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What are adjacent colours?

Colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel are considered adjacent colours. The colour wheel arranges colours in a circle based on their hue, which allows us to see colour relationships and identify colours that go well together. Understanding adjacent colours is important for artists, designers, and anyone looking to create colour combinations with visual impact and harmony.

The Colour Wheel

The colour wheel organizes colours by hue in a circular format. Hue refers to the pigment of a colour, such as red, blue or yellow. The primary hues – red, blue and yellow – make up the outer ring of the colour wheel. Secondary hues are created by mixing two primary hues, and tertiary hues are created by mixing a primary and secondary hue. For example, red and yellow make orange, a secondary hue. Orange and red make red-orange, a tertiary hue.

On the standard colour wheel, complementary colours appear directly across from each other. Complementary colours are colour pairs like red and green or blue and orange that create maximal contrast when placed side-by-side. Analogous colours appear in triadic schemes on the colour wheel, meaning three adjacent colours such as red, red-orange and orange.

Defining Adjacent Colours

Adjacent colours on the colour wheel are colours that sit directly next to each other. Some key characteristics of adjacent colours:

  • They share hue similarities, meaning they have one hue in common.
  • They offer lower contrast than complementary colours.
  • They create harmony and gradient effects.

For example, blue and blue-violet are adjacent colours. They both contain blue, but in different proportions. Adjacent colours are similar but have subtle visual differences that create interest. Using tones, tints and shades of adjacent colours results in a gradual transition between hues. This can produce a soothing, eye-pleasing effect.

Types of Adjacent Colours

There are two main types of adjacent colour combinations:

Analogous Colours

Analogous colours sit directly next to each other on the standard colour wheel. They always contain one primary or secondary hue along with colours on either side of the dominant hue’s spectrum. For example:

  • Red, red-orange, orange
  • Yellow-green, green, blue-green
  • Blue, blue-violet, violet

Analogous colour schemes lend themselves to gradient effects because they naturally progress from one hue to the next. This creates a harmonious, integrated look. Analogous colours are often found in nature, like the subtle hue shifts seen in fall foliage or sunsets.

Complementary Adjacent Colours

These colour combinations use adjacent colours on either side of a hue’s complementary colour. For example:

  • Red-orange, orange, yellow-orange (adjacent to blue)
  • Blue-green, green, yellow-green (adjacent to red)

This creates a split complementary scheme that offers more nuance than using pure complementary colours. The adjacent hues keep the colour scheme cohesive instead of clashing. This scheme is vibrant yet harmonious.

Benefits of Using Adjacent Colours

There are many benefits to using adjacent colours in design and art:

  • Gradual transitions – Adjacent colours blend seamlessly, allowing for subtle gradients.
  • Harmony – Shared hues create cohesion and harmony.
  • Subtle vibrancy – Adjacent colours are more muted than pure hues but still vibrant.
  • Range of choice – Many adjacent options exist beyond primary and secondary hues.
  • Natural look – Adjacent colours emulate natural colour progressions.
  • Interest – Subtle colour differences add depth and interest.

Adjacent colours aren’t as contrasting as complementary hues, but they produce harmonious, nuanced and multi-dimensional colour schemes. Their closer relationships on the colour wheel result in seamless combinations.

Working with Adjacent Colours

Here are some tips for effectively working with adjacent colours:

  • Use the colour wheel to identify adjacent hue relationships.
  • Add tints, tones and shades for gradient effects.
  • Use multiple adjacent hues together for vibrancy.
  • Aim for 3 or 4 adjacent hues for variety.
  • Balance with neutral tones like black, white or gray.
  • Overlay transparent adjacent hues to blend colours.

Experts recommend limiting your adjacent colour scheme to 3 or 4 hues at most. More than that can start to look messy and unfocused. Use neutrals like gray or white to add balance and prevent colours from competing. Layer sheer adjacent shades, like in watercolour painting, to blend hues in subtle ways.

Examples of Adjacent Colours in Design

Here are some examples of adjacent colours used effectively in various design mediums:

User Interface Design

Apps and websites commonly rely on adjacent hues for buttons, menus and backgrounds. This adds visual interest while maintaining usability, compared to monochromatic interfaces.


Logos often use adjacent colours to incorporate brand shades in a harmonious way. Analogous colours add cohesion and brand recognition.

Home Decor

Interior designers adorn rooms in analogous colour schemes, like blue, blue-green and green, for tranquil spaces. Using tones and textures in adjacent shades adds depth.

Landscape Design

Gardens and natural environments seamlessly blend adjacent hues through foliage and flowers for serene, organic designs.


Painters combine analogous colours to portray subjects realistically. They also layer translucent adjacent glazes to unify disparate elements.

Adjacent vs. Complementary Colours

How do adjacent colours compare to complementary colours?

Adjacent Colours Complementary Colours
Lower contrast Higher contrast
Closely related hues Opposite hues
Unified harmony Bold vibrancy
Gradation Dramatic pops of colour

Adjacent colours have a subtler, more graceful effect than complements. They produce cohesive, harmonious combinations. Complementary colours make a bold colour statement with their high contrast.

Popular Adjacent Colour Combinations

Here are some classic adjacent colour schemes you’ll see often in design:

Blue, Blue-Violet, Violet

These cool adjacent hues are elegant and tranquil for fashion, interiors and artwork.

Yellow, Yellow-Orange, Orange

This bright combination communicates happiness and energy.

Red, Red-Orange, Orange

These fiery colours bring vivid warmth and excitement.

Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow

These playful warm hues express joy and optimism.

Green, Blue-Green, Blue

The classic green to blue gradient emulates nature and growth.


Adjacent colours on the colour wheel seamlessly transition between hues for harmonious combinations. Analogous and split complementary schemes utilize adjacent hues for cohesive, eye-pleasing effects. Adjacent colours lend themselves to gradient blends, natural schemes and unified vibrancy. Understanding these hue relationships gives artists and designers nuanced options beyond primary colours.