Yellow is a color that falls between red and green on the visible spectrum. The visible spectrum is the range of electromagnetic radiation that can be detected by the human eye. It spans wavelengths of approximately 380-700 nanometers, with violet and red at the short and long wavelength ends, respectively. Yellow light has wavelengths of approximately 570-590 nm, placing it between the wavelengths of red (620-750 nm) and green (495-570 nm). So in terms of wavelength and position on the electromagnetic spectrum, yes, yellow is between red and green.
The Visible Spectrum
The visible spectrum is part of the larger electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, ultraviolet radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays. Of this entire spectrum, only the visible portion can be perceived by human vision. Sir Isaac Newton first split white light into the colors of the rainbow through a prism in 1666, giving us the chromaticity diagram that we recognize today. The visible colors from longest to shortest wavelength are:
|Color||Wavelength Range (nm)|
As this table shows, yellow light occupies a wavelength range between green and red, with some overlap between the three. The peak wavelength of yellow light is right around 577 nm.
Perception of Color
The perception of color is quite complex. Our experience of color involves the wavelength of light entering the eye, the types of cells in the retina that are stimulated, and extensive processing in the visual cortex of the brain. There are two main types of photoreceptor cells in the retina – rods and cones. Rods are responsible for low light vision, while cones allow for color vision. There are three types of cones, each containing a different photopigment that is maximally sensitive to short, medium, or long wavelength visible light. Signals from these cones are combined and processed by neurological mechanisms to produce our perception of color.
The cone sensitive to medium wavelengths corresponds roughly to green light. The cones sensitive to short and long wavelengths are stimulated in combination to produce the perception of yellow. Yellow triggers both the long and medium wavelength cones approximately equally. So in terms of visual processing, yellow is indeed between red and green.
We can also examine whether yellow is between red and green by looking at color mixing. When red, green, and blue light – the primary colors of light – are mixed, they produce secondary colors. Mixing green and red light produces yellow. Mixing blue and green produces cyan. Mixing red and blue makes magenta. In this additive color system, yellow is directly between red and green.
Computer monitors and televisions create color by mixing red, blue, and green light. Yellow on a monitor is produced by mixing the red and green pixels. Paints, inks, and dyes use a subtractive color system, absorbing some wavelengths and reflecting others. Primary pigment colors are cyan, magenta and yellow. Mixing cyan and yellow makes green, while mixing magenta and yellow makes red. Once again, with pigments, yellow sits between red and green.
The color wheel is a visual representation of color relationships. The traditional RYB or red-yellow-blue color wheel places yellow between red and green. More modern color wheels use the primary colors red, blue and yellow, with yellow sitting opposite blue on the wheel. Between red and yellow is orange, showing the smooth transition between those colors. Between yellow and green sits chartreuse green and lime green.
No matter the specific color wheel, yellow always occupies the middle ground between red and green. The color wheel helps us visualize how yellow bridges the gap between the warm red family and the cool green family. It lies in the middle in terms of hue and warmth.
Symbolism of Yellow
The symbolic meaning and associations with yellow also connect it with the concepts of warmth, energy, and balance between extremes. In many cultures, yellow represents sunshine, joy, and warmth. In some Eastern cultures, yellow is associated with courage and happiness. In many Western cultures, yellow signifies intellect and freshness of ideas.
In color psychology, yellow carries connotations of optimism and imagination. At the same time, it is often associated with caution and instability. The dichotomies of yellow symbolism again reinforce that notion of yellow being midway between contrasts – joy and warning, intellect and madness. Yellow’s energy echoes its place between hot red and cool green.
Surveys on Yellow
Surveys of color preferences consistently show that people place yellow squarely between red and green in terms of warmth and coolness. For example, one survey asked participants to arrange colors from warmest to coolest. The consensus order was:
Red, orange, yellow, chartreuse green, green, cyan, blue, violet
In this ordering, yellow falls neatly between the warm colors (red, orange) and the cool colors (green, cyan, blue).
When asked to rate colors on a scale of warm to cool, respondents provide an average rating of 6.3 for yellow, compared to 8.9 for red and 3.1 for green. Once again, these ratings position yellow solidly between the warmth of red and coolness of green.
Color temperature also provides insight into the balance between warm and cool colors. Color temperature refers to the relative warmth or coolness of white light. Warm white light is more reddish, mimicking natural sunset or candlelight. Cool white light appears more bluish, like daylight.
Color temperature is measured using the Kelvin (K) temperature scale. Candles emit light at around 2000K. The midday sun shines at around 5500K. Fluorescent lights are in the range of 3000-6000K. Incandescent bulbs fall around 2500-3500K. Where does yellow fit in?
Pure yellow light at 577 nm wavelength has a color temperature right around 4800K. As expected, this temperature falls midway between candlelight/sunset and daylight. It is neither warm nor cool, reinforcing yellow’s intermediary status.
Color Mixing with Yellow
We can also explore the balance of yellow by looking at what happens when we mix it with other colors. Mixing colors that fall on opposite sides of yellow on the color wheel results in a muted, neutralized hue.
– Red + Green = Brown
– Red + Blue = Purple
– Blue + Orange = Grey
Mixing a color with yellow, however, leads to brighter, warmer, more energetic shades. For example:
– Red + Yellow = Orange
– Yellow + Blue = Green
– Yellow + Violet = Chartreuse
Through color mixing, we see how yellow juxtaposes and balances the other hues, leading to lively shades.
Pigments with Yellow Hues
Looking at pigments that contain shades of yellow provides further evidence of how yellow forges connections. Many pigments draw their name and hue from their intermediary status between red and green:
– Vermillion: A vibrant pigment mixing red and orange tones
– Ochre: Clays tinted with yellow, orange and brown iron oxides
– Sap Green: Mixes yellow and blue pigments
– Chrome Yellow: Contains lead chromate, linking the chrome greens and orange chromates
These pigments remind us of the bridging role yellow plays in the world of color.
We can also consider the role of complementary colors. These are color pairs located opposite each other on the color wheel, providing maximum contrast. The complementary pair of red is green, while the complement of yellow is violet. This reinforces that yellow has aspects of both red and green within it. Yellow connects these complementary opposites, blending aspects of each.
Absorption and Reflection of Light
At a deeper physical level, the absorption and reflection of different wavelengths also positions yellow between red and green. Red objects absorb light from the green to violet end of the spectrum, reflecting longer red wavelengths. Green objects absorb reddish wavelengths while reflecting green. Yellow objects reflect both red and green portions of the spectrum more equally, absorbing more of the violet end. In essence, the combination of waves reflected places yellow neatly between red and green.
We can’t discuss color without mentioning rainbows! When white light passes through a prism, it splits into the colors of the rainbow based on wavelength. We see the rainbow ordered as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Yellow sits squarely between the red and orange on one side, and green and blue on the other. Rainbows provide quintessential proof that yellow resides in the middle of the visible color spectrum.
Based on an analysis of wavelength, perception, color mixing principles, color relationships, symbolism, and more, yellow clearly lies between red and green across virtually every metric. In terms of warmth, hue, energy, emotion, and symbolic meaning, yellow forms a bridge between the hot colors exemplified by red and the cool colors on the green end of the spectrum. So the next time you see a field of daffodils, a rubber duckie, or that yellow brick road, you can reflect on how yellow links these two ends of the color experience. Yes, yellow is positioned squarely between red and green.