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Are brown and purple complementary?

Are brown and purple complementary?

Complementary colors are color pairs that sit opposite one another on the color wheel. When placed side-by-side, complementary colors create strong visual contrast and make each other appear more vibrant. Some classic examples of complementary color pairs include red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. But what about the color brown – does it have a complementary color? And could that color possibly be purple?

What are complementary colors?

Complementary colors (also called complementary hues) are any two colors located directly across from each other on the color wheel. The color wheel organizes colors by hue, with primary colors (red, blue, yellow) spaced evenly around the wheel. The secondary colors (green, orange, purple) fall between the primaries, and the tertiary colors fill in the remaining spaces.

Colors that sit opposite each other on the wheel have very different hues. However, they share a strong visual relationship and create a striking contrast when placed next to each other. This makes them ideal for uses like graphic design, where bold color contrast can make elements stand out on the page.

The high contrast of complements is caused by a phenomenon called simultaneous contrast. Our eyes have receptors for seeing red, blue, and green light. Complementary colors trigger these receptors in a way that makes them appear more intense. For example, seeing red makes our eyes fatigue red receptors and excite blue/green receptors. This causes an adjacent green color to look even more green.

Common complementary color pairs

Here are some of the most well-known complementary color pairs:

  • Red and green
  • Blue and orange
  • Yellow and purple

These complementary pairs are directly opposite each other on the standard RYB color wheel. Red sits across from green, blue across from orange, and yellow across from purple. When placed next to each other, these color pairs create strong visual contrast.

RYB (red, yellow, blue) is the traditional color wheel used by painters and artists. But modern color theory often uses a RGB (red, green, blue) wheel instead. This exchanges the secondary color pairs – red/cyan, green/magenta, and blue/yellow are complementaries on a RGB wheel.

No matter what color wheel you reference, the complement of any color will be the one located directly opposite. Finding color complements is all about identifying colors from distinctly different hue families.

Are brown and purple complementary colors?

At first glance, brown and purple do not seem like obvious complements. But looking closer at the color wheel reveals an interesting relationship between these two earthy tones.

Brown is not included on either the RYB or RGB color wheel. This is because brown is not part of the spectrum of visible light. Rather, brown is created by mixing complementary colors – usually orange and blue.

When imagining brown on the color wheel, it would fit between orange and blue. On the opposite side sits purple, blending red and blue hues.

So while brown and purple are not precise opposites, they are close neighbors of complementaries. This gives them enough hue contrast to potentially work as complements themselves.

Do brown and purple work well together?

Whether brown and purple complement each other successfully comes down to the specific shades used.

Warm browns with red/orange undertones pair best with cooler purple tones – lilacs, mauves, and lavenders. Cool browns with blue/green undertones complement warmer plums, violets, and magentas.

Extremely dark browns will have too little contrast with dark purple hues. But lighter tans and chocolates contrast nicely against medium-to-dark purples. The most striking combinations use a light brown and rich, vivid purple.

When combining any colors, using one color for accents against a neutral backdrop helps them look their best. Try pairing a tan jacket with a lavender shirt, or accessorizing a chocolate brown dress with pale purple heels.

Overall, brown and purple can complement each other successfully. Their earthy tones provide gentler contrast than primary color opposites, giving a more subtle and soothing effect.

Examples of brown and purple combinations

Here are some examples of brown and purple working well together:


  • Pale purple top with dark brown pants or skirt
  • Plum handbag paired with tan shoes
  • Lavender scarf with chocolate brown coat
  • Taupe shoes with magenta purple laces

Interior decorating

  • Deep purple accent wall in tan room
  • Eggplant purple couch cushions against brown leather sofa
  • Violet area rug laid on chocolate hardwood floor
  • Lilac bedding on rustic oak bed frame

Graphic design

  • Light brown text over deep purple background
  • Mauve graphics on kraft paper background
  • Plum pie chart segment contrasting tan segments
  • Copper foil stamping on eggplant book cover

These examples demonstrate ways to effectively pair shades of brown and purple. The color combinations create appealing contrast while remaining warm and earthy.

Tips for combining brown and purple

Here are some quick tips for pairing these earth tone complements successfully:

  • Choose a light brown and deep purple for maximum contrast
  • Use one color as the dominant shade and the other as accents
  • Aim for warm browns with cool purples (or vice versa)
  • Add cream, tan or white to soften and separate the colors
  • Layer shades of a single color (light to dark) to create depth
  • Add metallics like copper or silver to make the palette shine

Following these guidelines will help you use brown and purple in harmonious ways. The colors can bring out the best in each other when thoughtfully combined.

The psychology of brown and purple

Complementary color pairings also produce psychological effects. The symbolic meanings of the colors influence how color schemes are perceived.

Meaning of brown

Brown is associated with:

  • Earthiness
  • Reliability
  • Simplicity
  • Organicness
  • Stability

It is a neutral, dependable color that evokes nature. Brown provides a grounded foundation when used with more expressive colors.

Meaning of purple

Purple is associated with:

  • Royalty
  • Luxury
  • Creativity
  • Ambition
  • Independence

It is a mystical, spiritual color that stimulates imagination. Purple adds a touch of magic when combined with the earthy stability of brown.

Brown and purple together

Combined, brown and purple create a rich, indulgent effect. Brown grounds the whimsical nature of purple, while purple adds a sense of originality to brown’s practicality.

This complementary pairing captures natural simplicity with royal expressiveness. The result is combinations ideal for relaxed elegance and understated decadence.


Brown and purple make an unexpected but attractive color pair. While not precise opposites, their shared earthiness unites them. Careful selection of shades and accents allows brown and purple to complement each other pleasingly.

These earth tones create a subtle and soothing contrast. Their grounded warmth inspires relaxing, comfortable spaces when used together in design and decor.

So while brown and purple may not seem like obvious complements at first, their rich blend of practicality and creative spirit come together in beautiful harmony.