, but in how they make us feel. Warm colors, like red, orange, and yellow, bring to mind the heat of the sun or a cozy fireplace. They're energetic, bold, and can make your characters look lively and dynamic.

On the other hand, cool colors—like blue, green, and violet—remind us of calming rain or a peaceful forest. They can bring a sense of calm, tranquility, or even melancholy to your cartoons.

  • Warm colors can be a great choice for a character who's outgoing, or for a scene that's full of action and energy.
  • Cool colors, meanwhile, might be perfect for a wise, thoughtful character, or for a serene, peaceful setting.

By exploring and playing with warm and cool colors, you'll not only add visual interest to your cartoons but also deepen their emotional impact. So, why not give it a shot? It's another fun and simple way to improve your color theory in cartoons.

Apply color harmonies

Ever looked at a cartoon and thought, 'Wow, those colors just work together'? That's color harmony in action. It's like a good team—each color has its own job, but they all work together to make the picture whole.

There are a few different types of color harmonies you can use. Let's take a look at a couple:

  • The Complementary harmony uses colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. Think Superman's red and blue outfit—it's eye-catching, isn't it?
  • Then there's Analogous harmony, which uses colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. It's like a gentle gradient, moving smoothly from one color to the next. It brings a sense of unity and calm to your drawings.

By applying color harmonies, you're giving your cartoons a cohesive look and feel. It's like deciding on the theme for a party—it sets the mood and makes everything fit together. So the next time you're wondering how to improve color theory in your cartoons, think harmony. It's music to the eyes!

Utilize value and saturation

Let's talk about two more players in the color game—value and saturation. They may sound like big words, but you've likely been using them without even knowing it!

Value is basically the lightness or darkness of a color. You can change a color's value by adding black or white to it. Remember when you mixed paint in art class, and you added black to make a color darker, or white to make it lighter? That's you changing the color's value!

Then there's saturation. This is all about the intensity or purity of a color. A color with high saturation is like a loud shout—it's bold and pure. A color with low saturation is more like a whisper—it's subtler and softer.

Now, why should you care about value and saturation? Here's why. By playing around with these two aspects, you can make your cartoons much more visually interesting. You can use different values to add depth and dimension. And you can use saturation to create mood and focus.

So, next time you're thinking about how to improve color theory in your cartoons, remember to play around with value and saturation. It's like turning up the volume or changing the channel on your TV—it can totally change the viewing experience!

Consider color in lighting and shadows

Did you ever notice how everything looks different at sunset? That's because lighting can change the way we see colors. And it's not just in real life—it's the same in cartoons!

For instance, a red apple might not look so red in the moonlight, right? That's because the color of the light affects the colors of the objects it touches. In cartoons, you can use this to your advantage. By playing with different types of light—like warm light, cool light, or colored light—you can create different moods and atmospheres.

And let's not forget about shadows. Shadows aren't just gray or black. They can be blue, purple, green, or any color you like! By using colored shadows, you can add depth and richness to your cartoons.

So, if you're wondering how to improve color theory in your cartoons, remember to consider the lighting and shadows. It's like adding seasoning to a dish—it can totally change the flavor!

Use color psychology

Color psychology? Sounds fancy, right? But don't worry, it's not as complicated as it sounds. It's all about how different colors can make us feel different things. For example, red can make us feel excited or angry, while blue can make us feel calm or sad.

This is something you can use in your cartoons. By choosing the right colors, you can make your audience feel exactly what you want them to feel. Want to make a scene feel happy and lively? Try using a lot of yellow and orange. Want to make a scene feel mysterious and eerie? Try using a lot of purple and dark blue.

But remember, it's not just about the colors themselves—it's also about how you use them. A small amount of red in a sea of blue can stand out and grab attention, while a lot of red can be overwhelming and intense.

So, if you're trying to figure out how to improve color theory in cartoon, don't forget about color psychology. It's like the secret sauce that can make your cartoons more engaging and impactful.

Create color scripts

Picture this: you're planning out a cartoon and you have a clear idea of the storyline. Now, imagine if you could also map out the colors you will use throughout the cartoon. That's where color scripts come in handy. It's like a visual roadmap of your cartoon's color journey.

Why create a color script, you ask? Well, it helps you plan out the overall look and feel of your cartoon. It allows you to see how the colors flow from one scene to the next. It can also help you identify any color clashes or imbalances before you start drawing.

How do you create a color script? It's simple. Start by sketching out the main scenes of your cartoon. Then, fill in the colors you plan to use in each scene. You can use colored pencils, markers, or even digital tools. The key is to capture the main color themes of each scene.

Creating a color script is an effective way to improve color theory in cartoon. It not only helps you plan out your colors, but also gives you a bird's eye view of your cartoon's color palette. So, why not give it a shot? You might be surprised at how much it can improve your work.

Test colors in grayscale

Have you ever tried to watch your favorite colored cartoon in black and white? It might sound strange, but this technique can actually help improve color theory in your own cartoons. Wondering how? Let me explain.

When you convert a colored image to grayscale, it strips the image of its colors, leaving only the values. This can help you see if your image has a good balance of light and dark tones. If your image looks flat or indistinguishable in grayscale, it may mean that you need to adjust your colors.

So, how do you test your colors in grayscale? You can use any image editing software like Adobe Photoshop. Simply open your colored image and convert it to grayscale. Then, examine the image. Do the different parts of the image stand out from each other? If not, it's time to revisit your color choices.

Testing colors in grayscale is a simple yet powerful way to improve color theory in cartoon. It not only ensures a good balance of tones in your cartoon, but also helps you create a visually engaging piece. So, why not give it a whirl? It might just be the trick you need to enhance your color game.

If you're looking to improve your understanding of color theory for cartoons, don't miss the workshop 'Intro to Colour Theory' by Matt Herbert. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and tips on how to apply color theory to your cartoon creations, enhancing the visual appeal and overall impact of your work.