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How do you find the inverse of a color?

How do you find the inverse of a color?

Finding the inverse of a color is an important concept in color theory and design. The inverse of a color is the color directly opposite it on the color wheel. Determining a color’s inverse can help create balanced and harmonious color palettes. In this article, we’ll explore what the inverse of a color is, how to find it, and its applications in design.

What Does “Inverse of a Color” Mean?

The inverse of a color refers to its complementary color. Complementary colors are pairs of colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. This opposite positioning creates a striking visual contrast when complementary colors are placed next to each other. Some examples of complementary color pairs are:

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

When you look at the color wheel, complementary colors are located 180 degrees apart from each other. This gives them a vibrant, high-contrast relationship that causes them to seemingly pop off the page or screen when combined. Finding the inverse of a color involves locating its complement directly across from it on the wheel.

How to Find the Inverse of Any Color

There are a few simple ways to find the inverse of most colors:

Use a color wheel

A color wheel is the most straightforward way to identify complementaries. To find the inverse:

  1. Locate the original color on the color wheel.
  2. Identify the color directly opposite from it, on the other side of the wheel.
  3. That opposite color is the original color’s complement.

For example, to find the inverse of orange, you would locate orange on the color wheel and see that its complement, blue, sits directly across from it.

Complementary color calculator

You can also use an online complementary color calculator tool. To use one:

  1. Input the hex code or RGB values of your starting color.
  2. The tool will automatically generate the hex code and RGB values for that color’s complement.

This is helpful if you know the specific hue you want to find the inverse for. The calculator does the work of finding its pair for you.

Mixing paint colors

When mixing paint colors, you can find a color’s complementary by mixing together equal parts of the two primary colors not present in the original color. For example:

  • To find the complement of red (which contains red and blue), mix yellow and green.
  • To find the complement of purple (which contains red and blue), mix yellow and green.
  • To find the complement of green (which contains yellow and blue), mix red and purple.

This provides an analog, visual way of arriving at complementaries when working with physical paint.

Why Finding Inverses is Useful

Determining a color’s inverse has several practical applications in art, design, and psychology:

Creating color harmonies

Using complementary colors together creates color harmony and visual interest. Balancing colors with their inverses leads to color palettes that are vibrant yet balanced.

Making elements stand out

When placed against their complements, colors appear more intense by contrast. This makes inverses useful for making design elements stand out against their backgrounds.

Establishing color themes

Complementary pairs make ideal foundational colors for establishing a unified theme across designs. Their high-contrast relationship gives impact while their balance provides consistency.

Avoiding color clashes

Knowing a color’s inverse helps avoid pairing it with other colors that may be too similar and clash. Sticking to complements ensures colors work together.

Simulating natural contrast

Complementaries mimic the natural contrast found in nature between shades and sunlight. Using them together makes visuals more vibrant.

Creating optical illusions

The intense vibration between complementary colors can create visual effects like the illusion of motion in Op Art.

Increasing visibility

Using a color and its inverse improves visibility between elements like text and backgrounds. This enhances readability.

Sparking excitement

Research suggests complementary colors can elicit stronger emotional responses. Their high-contrast elicits excitement and draws attention.

Examples of Complementary Color Pairs

Here are some common colors and their inverse complements:

Original Color Complementary Color
Red Green
Orange Blue
Yellow Purple
Green Red
Blue Orange
Purple Yellow

These are just a few examples of complementary color inverses. The same principle applies to any hue on the color wheel.

Tips for Using Complementary Colors

Here are some tips for working with complementary color palettes successfully:

  • Use complements in moderation. Too much can be jarring.
  • Try lighter tints and darker shades to make complements more subtle.
  • Add neutrals like gray or beige to soften and bridge complements.
  • Make one color dominant and the other more of an accent.
  • Layer complements instead of placing side-by-side to reduce vibration.
  • Look at contextual examples of complements in nature and art for inspiration.


Finding the inverse or complementary color is an important foundational skill in color theory. Identifying these high-contrast color relationships allows designers to create visually engaging, harmonious palettes. By understanding what makes colors complementary through the color wheel and other tools, artists and designers can make informed choices about combining hues. Balancing colors with their inverses provides a dynamic interplay that adds visual interest, visibility, and excitement to any project dealing with color.