itten circle

Itten Circle

In this article we will explain what it is and how to use the Itten circle.

It is a very important tool to understand which are the primary, secondary and complementary colours.

Let’s start by introducing you the inventor, who is Johannes Itten. He was a Swiss painter, writer and designer of the early 1900s.
Johannes was an intense scholar of colours so as to create a chromatic circle, the Itten circle precisely, to represent pure (or fundamental) colours and their descendants from mixtures.
Itten worked in a school of architecture, art and design that was very important for the art of the twentieth century: the Bauhaus.

Explanation of Itten Chromatic Circle

Itten as we have already anticipated the classification of colours. Based on their aesthetic and communicative aspect, he divided them into: primary, secondary and tertiary.

As you can well see from the image, in the center of the circle there is a triangle which contains the three primary colours, which are red, yellow and blue.
By mixing these colours, the secondary colours around the triangle are formed to form a hexagon, and they are green, orange and purple.
Finally, it can be seen how the circle is closed with 12 colours which are the primary, secondary and tertiary, that is, the other colours that are obtained by further mixing.

By visually ordering the primary and secondary colours, the Itten circle shows the relationships between these colours, that is, it shows the colours that are obtained from the combination of the primary colours.
The circle is divided into segments: the combination of colours found in the same segment of the chromatic disk generates a harmonious and balanced effect.
Vice versa, the combination of colours that are located on the opposite side of the chromatic disk (called complementary colours) determines a lively and lively effect, because the complementary colours light up and enhance each other.

To find complementary colours, Itten suggested that we should choose a colour and match it to the diametrically opposite ones. These were his suggestions to find the best colour combinations.
Obviously not everyone agreed with this solution and Itten was long criticized. The main criticisms came because he did not consider the basic colours, namely white and black, which Itten called “non-colours“.

How to match colours with Itten Circle

Here is a useful guide on how to match colours with Itten circle.

The fundamental rule of the circle, as seen above, is not to match the colours close to each other. The rule states that diametrically opposed ones must be combined: for example, yellow and purple, green and red. Always following Itten’s theory, black and white, considered “non-colours”, can be combined with any colour.

To Itten’s colour theory, it is appropriate to add a few small tips on colour combinations:

  • It is advisable not to wear clothing that has similar colours, even if of different shades;
  • It is appropriate to choose the combination of similar patterns that present contrasting colours;
  • According to Itten, a colour that can be combined with everything is black. It can be combined with both bright and soft hues, except for brown and blue;
  • The other colour according to Itten that can be combined with everything is white: defined as the only colour able to look good with any colour, with every shade from pastel to bold ones. Brown can be combined with warm colours or pastel shades;
  • Blue can be combined with various shades of green or even according to some shade trends such as red.

Itten Colour Theory

Finally, we want to tell you about Itten’s colour theory and the study of the contrast between colours that is crucial for the Swiss painter.
We speak of contrast when there are evident differences between two chromatic effects compared.
If these differences are absolute, we speak of contrast of opposites or of contrast of polarity.

Examples of these contrasts are the effects:

  • big-small;
  • white-black;
  • cold-hot, which at their maximum degree of opposition constitute an example of polarity contrast;

By studying the most characteristic characters and chromatic effects, seven types of contrast can be established and they are:

  • contrast of pure colours;
  • quality contrast;
  • chiaroscuro contrast;
  • contrast of complementaries;
  • contrast of cold and heat;
  • quantity contrast;
  • simultaneity contrast.


Summing up, understanding how to match colours is the first step to be elegant and classy.

In fact, the biggest style mistakes are always related to colour matching.

In conclusion, Itten circle is the main tool you have to master the theory of colour matching and dress like a real gentleman.