Skip to Content

What are the basic hues that form orange?

What are the basic hues that form orange?

Orange is a secondary color that is made by mixing two primary colors together. The two primary colors that are blended to create orange are red and yellow. When red and yellow light mix together, the result is orange light. When red and yellow pigments or paints mix together, the result is orange paint. So the two basic hues that form orange are red and yellow.

The Color Wheel

To understand how orange is made, it helps to look at a color wheel. A color wheel shows the relationships between colors. The color wheel has 12 colors on it. The colors are arranged in a circle based on their hue or shade. There are 3 primary colors, 3 secondary colors, and 6 tertiary colors.

The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. These are called primary colors because they cannot be made by mixing other colors together. All other colors are derived from some combination of the primary colors.

The secondary colors are made by mixing two primary colors. Orange is a secondary color made by mixing red and yellow. The other two secondary colors are green (made from blue and yellow) and purple (made from red and blue).

Tertiary colors are made by mixing one primary color with one secondary color. For example, red-orange is made by mixing red with orange. Yellow-orange is made by mixing yellow with orange. And yellow-green is made by mixing yellow with green.

So the color wheel demonstrates that orange is directly between the primary colors of red and yellow. When these two hues are blended, they make the secondary color orange.

The Visible Spectrum

The creation of orange can also be understood by looking at the visible light spectrum. The visible light spectrum contains all the colors that the human eye can see. This includes the colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

The visible spectrum is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It includes light that has wavelengths between 380-750 nanometers. The different colors correspond to different wavelengths of light energy. Red has the longest wavelength while violet has the shortest.

Orange light has a wavelength between red and yellow in the visible spectrum. Its wavelength range is about 590-620 nm. So orange is created when waves of light in this size range enter our eyes. Once again, we see that orange arises from the mixing of red and yellow.

Pigment Mixing

Mixing colored pigments or paints also demonstrates how orange is formed. With pigments, the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. When red pigment and yellow pigment are blended together on a palette, the result is orange paint or ink.

For example, when red cadmium paint is mixed with yellow cadmium paint, the result is a bright glowing orange. Other red and yellow pigments can be used as well, such as iron oxide red and diarylide yellow. The important thing is that orange pigment comes from the blending of red and yellow pigments.

This pigment mixing can be represented on a color mixing chart:

Red Pigment + Yellow Pigment = Orange Pigment

So whether we are looking at light waves, the visible spectrum, or pigment mixing, we see that the two basic hues that form orange are red and yellow.

Tints and Shades of Orange

Once the basic orange hue is created, variations can be made by changing the tint and shade. A tint is made by adding white to the original hue. This lightens the color and gives it a softer, paler appearance. For example, adding white to orange creates a peach or coral color.

A shade is made by adding black to the original hue. This darkens the color and gives it a richer, deeper appearance. For example, adding black to orange creates a deep rust or burnt orange color.

So while the two main hues that create orange are red and yellow, different tints and shades of orange can be made by altering the brightness and darkness of the original orange. But the root hues remain red and yellow.

Warm and Cool Variations

Oranges can also vary from warm to cool depending on whether they lean closer to the red or yellow side. Warm oranges have a stronger red undertone and create a heated, energetic mood. Cool oranges have a stronger yellow undertone and create a calmer, uplifting mood.

Some examples of warm orange shades include:

  • Fire orange
  • Persimmon
  • Terra cotta
  • Carrot orange

Some examples of cool orange shades include:

  • Mandarin orange
  • Peach
  • Cantaloupe
  • Citron

So while all oranges contain a mix of red and yellow, adjusting the proportions of these two hues creates warmer or cooler variations.

How the Eyes Perceive Orange

Physically and anatomically, orange activates both the red and green color receptors in our eyes. Red and green are complementary colors, meaning they are directly across from each other on the color wheel.

When complementary colors mix in the right proportions, they create a neutral grey or brown. The orange hue sits between these complementary colors and triggers both receptors partially. This creates an equal push-pull reaction in the eyes that is balanced and harmonious.

In more scientific terms, orange causes moderate excitation of the red color pigment coupled with moderate excitation of the green color pigment. Our brain blends these two color stimuli into the perception of orange.

