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How are yellow and orange related?

How are yellow and orange related?

Yellow and orange are two colors that are closely linked. Both colors fall in the warm end of the color spectrum and evoke feelings of happiness, optimism, and warmth. Though different, yellow and orange share some important qualities that connect them.

Primary Colors

In painting and other visual arts, yellow and orange are considered primary colors. Primary colors are colors that cannot be created by mixing other colors together but are instead used as the building blocks for all other colors.

The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. When you mix red and yellow, you get orange. So orange contains yellow as one of its components. Without yellow, orange could not exist.

Primary Colors

Color Wheel

On the color wheel, yellow and orange sit side-by-side next to each other. The color wheel arranges colors by hue in a circular format to show how they relate to each other. Yellow transitions smoothly into orange as you move clockwise around the wheel.

The close proximity of yellow and orange on the wheel demonstrates their close relationship. Yellow blends fluidly into orange with just a slight shift in hue and increase in saturation.

Color Wheel

Warm Colors

Both yellow and orange are considered warm colors. Warm colors include shades of red, orange, and yellow. These colors evoke feelings of warmth, energy, excitement, enthusiasm, and cheer.

In interior design, warm colors like orange and yellow are often used to create an inviting, cozy atmosphere. The warmth of these colors is associated with things like fire, sunlight, and heat.

Cool colors like blues and greens, on the other hand, evoke feelings of calmness and tranquility. Rooms painted in warm shades of yellow or orange feel energized and vibrant.

Warm Colors

Complementary Colors

Orange and yellow are complementary colors on the color wheel. Complementary colors are color pairs that sit directly opposite each other on the wheel.

Complementary color schemes create high contrast and bright, vibrant combinations. Yellow and orange have this energizing effect when placed side by side.

Using complementary colors together can make each one seem more intense. The yellow pops against the orange background and vice versa.

Complementary Colors

Mixing Paints

When mixing paints, adding more yellow to orange will shift it towards a more golden yellow tone. Adding more orange to yellow will intensify the yellow into a brighter, bolder shade.

By adjusting the ratios of yellow and orange paints, you can create a wide spectrum of warm hues. Mixing yellow and orange offers more flexibility in color than using either shade on its own.

Mixing Yellow and Orange Paint
More yellow -> golden yellow
More orange -> bold yellow

Light Wavelengths

In physics, yellow and orange are wavelengths of visible light that sit next to each other on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Yellow light has a wavelength between 570-590 nanometers. Orange light has a slightly longer wavelength of 590-620 nm. This close positioning means yellow and orange light waves have similar properties.

Both yellow and orange wavelengths induce a similar stimulation in the retina of the human eye. This triggers the sensation of seeing warm, bright colors.

Light Wavelengths
Yellow: 570-590 nm
Orange: 590-620 nm


Many yellow and orange pigments contain similar chemical compositions. Cadmium yellow and cadmium orange pigments both contain cadmium combined with sulfur and selenium atoms.

Lead chromate is used to produce chrome yellow and orange pigments. The relative ratios of the compounds result in shades ranging from yellow to deep orange.

Organic azo pigments use nitrogen rather than heavy metals. Variations of azo yellow and azo orange pigments create bright, opaque paint colors.

Pigment Compositions
Cadmium yellow: cadmium, sulfur, selenium
Cadmium orange: cadmium, sulfur, selenium
Chrome yellow: lead, chromium
Chrome orange: lead, chromium
Azo yellow: organic azo compounds
Azo orange: organic azo compounds

Printing Inks

In the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color model used for printing, yellow and orange are created by combining ink pigments.

Yellow ink on its own appears bright and attention-grabbing. Orange is produced by overlaying magenta ink over yellow ink to create a darker, redder shade.

The ratio of magenta to yellow ink can be adjusted to control the orange tones. More yellow gives a lighter orange, while more magenta results in a deeper orange.

CMYK Printing Inks

Digital Color Codes

In digital design, specific hexadecimal color codes define yellow and orange shades. While the codes are distinct numbers, they have a similar structure.

Pure orange codes start with FF for full red saturation. Yellow codes start with FF for full green saturation. The overlapping FF indicates their shared vibrant quality.

Slight variations in the remaining four digits shift the tones from yellow to orange. The digital colors blend smoothly like paint or light.

Hexadecimal Color Codes
Pure yellow: FFFF00
Pure orange: FFFF80


Culturally, both yellow and orange share some symbolic meanings related to their energetic essence.

Yellow is associated with sunshine, happiness, optimism, and idealism. Orange shares the upbeat qualities of yellow but also represents enthusiasm, creativity, and success.

In many religions, orange and yellow represent spiritual enlightenment, divine wisdom, and the welcoming warmth of deities.

Symbolic Meanings


In geography, yellow and orange are signature colors of certain prominent landscapes.

Yellowstone National Park contains large swaths of yellow-hued geysers and sulfuric springs. Meanwhile, Red Rock Canyon’s orange sandstone cliffs and formations contrast with blue desert skies.

The Grand Canyon transitions in bands of orange, yellow, and red stratified rock dating back billions of years.

Famous Landscapes
Yellowstone: Yellow sulfur springs
Red Rock Canyon: Orange sandstone cliffs
Grand Canyon: Orange and yellow rock bands

Fruits and Vegetables

In the produce aisle, many common fruits and vegetables bear shades of yellow and orange.

Citrus fruits like lemons, grapefruits, and oranges are often yellow or orange depending on variety. Other yellow produce includes bananas, yellow peppers, and yellow squash.

For orange, there are carrots, peaches, mangoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, and apricots. Seasonal variation and ripeness impact the exact hue.

Yellow and Orange Produce
Yellow: lemons, bananas, peppers, squash
Orange: carrots, peaches, mangoes, pumpkin

Fall Foliage

In temperate forests across the globe, autumn foliage transforms into vivid shades of yellow and orange.

Chlorophyll breaks down as days grow shorter, allowing carotenoid and xanthophyll pigments to emerge in leaves. Different pigment levels create colors from yellow to deep orange.

Maple, oak, poplar, ginkgo, and aspen trees are known for turning brilliant warm hues in the fall.

Fall Foliage Colors
Maple: Yellow, orange, red
Oak: Yellow, orange, reddish-brown
Aspen: Golden yellow
Ginkgo: Golden yellow


In summary, yellow and orange are strongly connected through their status as primary colors, their position on the color wheel, and their shared qualities of warmth and energy. The pigments, wavelengths, and symbolism of these colors also overlap significantly.

From mixing paints to their prevalence in nature, yellow and orange flow into one another to create a spectrum of sunny, joyful hues. Their relationship as complementary colors generates vibrancy and contrast. Next time you admire a fiery sunset or a grove of autumn trees, take note of the many variations between yellow and orange.