How to choose buttercream colours

In this guide, Neetha Syam shows you how to choose the right colours for your buttercream cake designs...

The right colour combination plays a huge part in your cake designing process. We often overlook this area, but I highly recommend you invest some time here – I promise you will reap the rewards. 

Inspiration for colour combinations is everywhere – look for pretty dresses, floral homeware, wallpapers, greetings cards. It's all about finding colour combinations that appeal to you and reinventing them as cake designs.

Buttercream Petals

This guide is from Buttercream Petals by Neetha Syam, Search Press. Master the art of decorating cakes with buttercream flowers in this stunning book from cake artist and tutor Neetha Syam. If you enjoy this guide you can get the book from our online shop WITH an automatic 10% off just for being you, PLUS free UK P+P! 

Colour combinations that work

Understanding the basic colour wheel will help you decide the best colour combinations for your cake. In a colour wheel, you'll see primary, secondary and tertiary colours, as follows.

The basic colour wheel

Basic Colour Wheel

Primary colours

  • Red, yellow and blue are the primary colours.

Secondary colours
These are the colours achieved by mixing equal amounts of two primary colours:

  • Orange = red + yellow
  • Purple = red + blue
  • Green = yellow + blue

Tertiary colours 
These are the colours that fall between, and are mixed from, the primary and secondary colours: 

  • Red–purple
  • Blue–purple
  • Blue–green
  • Yellow–green
  • Yellow–orange
  • Red–orange

Complementary colours

Complementary Colours

Complementary colours sit opposite each other in the colour wheel – for example, red and green, and yellow and purple. If you're looking for bold cake designs, choose complementary colours as they'll create contrast and have a striking effect on your design. 

Analogous colours

Analogous colours

These are the colours that are right next to each other on the colour wheel – for example, yellow, yellow-orange and orange. When these colours are used together, they give a harmonious look to your design.

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Compound colours

Compound Colours

Compound colours comprise two adjacent colours in the colour wheel and one colour opposite on the colour wheel – for example, red–orange, red and green. Compound colours are very much like complementary colours in that they create a striking contrast, but having two adjacent colours from the colour wheel creates a smoother transition. 

Triad and tetrad colours

Triad Colours

If you'd like a colourful cake, perhaps a triad or tetrad colour combination is the best way forward. Triad colours are evenly spaced on the colour wheel in the form of a triangle – for example, yellow, blue and red, or purple, orange and green.

Tetrad colours

Tetrad colours are evenly spaced on the colour wheel in the form of a square – for example, yellow, purple, blue–green and red–orange.

Popular colours

Popular colours

When you mix two or more gel colours, a little magic happens to transform the colour dramatically so you can achieve the perfect red, burgundy or even black! Below are some of my favourite colour combinations:

  • Black – chocolate buttercream + black gel colour
  • White – uncoloured buttercream + white gel colour
  • Brown – chocolate buttercream
  • Red – mostly red + a little orange + a little dot of black
  • Avocado – green + yellow + a dot of ivory
  • Burgundy – pink + a little purple
  • Plum – violet + a little red
  • Navy blue – blue + a little violet
  • Raspberry – pink + a little red

A dot of ivory will help to decrease the brightness of any colour and a dot of black will help darken the colour. I tend to use a neutral colour like cream or white with my complementary colours to tone down the contrast a little.


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