Cultural and Symbolic Meaning

Orange has developed many cultural and symbolic meanings because of its distinct characteristics. Here are some of the common associations with the color orange:

  • Energy – Orange conveys energy, vigor, and excitement
  • Enthusiasm – The boldness of orange expresses enthusiasm and eagerness
  • Adventure – Orange inspires adventure, trying new things
  • Transformation – In some cultures, orange represents change and transformation
  • Balance – Orange creates harmony between warm and cool, red and yellow
  • Health – Orange is associated with vitality, good health, and nourishment

Orange is very visible, so it grabs attention without being as overpowering as red. This makes orange effective for promoting products, brands, or displays that need to stand out. Orange wants people to take action, so it’s an active and social color.

Use of the Color Orange

Some of the most prominent uses of the color orange include:

  • Warning Signs – Orange gets attention for safety warnings
  • Construction Sites – Orange mesh fencing marks construction areas
  • Life Vests and Rafts – Orange makes these safety devices visible
  • Traffic Cones and Signs – Orange marks road obstructions and temporary signs
  • Halloween – Orange represents the fall harvest holiday
  • Thanksgiving – Orange symbolizes the autumn season

Orange is also prominently used in the branding of many foods, drinks, and restaurants. For example, orange features strongly in the logos of Fanta, Crush, Hardees, Dreamsicles, Reeses, and Jamba Juice. It helps these brands convey a sense of energy and appetite appeal.

Orange in Nature

Orange appears prominently in many natural objects, plants, animals, foods, and minerals. Here are some of the main places orange occurs in nature:

  • Fruits – Oranges, tangerines, peaches, mangos, apricots
  • Vegetables – Carrots, squashes, sweet potatoes
  • Flowers – Marigolds, chrysanthemums, poppies
  • Trees – Copper beech, maple during autumn
  • Gemstones – Amber, carnelian, orange calcite
  • Birds – Orioles, toucans
  • Fish – Goldfish, koi
  • Minerals – Spessartite, realgar

Orange is found everywhere in nature from the change of leaves in fall to fiery sunrises and sunsets. Pumpkins, butterflies, coral, and foxes represent just a small sample of orange in the natural world. Orange spans the spectrum between red and yellow.

Orange Color Combinations

Orange combines dynamically with many other colors to create energizing and complementary color palettes. Here are some effective color schemes using orange:

  • Orange and Blue – This complementary pairing offers high contrast and vibrancy.
  • Orange and Green – Another complementary duo that provides visual balance.
  • Orange, Blue, and Green – The triadic combination provides a bold and eclectic look.
  • Orange and Beige – For a softer earth-toned palette with warm appeal.
  • Orange, White, and Black – A Halloween-inspired palette with depth and punch.

Orange can act as an accent color to catch the eye against cooler hues like blue and green. It also blends nicely with the warmth of analogous colors like red and yellow. Overall, orange is extremely versatile in color combinations.

How to Make the Color Orange

To make the color orange, you simply need to mix red and yellow together in the proper proportions. The exact recipe depends on whether you are mixing light, paint, dye, or other pigments.

If mixing light, you can combine beams of red and yellow light until you create orange light. Computer monitors create orange by emitting a combination of red and green light.

To make orange paint, mix red and yellow paints together. Start with more yellow and add red until you achieve the right orange hue. Use cadmium red and cadmium yellow for the purest orange.

With dye or fabric paint, combine orange and yellow dye until you reach the ideal saturated orange color.

With colored pencils or markers, draw back and forth between red and yellow until the orange emerges. Overlapping more yellow over the red often creates the best brightness.

You can also mix complementary colors like red and green to create a muted orange. But the purest orange comes straight from intermixing red and yellow pigments.


In summary, orange is made up of the primary hues of red and yellow. When you combine red and yellow on the color wheel, light spectrum, artist’s palette, or computer screen, the resulting blend is orange. Tints, shades, and warm or cool variations can be created, but the fundamental composition comes from red and yellow.

Orange has symbolic meanings like energy, adventure, enthusiasm, and transformation. Its prominence in nature and usefulness for safety applications cement its importance as a secondary color. But orange can only exist because of the primary building blocks of red and yellow that form its foundation.