Sep 10

10 September 2018

How to work with colour on cakes

Understanding how colour theory works can literally turn a cake that doesn't work into one that is kickin' it. In this tutorial, I explain to you how to work with colour so that your cakes kick ass. 

Colour Theory

When deciding your cake colour theme, use a colour wheel.  This sets out the main colours and you can use it to work out colour theory. 

Colour theory wheel at Pretty Witty Cakes

The colour wheel I use at Pretty Witty Cakes

How does a colour wheel work?

A colour wheel has colours in a very specific order and layout so that you can work out quickly and with basic rules which colours work well together. 

Primary Colours

The primary colours on the colour wheen are usually your starting point although it is rare you would make a cake using these three colours.  They are laid out 1/3 apart as shown below. 

Note that black, brown, grey and white go with everything so can easily be mixed with any colours on a colour wheel. 

Primary colours at Pretty Witty Cakes

Primary colours are red, yellow and blue. These are colours you cannot make by mixing other colours together. 

Secondary colours

Secondary colours are colours you get by mixing the primary colours together.  The secondary colours are purple, orange and green.  These are made as follows:

  • For orange: mix red and yellow
  • For green mix blue and yellow
  • For purple: mix blue and red

Secondary colours at Pretty Witty Cakes

When you are mixing colours, you can apply a bit of paste from one colour pot and mix with another. For example, if you only have red and yellow colour paste pots, you also have orange as you can mix the fondant with a bit of red and a bit of yellow. 

In other words, if you have the primary colours of red, yellow and blue, you have at least 6 colours you can work with on your cakes. 

Analygous colours

Next up is analygous colours. Understanding these enables you to take your cake making and colour design even further. 

Analygous colours are colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel.  

Analygous colours at Pretty Witty Cakes

If you work with analygous colours on your cake decorating you will get cakes that feel quite calming. The palette of colours is not too jaring and the colours will feel mellow and relaxed.

Using analygous colours, you will get quite romantic and pleasing to the eye cakes. For examples of cupcakes using analygous colours made by students in my live classes, see below:  

Cupcakes using analygous colours at Pretty Witty Cakes

Cupcakes made by one of my students in a live cupcake class after she learnt about colour theory and analygous colours

When you use analygous colour on cakes, they work well together. This even applies to traditionally clashing colours like red and pink. They work because they are analygous. 

Complimentary colours

Another option is to use complimentary colours. Complimentary colours are colours which are opposite each other on the colour wheel.  For example:

  • Red and Green (used often at Xmas)
  • Purple and Yellow (often used in African clothing)
  • Pink and Light Green (used in so many things!)
Complimentary colours on cakes at Pretty Witty Cakes

Complimentary colours are often used in their bright form like Xmas red and yellows or bright purple and bright yellow.

But you don't need to make them bright.  You can use complementary colours in pastels as well.  When you look at complimentary colours on a cake, they will "pop" in your eye. In other words, your eye will constantly re-adjust to look at the one colour and then its direct opposite.  It is this movement that causes you to notice things in complementary colours and find them pleasing to the eye. 

Below are examples from one of my class students who use pastel complimentary colours on her cakes. 

Pastel pink and green cupcakes using complimentary colours at Pretty Witty CAkes

Cupcakes made by one of my students in a live cupcake class after she learnt about colour theory and complimentary colours 

The only thing you need to watch for in complimentary colours is that you don't make your cakes too jaring - too vibrant as this could lead to cakes that don't look appealing to eat.

Triadic colours

Triadic colours are those which are on the tips of the traingle in the diagram below.

Triadic colours at Pretty Witty Cakes

Triadic colours are dominant colours and harder to work with on cakes and still make the cakes look appealing. 

This group of colours will often be used on children's cakes or cakes that are designed to make a statment.  A good example of this are these student's cupcakes from a class. 

Triadic colours on students cupcakes

This student had a particular requirement in class to be untraditional and different in her colour scheme. She did not want the classic wedding look but wanted something more bright, more daring and more modern. 

Split Complimentary colours

The last group of colours to consider are split complimentary colours. 

Split complimentary colours at Pretty Witty Cakes

These colours are still in a triangle formaton on the colour wheel but they are slightly closer together.  

As per the video, these are a great starting point as they usually work well. You take your normall "opposite" complimentary colours but you split the complimentary.  ie Pink and Light green on this well are split so that there is light green opposite a split of Red and Purple inside of pink. 

For an example of this, see these student cupcakes below where she has used split complimentary colours

Split complimentary cakes on students cupcakes at Pretty Witty Cakes

If you compare these cupcakes next to straight complimentary cupcakes of light pink and green, you can see the split complimentary colours are busier, more dynamic and making more of a statment through the colour

Complimentary colours on cupcakes

Complimentary colours (pink and green) on cupcakes

Split complimentary colours (purple, dark pink and green) on cupcakes


Understanding basic colour theory can make a huge difference to your cake decorating and the presentation of your cakes. It is worth taking the time to label and understand your cake colours so you know which colours work best with others.  Before you know it, it will all be second nature and you won't even think about it before picking the "right" colours to go with each other on a cake. 

For a similar tutorial check out this one, How to get Perfect Cake Colour Schemes.

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