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How do you make violet or purple?

Purple is a color that has long been associated with royalty, power, and wealth. The rarity and expense of purple dyes in ancient times meant that only the very rich could afford fabrics of this color. Even today, purple conjures images of luxury and ambition. But where does this intriguing color come from and how is it produced? Let’s take a closer look at the origins and creation of violet and purple.

What is the difference between violet and purple?

Violet and purple are often used interchangeably but there are some distinct differences between the two:

Violet Purple
Hue is closer to blue Hue is closer to red
Lower wavelength (380-450 nm) Higher wavelength (450-490 nm)
More energetic and higher frequency Less energetic and lower frequency
Appears more blue and cool Appears more red and warm

In simple terms, violet is a spectral color with its own wavelength on the light spectrum, while purple is a mix of red and blue light. Violet has a higher vibration frequency than purple.

Where do natural violet and purple colors come from?

In nature, violet and purple colors are relatively rare compared to other colors like green, yellow, or orange. There are only a handful of natural pigments that produce violet and purple hues.

Violet pigments:

  • Anthocyanin – This water-soluble pigment is responsible for the purple of blueberries, pansies, and plums.
  • Halochrome – Found in purple cabbage, these pigments change color in response to changes in pH.
  • Tetrapyrrole – A class of pigments including violacein which gives violet color to chromobacteria.

Purple pigments:

  • Tyrian purple – Rare pigment made from mollusk secretions, historically used for royal robes.
  • Manganese phosphate – Inorganic pigment found in mollusk shells and eggshells.
  • Carotenoids – Some carotenoids absorb green and yellow light, reflecting back purple.

While natural violet and purple pigments do exist, most shades of purple we see today are produced through mixing of red and blue synthetic dye pigments.

How is the color violet made?

Violet is a spectral color which means it has its own wavelength of light. The wavelength of violet light is between 380-450 nm, at the high frequency end of the visible spectrum.

To make violet, you need a light source that can emit that specific wavelength. Some ways to make violet light include:

  • LEDs (light emitting diodes) – Violet LEDs directly emit violet wavelengths.
  • Lasers – Violet lasers can generate a very pure violet color.
  • Fluorescence – Some materials absorb ultraviolet light and re-emit it as violet.
  • Computer/TV screens – Violet can be reproduced by mixing blue and some red light.

While monitors mix light to create violet, pigments and dyes can also directly absorb other wavelengths, reflecting back violet. Examples include manganese violet and dioxazine violet synthetic pigments.

How is the color purple made?

Since purple is not a spectral color, it can only be reproduced through a mix of red and blue light or pigments. Here are some ways purple color is produced:

Method Description
Optical mixing Mixing red and blue light sources to produce purple.
Color monitors Displays purple by lighting up both red and blue subpixels.
Paints and dyes Combining a red pigment like carmine with a blue like indigo or phthalocyanine blue.
Purple fabrics Dyeing fabrics with a mix of red and blue dyes.
Plants Breeding red and blue flowers like rubies and sapphires to create purple hybrids.
Printing Mixing magenta and cyan inks to yield purple.

The shade of purple can be controlled by adjusting the proportions of the red and blue components. More red yields a reddish purple while more blue makes a bluish purple.

What are the different shades of purple?

There are dozens of shades of purple spanning the red and blue color spectrum. Here are some of the most popular purple shades and their hex color codes:

Purple Shade Hex Code
Lavender #B57EDC
Wisteria #C9A0DC
Lilac #C8A2C8
Orchid #DA70D6
Amethyst #9966CC
Plum #8E4585
Violet #8F00FF
Eggplant #614051
Mauve #E0B0FF
Purple #A020F0
Fuchsia #FF00FF

The diversity of purple colors offers a wide palette for use in art, fashion, and design.

What are purple pigments and dyes?

Purple pigments and dyes are substances that selectively absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect back purple. Here are some common purple dyes and pigments:

  • Mauveine – The first synthetic organic purple dye, discovered by accident in 1856.
  • Manganese violet – Inorganic pigment made from manganese that produces a deep purple.
  • Dioxazine purple – Organic synthetic pigment with an extremely stable violet color.
  • Purple madder – Plant-based natural dye used for textile dyeing.
  • Heliotrope – Grayish purple pigment made from cobalt blue mixed with crimson lake.
  • Opera mauve – Rich, dark purple azo dye used for clothing and printing inks.

Many purple dyes are pH sensitive, appearing more reddish in acidic conditions and bluer in alkaline conditions. Bright purple fabric dyes often require a mordant like alum to bind the dye and improve colorfastness.

What are some interesting facts about violet and purple?

  • Violet has the shortest wavelength of all visible colors, making it the most energetic color in the spectrum.
  • Violet light can kill bacteria and is used for sterilization.
  • Purple rarely occurs naturally in foods other than fruits and vegetables.
  • Unnatural purple foods like potatoes and ketchup were once used as signs of chemical contamination.
  • Romans would wear bright purple togas to show their wealth and status.
  • Purple is associated with royalty, creativity, imagination, and magic.
  • Light violet is considered a feminine color while vivid purple can be both masculine and feminine.
  • Too much purple can cause visual fatigue since it is highly saturated.
  • Purple dyes were once worth more than gold due to the rarity of materials needed to produce them.
  • Purple is a popular color for packaging products targeted at children.

The unique visual properties and intriguing history of violet and purple make these colors endlessly fascinating.


While violet and purple may appear similar, violet is a spectral color with its own wavelength while purple is a mix of red and blue. Both colors have long been associated with extravagance, creativity, and imagination. Natural violet and purple pigments are relatively rare, so most shades are produced by mixing red and blue colorants. The diversity of purple allows for an endless variety of hues for use in art, fashion, and design. From the energetic violet rays of sunlight to the regal purple robes of kings and emperors, violet and purple continue to captivate and inspire us.