Color Theory for Screen Printers: Everything You Need to Know

Posted by Ellie Batchiyska on

As a screen printer, you want to create prints that are high quality and impress your clients. But, the results can depend on a few factors outside of choosing the right design and garment. If you’re not aware yet, color theory plays a big role in how your screen prints turn out, so it’s something that all screen printers need to be well-versed in. Continue reading below as we cover what color theory is and how it applies to screen printing. 


What Is Color Theory?

Before we talk about how it applies to screen printing, let’s review what color theory is. It is a set of rules and guidelines that covers how colors combine together, evoke emotion, and interact to create visually-appealing compositions. 


What Screen Printers Should Know About Color Theory

Understanding color theory will help you make good decisions about what color ink combinations to use in your prints. There are endless ways to interpret and analyze color theory as it applies to screen printing. But, here are some important concepts and tips so you can apply color theory in each of your client projects. 


The Color Wheel

Good screen printers have a clear knowledge of the color wheel and the types of color relationships it demonstrates–like the following: 

Primary: Red, blue, and yellow; cannot be created by mixing other colors, but are used in combination to create all other colors

Secondary: The colors created by mixing the primary colors, including green, purple, and orange

Tertiary: Formed by mixing a primary color with a secondary color, offering a variety of shades and color variations


Color Harmony

Understanding the color wheel helps printers grasp color harmony concepts like complementary, analogous, and triadic color schemes to create balance and visual appeal. 

Complementary colors: Colors that are located on opposite sides of the color wheel (green and pink), which create contrast when used together

Analogous colors: Colors that are adjacent on the color wheel (orange, yellow, red) that create harmony when used together

Triadic colors: Three colors that are equidistant apart on the color wheel (orange, purple, green) to add more dimension to designs but still look harmonious


Color Temperature

Screen printers should also be aware of the difference between warm and cool colors when creating their prints. Some common examples of warm colors include shades like orange, red, and yellow, which are known for evoking energy and passion. On the other hand, cool colors like green, purple, and blue are more calming. 

This taps into the psychology of colors, or the emotional associations that we have with certain colors to evoke specific feelings and moods in design. 


Color Mixing

A very important concept that screen printers need to know is how to mix ink colors appropriately to achieve the desired effect that meets client preferences. It can take some trial and error to understand how mixing different pigments and colors together can affect the end result–and how to do so consistently. However, this is a crucial part of creating custom designs that clients love. 


Substrate Variety

Specific to screen printers, colors can appear differently when they are printed on different substrates. In other words, the green ink you use to print a design on a black cotton t-shirt may appear differently than when you use the same green ink to print on a black vinyl tote. Screen printers should be aware of these possible variations and make adjustments to the ink colors accordingly to get the desired effect.



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