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Embroidery Machines - Using Colour Theory in Embroidery

Embroidery Machines - Using Colour Theory in Embroidery

Colours are an important consideration in embroidery, as the right colours can make the difference between an okay piece of work and something extraordinary. The colour sets the tone for the work, with bright colours creating a cheerful, playful effect, and darker shades providing sophistication and elegance.

When selecting the right kind of colours for your project, you can use more than just intuition; you can use colour theory. Here’s a look at what colour theory is, and how you can apply it to your embroidery.

What is Colour Theory?

Colour theory is a set of guidelines that help the likes of designers and artists to pick the best colours to communicate the right ideas to their client/audience. When Isaac Newton invented the colour wheel in 1666, he established colour theory and the idea that colours could be understood as human perceptions of light wavelengths.

From there, colour theory developed as an artistic tradition that is used to evoke certain moods and perception in art and other design projects.

Types of Colours

The colour wheel shows colours placed in a rainbow-like pattern, divided into the warm and cool colours. The colours can be organised as primary, secondary and tertiary colours in the colour wheel:

  • Primary – Red, yellow and blue. These colours are the three pigment colours that cannot be formed by combinations of other colours, and all other colours are derived from them.
  • Secondary – Green, orange and purple. These colours are formed from combinations of the primary colours.
  • Tertiary – Yellow-orange, red-orange, blue-purple, red-purple, blue-green and yellow-green. These colours are made by mixing primary and secondary colours together, hence the mix of their names.


Colour Forms

Colours also come in a variety of forms that can be used to create certain perceptions within your work. These kinds of colours are created by mixing a primary colour with black or white to lighten and darken and change the form of the colour.

  • Tint – White is added to lighten the colour. Lighter colours often appear softened and can create calming, soothing and mellow feelings.
  • Hue – A colour in its purest essence, vibrant and eye-catching.
  • Tone – Adding grey to your base colour gives you a muted version of it, giving it a washed-out, faded appearance.
  • Shade – By adding black to your colour, you can create a darker shade, giving it a rich, sophisticated look.

How to Use Colour Theory in Embroidery

Once you understand how colour theory works, you can pick out the right kind of colours for your embroidery project. Not only will you have to consider the colours forms, but also the types of colour combinations within your project. You can use the colour wheel to select colours that will contrast, complement or work in harmony.

  • Monochromatic

This is when you pick one base colour and select different kinds of tints, hues, tones and shades all within that same colour for your project.

  • Triad

These colours are separated on the colour wheel by three other colours. You can choose a combination of the different forms of these three colours.

  • Analogous

These colours sit next to each other on the colour wheel and are great for creating a harmonising variety of colours. You can also use a combination of the different colour forms.

  • Complementary

These colours are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel (such as red and green), and they will intensify each other when used together.


Embroidery is all about the details, so it’s important to pick colours that you’re happy with, and that will create the kind of look you’re after. Using contrasting colours can be an excellent idea for wearable items, such as using red thread for a pattern on a pair of blue jeans. But for furniture items like upholstery, complementary colours can be better suited for this purpose.

Think about what you are creating to help make your colour selection. Your surroundings and experience can help you pick the right kind of colours. If you’re creating a pattern that is inspired by the sea, you will likely choose blue as your base colour and use the various hues, tones and shades of blue throughout your project.

Use other embroidery projects for inspiration, or design patterns that exist all around you. Consider why particular colours have been chosen and which ones catch your eye. When you observe the world around you, you’ll find that colour theory is used virtually everywhere, from interior design to advertisements.

If you’re worried about mixing and matching the right kind of thread brands to corresponding colours, don’t worry. We have a colour conversion table that allows you to see the Pantone colour and corresponding Isacord thread to help get you started.

We hope we have helped you on your way to choosing the best colours for your next embroidery project. If you’re looking for commercial embroidery machines, contact us today.