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What are complementary colours in creative arts?

Complementary colors are color pairs that are opposite each other on the color wheel. When placed next to each other, complementary colors create the strongest visual contrast for those particular two colors. Using complementary colors together makes both colors appear brighter, more intense, and more lively. Complementary color schemes are a popular choice in creative arts and design because of the vibrant look they create.

Definition of Complementary Colors

The basic color wheel consists of 12 colors – 3 primary colors (red, yellow, blue), 3 secondary colors (orange, green, purple) and 6 tertiary colors. The primary colors are equidistant from each other on the wheel. The secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors that are adjacent on the wheel. Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary and secondary color that are adjacent on the wheel.

To find the complementary color of any color on the wheel, you simply find the color directly across from it. For example:

  • The complementary color of red is green
  • The complementary color of yellow is purple
  • The complementary color of blue is orange

And so on around the wheel. Complementary colors are also sometimes called “opposites” because they create maximum contrast.

Properties of Complementary Colors

When complementary colors are placed next to each other, they create the highest possible level of visual tension and contrast. This is because they contain no common colors between them. For example, red and green contain no similar pigments or wavelengths of light.

Some key properties of complementary color schemes:

  • Appear brighter and more intense
  • Create strong visual contrast
  • Complement each other
  • Reinforce each other’s luminosity
  • Stand out when side by side

Using complementary colors together makes the colors appear even more vibrant and energetic than if they were used on their own. The high contrast draws attention and creates visual excitement.

Examples of Complementary Color Pairs

Here are some common complementary color pairs:

Color Complementary Color
Red Green
Orange Blue
Yellow Purple
Cyan Red
Magenta Green

These are just a few examples. Every color on the wheel has its complementary opposite.

Uses of Complementary Colors in Art and Design

Complementary color schemes are very popular in creative arts and design. They are used to create high-impact, vibrant visuals that catch the viewer’s attention. Some examples of using complementary colors in art and design include:

  • Painting – Many famous paintings make striking use of complementary colors. Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” uses blue and yellow.
  • Graphic design – Posters, brochures, and websites often place complementary colors side by side for visual pop.
  • Print design – Magazines may put complementary colors on their cover to make the title and images stand out.
  • Photography – Complementary colors can add visual interest to a photo through use of props, backgrounds, filters, etc.
  • Stage/set design – Theater, dance, and film sets may be painted with complementary colors to create dramatic effects.
  • Fashion – Coordinating outfits with complementary colors creates appealing visual contrast.

Complementary colors create vibrancy and high visual contrast. This makes them very flexible for creating exciting, eye-catching visuals in any creative medium.

Color Wheel Showing Complementary Colors

Here is a color wheel showing the complementary color pairs:

Red Yellow Blue
Orange Green Purple
Cyan Magenta Red

As you can see, every color has its complementary opposite directly across from it on the wheel. This visual relationship is the basis for complementary color schemes.

Tips for Using Complementary Colors

Here are some tips for working with complementary colors in your designs and artwork:

  • Use complements in small to medium doses. Large areas of high-contrast complements can strain the eyes.
  • Try varying the saturation and brightness of the colors. This creates a subtler, more complex contrast.
  • Add a neutral color between complementary colors to “buffer” the high contrast.
  • Make one color dominant and use its complement for accents. This creates visual hierarchy.
  • Use a split complement scheme (e.g. blue, yellow-orange, red-orange) for less tension.
  • Pay attention to how complements interact with nearby colors and balance them accordingly.

Complementary colors dynamically enhance each other, so use them thoughtfully and in moderation for maximum visual impact.

Examples of Complementary Color Schemes

Here are some examples of complementary color schemes in action:

Graphic Design Poster

This poster uses the complementary colors blue and orange. The orange provides contrast against the blue background, making the poster title pop out. An accent color of yellow-orange is used for visual interest.

Magazine Cover

This magazine cover pairs the complementary colors purple and yellow. Yellow is used for the title text to make it stand out against the purple background. The complements create an eye-catching, vibrant cover.

Website Design

This website uses several complementary color pairs – blue and orange, red and green, magenta and green. This creates strong visual contrast between elements like headlines, body text, buttons, and background.


Complementary colors are color pairs located opposite each other on the color wheel. When used together, they create the highest possible visual contrast and vibrancy. Complementary color schemes are very popular in creative arts and design for their dynamic, high-energy visual effects. By understanding color relationships and using complements thoughtfully, artists can create eye-catching works full of visual impact.