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Is violet a mix of blue and purple?

Is violet a mix of blue and purple?

Quick Answer

Violet is considered a distinct color on the visible spectrum, not a mix of blue and purple. However, violet can be simulated by mixing blue and red light, or by mixing blue and purple pigments. So in some contexts, violet is seen as a mix of these colors. The distinction has to do with the physics of light versus the chemistry of pigments.

The Visible Spectrum

When white light passes through a prism, it separates into the colors of the rainbow. These colors represent the visible spectrum of light that the human eye can detect. The visible spectrum ranges from violet at one end through blue, green, yellow, orange, and red at the other end.

Each color corresponds to light at a specific wavelength. Violet light has the shortest wavelength, while red has the longest. The wavelengths of light blend smoothly into each other to form the continuous spectrum.

Violet is considered a distinct color in the visible spectrum, with its own wavelength range of about 380-450 nm. It is not a combination of blue and purple light. Blue wavelengths are around 450-495 nm, while purple is a non-spectral color between blue and red.

Mixing Colored Lights

When lights of different colors mix together, they produce an additive mixture. The various wavelengths of light combine to stimulate all three types of color receptors in the eye.

For example, red light and blue light mixed together produce a sensation of violet. The red light stimulates the long wavelength (L) cones, while the blue light stimulates the short wavelength (S) cones. This combination fools the eye-brain into seeing violet, which normally only stimulates the S cones.

So while violet is its own spectral color, an approximate sensation of violet can be created by mixing blue and red light. Computer and TV screens take advantage of this by mixing pixels of these colors to simulate a wide range of hues.

Mixing Pigments

Pigments follow different mixing rules than lights. With pigments, mixing produces a subtractive mixture, since each pigment absorbs or subtracts some wavelengths of light.

When purple and blue paints or inks are mixed together, they combine to simulate the appearance of violet. The purple pigment absorbs yellow and green light, while the blue pigment absorbs orange and red. What’s left over stimulates the eye in a similar way as pure violet pigment.

So when it comes to paints, violet can be considered a mix of blue and purple pigments. This subtractive mixing allows a wide range of hues to be simulated with a limited set of colored pigments.

Perception of Violet

In terms of visual perception, violet occupies a unique position at the border between blue and purple. Looking closely at a spectrum, there is a smooth transition from blue wavelengths to violet wavelengths.

But in the mental processing of color, blue and purple are perceived as more distinct categories. So violet is seen as having an ambiguous status between these two color regions.

This may contribute to the sense that violet is a mix of the two colors. It’s neither fully blue nor fully purple, but something in between the two in perceptual color space.

Wavelengths of Violet vs. Blue and Purple

Color Wavelength Range
Violet 380-450 nm
Blue 450-495 nm
Purple Non-spectral color

This table summarizes the wavelength ranges corresponding to violet, blue, and purple light. As shown, violet occupies its own distinct portion of the visible spectrum from about 380-450 nm. Blue ranges from 450-495 nm, and purple is a non-spectral color between blue and red.

So in terms of pure spectral light, violet is not a combination of blue and purple wavelengths. It has its own wavelength range separating it from blue. But as described above, mixtures of blue and red light or pigments can simulate the appearance of violet to the human eye.

Color Mixing Principles

Type of Mixing Principle Example
Additive light mixing Wavelengths are combined additively Red + Blue = Violet
Subtractive pigment mixing Selective wavelength absorption Purple + Blue = Violet

This table summarizes the two different color mixing principles for light versus pigments. Additive mixing of lights combines wavelengths, allowing violet to be simulated by blue + red. Subtractive mixing of pigments uses selective absorption, allowing violet to be simulated by purple + blue.

Use of Violet in Art and Design

Although violet has an ambiguous perceptual status, it has been embraced as a vivid, striking color for artistic use. Pigments such as manganese violet and cobalt violet have been prized for their intensity and mixing abilities.

Violet light is also used creatively, like in neon art, purple stage lights, and vivid LED light installations. Visual media like photography, video, and digital art rely on combining blue and red light to make violet hues.

Using violet together with complementary yellows can create high-contrast, vibrant color schemes. Brighter violet hues tend to project a playful, psychedelic quality. Darker or muted variations are associated with mysticism, spirituality, and luxury.

Violet’s position between blue and purple gives it versatility in color mixing and relationships. Designers, artists, and other creatives make the most of violet’s in-between properties in their work.

Examples of Violet

Natural Violet Shades Manufactured Violet Shades
  • Purple passionflower
  • Violet gemstones like tanzanite, amethyst, and sugilite
  • Purple shades of grapes, plums, eggplants
  • Violet varieties of insects like butterflies
  • Manganese violet pigment
  • Cobalt or dioxazine violet pigment
  • Violet construction site lighting
  • Vivid violet interior design colors

This table gives some examples of violet shades found in nature and manufactured violet colors. Natural violet appears in certain flowers, gemstones, produce, and critters. Manufactured violet includes artist pigments and examples of vivid violet used in lighting, design, and construction applications.


In summary, violet is considered a distinct spectral color, not objectively a mix of blue and purple wavelengths of light. But mixtures of blue and red light, or blue and purple pigments, can recreate the hue and appearance of violet. So in color mixing systems and visual perception, violet takes on a dual nature between blue and purple. These factors contribute to the sense that violet is “between” these two colors, while still maintaining its own distinct identity. Understanding the physics and psychology behind violet sheds light on its unique place in color theory and use in creative arts and design.