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Is maroon in the red or purple family?

Is maroon in the red or purple family?

Maroon is a rich, deep red color that has hints of purple or brown in it. Determining whether maroon belongs in the red color family or purple can be tricky since it has qualities of both. There are a few key factors that help determine where maroon should be categorized.

The main considerations are:

  • The technical definition of maroon as a color
  • Where maroon falls on the color wheel
  • The historical origins and uses of the color maroon

Looking closely at these elements provides insight into whether maroon is fundamentally a shade of red or purple. Examining maroon’s technical specifications, placement on the color wheel, and its origins and common associations helps categorize this dark reddish-purple shade.

The Technical Definition of Maroon

Technically speaking, maroon is created by adding brown or black to red. This makes it a darker shade of red, but the mixing of other colors pushes it towards the purple side of the color spectrum. Here are some key technical specifications about maroon as a color:

  • Hex Code: #800000
  • RGB Values: R:128, G:0, B:0
  • CMYK Values: C:0, M:100, Y:100, K:50

The hex code and RGB values show that maroon contains mostly red, with a decent amount of green and blue mixed in. The CMYK values indicate some black has been added to the red to create the darker maroon shade. So while not purely red, the technical values lean more red than purple.

Maroon on the Color Wheel

Another way to categorize maroon is by looking at where it falls on the color wheel. The color wheel maps out the spectrum of pigment colors in relation to each other. Maroon sits between red and purple:

Red Maroon Purple

It resides on the outer edge of the red family but bleeds into purple hues. Maroon is considered one of the tertiary colors, meaning it is created by blending a primary color (red) with a secondary color (purple). This positions maroon in a transitional zone between red and purple.

Origins and Historical Use of Maroon

Looking at the origins and earliest uses of maroon also provides clues into its color family. Here is some background on where maroon came from:

  • First known use of the name “maroon” was in 1789.
  • Originally derived from the French word “marron” which meant chestnut.
  • Used to dye fabric in Medieval times from the root of the Rubia plant which produced a red-purple pigment.
  • Often associated with nobility, clergy, and aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries.

These origins connect maroon more closely to red than purple, though its use by clergy and aristocrats does link it to the richness of purple. Overall, the early history points to maroon stemming from red roots.

Modern Uses and Associations

Maroon’s more recent applications and color associations also provide insight into this debate. Here are some of the ways maroon is used in modern contexts:

  • Common color for fall leaves, berries, and other plants
  • Used in fashion and home decorating as a rich, warm neutral
  • Associated with autumn, harvest, apples, cinnamon, jazz, opera
  • Used by many universities as an official school color
  • Seen in Byzantine art and architecture

These uses connect maroon more to the natural brownish-red tones of fall than the cooler purple tones. Its abundance in the natural world and use in autumnal themes associates maroon with red.

Comparison to Similar Colors

A helpful exercise is comparing maroon to similar reddish-purple colors like burgundy, cordovan, and raspberry. This shows the subtle differences and reinforces maroon’s ties to red:

Color Hex Code RGB Values
Maroon #800000 R: 128, G: 0, B: 0
Burgundy #800020 R: 128, G: 0, B: 32
Cordovan #893F45 R: 137, G: 63, B: 69
Raspberry #E30B5C R: 227, G: 11, B: 92

Compared to these similar colors, maroon has the highest composition of red. Burgundy has more blue while cordovan and raspberry have higher mixes of green and blue. This demonstrates maroon’s closer relationship to red versus purple.


When all these factors are considered together, maroon seems to belong primarily in the red family with hints of purple. Technically it stems from mixing red with other colors. On the color wheel it sits next to red, though also drifting towards purple. Historically and in nature it also derives from red bases. And compared to similar reddish-purple hues, maroon possesses the highest red composition.

While having some purple qualities, maroon is overwhelmingly tied to red in terms of its technical specifications, origins, and common uses. The richness and darkness of maroon comes from adding brown and black to red, linking it more with red than purple. So while a vibrant, evocative color, maroon is best categorized as a deep, intense shade of red.

Summary of Key Points

  • Maroon has a hex code, RGB values, and CMYK composition leaning more heavily towards red than purple.
  • On the color wheel, maroon sits between red and purple as a transitional tertiary color.
  • The earliest uses and origins of maroon connect it more closely with red.
  • In nature and modern contexts, maroon associates with red tones like fall foliage.
  • Compared to similar reddish-purple shades, maroon possesses the highest percentage of red.
  • Therefore, while having some purple qualities, maroon is primarily a deep, rich shade of red.

So in summary, the technical, historical, and contextual evidence point to maroon belonging in the red family, with some purple undertones giving it a unique place between both color worlds. It ultimately sits on the red side of the color spectrum.


Maroon is a fascinating color with qualities of both red and purple. This can make categorizing it challenging. There are good arguments on both sides of whether maroon should be considered red or purple.

On the red side, maroon clearly contains a high percentage of red pigment. It is created by adding brown, black, or purple to red, making red the base color. The origins of maroon connect it to red dyes and pigments used since Medieval times. And its many uses in nature and culture associate it with red-based themes like autumn.

On the purple side, maroon has enough blue and purple mixed in to give it a clear purple quality at times. Its name originally derives from a chestnut color, evoking purple undertones. And maroon was historically associated with aristocracy and clergy, tying it to purple’s royal pedigree. So maroon seems to bridge the red and purple families.

There are good faith arguments for placing maroon firmly in either camp. But the technical details, origins, and comparisons tilt the evidence toward the red side in my analysis. There is room for debate, however, given maroon’s complex blending of red and purple. It is no wonder its categorization remains an interesting and unresolved issue for color enthusiasts and experts alike.

This also raises philosophical questions about color categorization in general. Are colors distinct entities? Or do they blur seamlessly into one another on a gradient? Is color classification arbitrary and subjective? Maroon shows that color may have fluid, porous boundaries that shift with perspective. It reveals the complexity hidden within the colors all around us in nature and the manmade world. Maroon will likely continue intriguing and dividing observers based on their interpretation of its essential character. This speaks to the richness and diversity contained within the vast color spectrum.


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