Skip to Content

What are split complementary colors examples?

What are split complementary colors examples?

Split complementary colors are three colors that are equidistant on the color wheel. They consist of a base color, and the two colors on either side of the base color’s complement. Split complementary color schemes create high contrast and visual interest, while also retaining harmony. They are vibrant and eye-catching. In this article, we will provide examples of split complementary color schemes, explain how to create them, and discuss ways to use them effectively in design.

What are complementary colors?

Before diving into split complements, it’s helpful to understand complementary colors. Complementary colors are any two colors opposite each other on the color wheel. Red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple are examples of complementary pairs.

When placed side-by-side, complementary colors create the highest possible contrast, which allows them to make each other appear brighter and more intense. This high contrast can be jarring, so complements are best used sparingly or by “splitting” them into a triad.

What are split complements?

Split complementary colors consist of a base color and the two colors adjacent to its complement. For example:

Base Color Complement Split Complements
Red Green Yellow and Blue
Orange Blue Red-violet and Yellow-green
Yellow Purple Red and Blue-green

The split complements retain some vibrancy from the complements, but in a more subtle way. The three colors have enough contrast to be exciting, but also enough harmony to be balanced.

Examples of split complementary color schemes

Here are some examples of split complementary triads:

Red, yellow, blue

This is one of the most classic and common split complements. The primary colors form a vibrant triad with lots of visual pop.

Teal, red-violet, yellow-orange

These colors have a bold, energetic feel that’s playful yet sophisticated. The brightness of yellow-orange balances the deeper hues.

Green, purple, red-orange

Earthy green grounded by rich purple creates an elegant base, energized by the punch of red-orange.

Blue, orange, yellow-green

Cool blue has natural harmony with the warm secondary colors, which provide nice contrast in hue and temperature.

Magenta, green, yellow

Magenta picks up the vibrancy of red and blue, while green and yellow provide crisp, refreshing contrast.

How to create a split complementary color scheme

Here is a simple process for developing a split complementary triad:

1. Choose a base color. Pick any hue that you want to be the star.

2. Identify its complement. On the color wheel, find the color directly across from your base color.

3. Select the adjacent colors. Moving clockwise and counter-clockwise from the complement, choose the two hues next to it.

4. Balance and refine. You may need to adjust the tones and values to create the desired look. Lighten or darken as needed.

5. Apply the scheme. Use the three colors together in your design project, repeating your base color most often.

Tips for using split complements

Here are some tips for working with split complementary color schemes successfully:

– Use one color as a dominant shade. The other two should play supporting roles.

– Pay attention to proportion. Use your base color for 60-70% of the design, and the other two for 30-40%.

– Watch value contrast. Make sure lighter and darker values of each hue are included.

– Add neutrals. Shades of gray, black, and white help ground brighter colors.

– Alternate colors frequently. Don’t place complement splits side-by-side, but in sequence.

– Consider intensity. More muted, softer tones create an elegant look. Bolder saturation makes a vibrant statement.

– Apply to different elements. Use each color on separate design aspects like text, backgrounds, and graphics.

Uses of split complementary color schemes

Split complementary triads work well in many types of design projects:

Graphic design – Website designs, logos, marketing materials, presentations

Interior design – Wall colors, furniture, decor pieces, textiles

Fashion/clothing – Creating dynamic, eye-catching outfits

Painting/fine art – Evoke lively, engaging scenes and subjects

Photography – Make images pop through vivid, dramatic color

Event/wedding planning – Table settings, invitations, venue decor

Landscaping – Flower beds, garden structures, pots and containers

The high-contrast, vibrant look of split complements is very flexible and can be applied broadly across media and industries.

Benefits of using split complementary colors

There are many advantages to using split complementary triads:

– Creates visually stimulating designs

– Combines contrasting colors in a harmonious way

– Allows colors to seem brighter and more saturated

– Appears fun, lively, energetic, and youthful

– Offers more versatility than using straight complements

– Provides enough color variety for interest without going overboard

– Works well when one dominant color is desired

Split complements hit the sweet spot between contrast and vibrancy on the one hand, and harmony and subtlety on the other. They are an excellent choice for everything from logos to living rooms.

Potential challenges

When working with split complements, keep the following in mind:

– It can be easy to overdo it. Use the third color sparingly for best results.

– Avoid pairing complements directly adjacent, which causes too much vibration.

– Be mindful of how colors affect lighting and mood. Bright complements feel fun and energetic.

– Make sure there is enough neutrality from black, white, and grays to ground the vibrancy.

– Complements may be difficult for some people with color blindness or visual impairments to distinguish. Provide enough contrast.

– Not as versatile for conservative corporate environments. Muted tones may work better.


In summary, split complementary color schemes offer an excellent balance of color contrast and visual harmony in designs. Choosing a base color and its two adjacent hues creates a vibrant triad with lots of versatility. Pay attention to proportion, value, and placement for optimal results. Split complements bring energy, dynamism, and excitement when applied skillfully across any industry or medium. With the right balance, this color scheme can grab attention while retaining harmony and sophistication. Whether in logos, clothing, decor, or any form of visual expression, split complementary colors make a big impact.