Purple, violet, and indigo are often used interchangeably to refer to shades ranging from purple to blue. However, while overlapping, they are technically considered distinct colors with their own specific properties. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between purple, violet, and indigo.
Purple is a color that falls between red and blue on the visible spectrum. It occurs from a combination of red and blue light. In optics, purple has a wavelength range of approximately 380-450 nanometers.
Purple is a secondary color, meaning that it is created by mixing two primary colors, red and blue. It sits opposite green on the color wheel.
There are a wide variety of shades that fall under the umbrella term “purple”. These range from reddish purples to blueish purples. In paints, purple pigments are created by mixing red and blue pigments in different proportions. For example, mixing a greater proportion of red to blue yields red-purple, while mixing more blue creates blue-purple shades.
Some common shades of purple include:
|Pale Violet Red||#DB7093|
So in summary, purple is a secondary color made by mixing red and blue, with many possible shades from reddish to bluish purple.
Violet is a spectral color with its own wavelength range on the visible spectrum. Spectral violet has a dominant wavelength of approximately 380-450 nanometers. This wavelength range overlaps with purple, however violet is considered more specifically within the blue-violet range.
On the color wheel, violet sits between blue and purple. It is a bluish-purple tone that leans more towards the blue side than the red side. Add a bit more red and you get purple. Add a bit more blue and you get blue-violet.
Some examples of violet shades include:
So violet distinguishes itself from purple by being more specifically in the bluer range of purple tones. While still a mix of red and blue light, it leans closer to blue on the visible spectrum.
Indigo is considered a spectral color with its own designated wavelength range of about 445-420 nanometers. This places it between violet and blue on the visible spectrum.
Isaac Newton originally identified indigo as one of the seven colors of the rainbow, distinguishing it from violet and blue. However, some argue that indigo is not truly a distinct color, since the human eye cannot detect it as separate from blue and violet. Most people see indigo as a deep blue rather than a separate hue.
Indigo dye has historically been produced from the indigo plant. This is where the color name comes from. Natural indigo dyes and pigments produce a deep blue color.
Modern indigo clothes are now dyed synthetically. Indigo jeans are the most common example. The dye produces a distinctly blue color.
Some examples of indigo shades:
So in summary, indigo refers to shades of deep blue that border on violet. It is recognized as being its own color distinguishable from blue and violet, but most people perceive it as a variant of blue.
Comparing Violet, Purple, and Indigo
Although overlapping, violet, purple, and indigo can be summarized as follows:
Violet – Spectral color between blue and purple, leaning towards blue. In the 380-450nm wavelength range.
Purple – Secondary color between red and blue made by mixing those two primary colors. No specific dominant wavelength.
Indigo – Deep blue-violet color named specifically by Newton. Modern indigo dyes create a deep blue. 445-420nm wavelength range.
So in summary:
- Violet is more blueish
- Purple is a mix of red and blue
- Indigo is more violet-blue
There are overlaps between the three, but they each have a slightly different position on the visible color spectrum. Violet is considered scientifically separate from purple and indigo.
Here is a visual comparison of violet, purple, and indigo shades:
How the Eye Perceives Violet, Purple, and Indigo
The human eye contains photoreceptor cone cells that detect different wavelengths of light and transmit those signals to the brain. There are three types of cone cells:
- S cones detect short blue wavelengths
- M cones detect medium green wavelengths
- L cones detect long red wavelengths
The cone cells overlap in the wavelengths they detect. Violet, purple, and indigo stimulate both the S cones and M cones to varying degrees.
However, the cells are not finely tuned enough to perceive violet, purple, and indigo as completely separate hues. The brain combines and interprets the signals from the two cone types, so most people see these colors as different shades of purple or blue.
Those with more acute color vision may be able to perceive subtle distinctions between violet, purple, and indigo. But for most people, the colors blur together. We don’t have photoreceptor cells specialized for these narrow sections of the visible spectrum.
Violet, Purple, and Indigo in Art, Fashion, and Design
Violet, purple, and indigo shades are popular colors used across art, fashion, and design. Here are some examples of how the colors are applied:
- Impressionist painters like Monet and Renoir made prolific use of shades of violet, purple, and indigo to depict shadows, depth, and lighting effects.
- Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting Starry Night uses whirling brushstrokes in shades of blue, violet, and purple to create its striking nocturnal landscape.
- Violet and purple symbolize spirituality and mysticism in some abstract art.
- Deep purple is a staple color in fashion, conveying richness and luxury.
- Light violet and lilac shades are associated with delicate femininity in clothing.
- Indigo dyes create the distinctive blue shade associated with denim jeans.
- Purple is commonly used as an accent color in home decorating, as it adds a bold pop.
- Light violet is a relaxing color used in bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Deeper indigo blue works well in studies and libraries for an intellectual vibe.
So while the eye may not perceive the nuances between them, violet, purple, and indigo remain distinct colors that add depth and personality in visual arts.
While often used interchangeably in general parlance, violet, purple, and indigo can be defined as distinct colors on the visible spectrum. Violet sits between blue and purple, distinguished by its bluish shade. Purple is a secondary color formed by mixing red and blue. Indigo is a deep blue-violet recognized historically by Newton. While overlapping tones, the three colors occupy slightly different wavelength ranges. They form their own unique aesthetic identities and symbolic associations in art, fashion, and culture.