Use of Colours in Scientific Writing — Ultimate Guide

Science is already complex, don’t make it even more complicated in writing and illustration

Afzal Badshah, PhD
Age of Awareness
Published in
3 min readFeb 11, 2022


Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Colours speak louder than words. It compels readers to read. In the case of scientific publications, journals usually publish online, therefore understanding the use of colour in graphics is worth learning. Using professional colours, change the manuscript to professional and hook the readers nevertheless, if the wrong colours are used, reader retention will suffer. This tutorial will hopefully help to create professional-looking graphics for scientific writing.

Colours are divided into four different plates

Complementary colours (opposite from each other in the colour wheel). Complementary colours, as shown in the diagrams, are two colours that are oppositely positioned on the colour wheel. If just two colours are required for data representation, complimentary colours will be used.

As you can see in the figures, complementary colours are two, completely appositely located on the colour wheel. We will use complementary colours if we need only two colours for data representation.
Complementary colours

Analogous colours (adjacent to each other in the colour wheel). Analogous colours, as you can see in the below colour plate, are adjacent to each other. Because these colours are difficult to distinguish, they are typically avoided in scientific depiction.

Analogous colours, as you can see in the below colour plates, are adjacent to each other. These colors are difficult to differentiate, therefore, they are usually avoided to use in scientific representation.
Analogous colours

Triad colours (three colours with equidistance in the colour plate). Triad colours are made up of three colours that are evenly spaced on the colour wheel. As a result, if your data requires three colours, triad colours will provide a clear depiction.

Triad colours

Square colours (Four evenly spaced colours). Similarly, square colour offers a choice of four colours on the colour wheel, having equal space. Therefore, in case you needed four colours to represent your data, you will use the square colour wheel.

Square colours


  • Colours truly depend on where they are used, however, too many colours will distract the readers

Always use your original figures. The other two categories lie in plagiarism. Therefore, always avoid them. In case, you have to use them in your study, take the proper copyright from the publishers.

  • Yellow colours are difficult to read, so avoid them.
  • Use a colour scheme that corresponds to the eyesight of a colourblind person. Because they are unable to distinguish between red and green colours, it is preferable to utilise purple and green instead.
  • Two types of colours are accepted by journals, RGB (Red, Green, Blue) are used for online printing and CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) are used for hard printing. Therefore, decide the colour scheme as the journal publishes your article.
  • Take care of the background colour of the figures
  • Avoid colours that are difficult to differentiate

Science is already complex, don’t make it even more complicated in writing and illustration. Follow the above simple steps to illustrate your complex data in tables. Furthermore, go through the below article to get ready for graphics used in scientific publications.

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Afzal Badshah, PhD
Age of Awareness

Dr Afzal Badshah focuses on academic skills, pedagogy (teaching skills) and life skills.