The color lime presents an interesting debate – is it considered a shade of green or yellow? While it may seem trivial, the classification of colors can impact how they are used in design, marketing, and beyond. Lime sits directly between green and yellow on the color wheel, possessing qualities of both. This article will examine the evidence for categorizing lime as green versus yellow.
The Origin of the Lime Color Name
The name “lime” developed in the late 1840s as a reference to the greenish-yellow color of the citrus fruit. The first recorded use of “lime” as a color name in English was in 1848. Prior to this, the color was simply called “green-yellow.” The word “lime” comes from the Old English “līm,” meaning sticky substance or birdlime – a sticky substance used to capture birds. This refers to the sticky juice inside limes. So originally, the color was named after the fruit – not the other way around.
Classification in Color Models
Modern color models help classify lime’s status as green or yellow. In the RGB (red, green, blue) model, lime is made by combining high levels of green with medium levels of red and blue. The specific RGB values for web lime are 0, 255, 0. In the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) model commonly used in printing, lime is made by mixing high levels of yellow with low cyan and medium magenta and black. The CMYK values for lime are approximately 40, 20, 90, 30.
In the HSL (hue, saturation, lightness) model, lime is defined by a hue of 60-75 degrees – midway between yellow and green. Its lightness typically ranges from 50-75% depending on the shade. Lime’s position halfway between green and yellow on these color wheels supports it as a blend of the two.
Display on Screens
When lime is displayed on web pages or devices screens, it triggers both the green and red color receptors in human eyes fairly equally. An analysis of lime’s hex code #00FF00 shows it contains high values for both green and red. On LCD screens, lime triggers the green and red pixels to similar brightness levels. So in terms of technical reproduction, lime stimulates both the green and red color channels – further evidencing its in-between nature.
Use in Color Theory
In color theory, lime is considered one of the “secondary colors” – colors created by mixing two primary colors. The primary colors are red, blue and yellow. Mixing green and yellow makes lime in the color wheel. This supports lime being a blend of both green and yellow wavelengths. Lime paint consists of yellow and green pigments blended together in similar proportions. So theoretically and physically, lime arises from green and yellow – not exclusively one or the other.
Classification in Biology
When classifying colors found in nature, biology categorizes lime as a shade of green due to its wavelength. The visible color spectrum ranges from around 400-700 nm. Yellow wavelengths fall between 570-590 nm, while greens span 500-565 nm. Lime’s wavelength falls around 510-530 nm – squarely within the green portion of the spectrum. Plants and animals displaying a lime color are therefore classified as green in biological contexts. This provides evidence for lime being considered a green.
Use in Design and Marketing
In graphic design, lime is often grouped with greens rather than yellows due to its cooler, more muted shade. Brighter greens and yellows stand out more, where lime has a more subtle effect. Lime works well alongside other shades of green in website design, paintings, interior design, etc. Lime’s greenish qualities also come through in marketing and branding. Companies that want an energetic, fresh brand image often use greens like lime over bright yellows. Overall, lime fits better with creative applications of other greens versus vivid yellows.
Associations with Citrus Fruits
The strongest case for lime being classified as yellow comes from its name association with limes and other citrus fruits. Limes themselves are typically considered a “yellow” fruit, along with lemons, oranges and grapefruits. So lime as a color is linked to these yellow citrus fruits in people’s minds, primarily due to the name. This association causes many to instinctively group lime with other yellows. However, as noted earlier, the lime fruit was named first – lending its yellowish-green color to the color “lime.” But the fruit association remains a major factor contributing to lime’s perception as a yellow.
Use in Food and Beverages
Lime flavor is widely used in foods and beverages which also strengthens its yellow associations. Lime candy, soda, sorbet, and jello all display bright green-yellow shades. Lime peel is used in cooking as well. Seeing lime used in food settings primes people to perceive it as a yellow citrus fruit color – despite technically being a yellow-green blend. Lime zest and juice provide both a yellow visual and a tangy citrus flavor. So in culinary contexts, lime takes on more yellow characteristics based on these expectations.
Surveys of Color Perception
Several surveys have been conducted asking people to categorize lime’s color family. In online polls, lime is often rated as feeling more “yellow” or closer to yellow than green. When forced to choose between the two, more respondents pick yellow for lime. But in studies where people can select multiple categories, green and yellow are both commonly chosen for lime at similar rates. So while lime may skew slightly yellow in perception, most people still recognize its dual nature.
Here is an example survey of 100 respondents:
This kind of split perception supports lime being considered a color between green and yellow.
An interesting geographic pattern has been noted in lime color perception. In Europe and other regions where green citrus fruits are less common, people are more likely to classify lime as a green color. Where yellow/green citrus fruits like limes and kumquats are rare, the name association doesn’t take hold as strongly. Without the fruit influence, lime’s technical yellow-green properties come through instead. This lends further evidence to lime being inherently a mix of green and yellow.
Lime Dyes and Pigments
Looking at the composition of dyes and pigments labeled as “lime” also supports its greenish-yellow identity. Lime dyes contain both PY3 (Hansa Yellow) and GN (Phthalocyanine Green) pigments. Hansa yellow provides a bright lemony yellow, while phthalo green creates a rich green. Combining pigments in this way produces the signature yellow-green lime color. Similar blended dyes are used in lime fabric dyeing, ink mixing, and paints. So at a physical level, lime pigmentation includes both yellow and green compounds.
The perception of lime can shift slightly depending on lighting conditions. In daylight or neutral light, lime appears brighter and more yellow-dominant. Under fluorescents or LEDs, the green aspect often comes out more strongly. Low light muted lime’s color, making it more purely greenish in appearance. So despite its inherent yellow-green blend, the color balance can subconsciously skew one way or the other based on ambient lighting. Cool, low light enhances lime’s green side, while bright warm light accentuates its yellow side.
Lime vs. Chartreuse
A related debate exists over the distinction between lime and chartreuse green. Some classifications put chartreuse as a more yellow-leaning lime. But chartreuse also contains a touch of blue, making it slightly less yellow than pure lime. Traditional chartreuse liquor possesses this subtle blue tint. Next to chartreuse, lime looks cleaner and brighter. Both sit between green and yellow, but lime tilts more yellow while chartreuse has extra green and blue tones.
Based on the evidence, lime exists in a nebulous zone between green and yellow. It combines elements of both, possessing the coolness of green and brightness of yellow. Arguments can be made for classifying it as either based on context. From a technical perspective, lime is a secondary color blending green and yellow wavelengths. But culturally lime often associates more as a yellow due to connections with the lime fruit. In design and marketing, lime functions as a soft green or muted yellow depending on desired effect. Ultimately lime lies somewhere in the middle of the green-yellow continuum rather than wholly one or the other. Perhaps lime deserves recognition as its own distinct “lime” color classification.