The RYB (red, yellow, blue) color model is a traditional and commonly used way to understand color relationships. In the RYB system, complementary colors are color pairs that cancel each other out and produce a neutral gray color when mixed. Determining the complementary colors in the RYB model is relatively straightforward.
How to Find Complementary Colors in the RYB System
To find the complementary color of any primary RYB color, you simply need to look at the color on the opposite side of the RYB color wheel. The three primary colors are red, yellow and blue, and the three secondary colors created by mixing the primaries are orange, green and purple.
The wheel below shows how the complementary color pairs are positioned opposite each other:
As you can see, the complementary pairs are:
- Red and Green
- Yellow and Purple
- Blue and Orange
This pattern will apply to any color on the RYB color wheel. To find the complement of any RYB hue, look directly across from it on the wheel.
Exploring the RYB Complementary Color Pairs
Now that we know how to find complementary colors in the RYB system, let’s take a closer look at each pair and how they interact:
Red and Green
In the RYB color wheel, red’s complementary color is green. When placed next to each other, these colors create a striking visual contrast. This pairing is very vibrant and energizing. It can also create a sense of balance and harmony when used together.
Red and green are Christmas colors, and they are used in traffic lights to indicate stopping and going. Overall, this is a bold, lively pairing that really pops.
Yellow and Purple
On the RYB wheel, the complementary color of yellow is purple. This pairing has very different temperature and value characteristics – yellow being light, warm and bright, with purple being darker, cooler and more muted. Despite their contrasts, these colors complement each other extremely well.
In design, yellow and purple work nicely for creating both emphasis and visual interest. They are playful yet sophisticated together. You’ll see this pairing prominent in children’s media, toys and games.
Blue and Orange
Blue’s complementary color is orange in the RYB color system. Like red and green, this pairing has a vibrant, energetic feel with both colors being very bold and intense. However, blue and orange are even more dynamic together due to their strong contrast in temperature.
Cool blue and warm orange are a perfect balance, making each color really stand out when next to the other. This striking combo is popular in modern graphic design and illustration. It also reminds us of summertime skies and citrus fruits.
Mixing Complementary Colors
So what happens when complementary colors are blended together? As we learned earlier, mixing two complementary hues will cancel out the colors and produce a neutral gray. However, the exact shade of gray will depend on the ratio of colors used.
Mixing equal parts of complementary colors will make a medium neutral gray. Changing the ratio to be mostly one color with just a touch of its complement will result in a muted, desaturated version of that dominant hue.
For example, a paint color mixed with a lot of orange and just a little blue will be a warm muted orange. While heavily blue with just a touch of orange makes for a cooler, softer blue-gray.
Benefits of Using Complementary Colors
Complementary color schemes offer several useful benefits in design:
- Contrast – Complementary pairs by nature have a strong visual contrast, creating lively, vibrant designs.
- Emphasis – Complementary colors draw attention to one another, allowing designers to highlight key elements.
- Harmony – Even with their contrast, complements exhibit color harmony when used together.
- Neutralization – Mixing complements yields a neutral gray, allowing for shading, tones and subtler hues.
Overall, complementary colors provide visual interest and balance. Let’s look at some examples of using RYB color complements in design.
Complementary Color Design Examples
Red and Green
Red and green are bold Christmas colors that pair nicely on holiday cards, decorations, packaging and more. The colors complement each other to create festive, cheerful designs.
Yellow and Purple
This fun color combination looks playful and lively in children’s toys, clothes, books and media. The pairing works well to create emphasis and highlights.
Blue and Orange
Blue and orange make dramatic, vibrant designs with lots of visual pop. You’ll see this pairing used in action movie posters, sports team uniforms, energetic advertising, and modern graphic art.
Tips for Working with Complementary Colors
When using complementary color schemes, keep these tips in mind:
- Use one color as the dominant hue, with the complement used for accents.
- Try different ratios of the complements to create desired shades.
- Add white, black or grays for shading, tints and tones.
- Be aware of color symbolism and context for your design.
- Experiment to make sure the colors fit with aesthetic goals.
Complements should enhance, not overwhelm. Balance and control them appropriately for your purposes.
Finding Complementary Colors Beyond RYB
The RYB color model provides a traditional and effective way to understand color relationships and harmony. However, it is not the only complementary color system.
Another common model is RGB (red, green, blue). This is an additive color system used in computer monitors and digital projectors. It has different primary colors and complementary pairs than RYB.
There are also more complex models like CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). CMYK is used in color printing and defines color in terms of reflected light rather than emitted light like RGB. The complements are different again.
Color theory provides many models and insights beyond just RYB. But understanding RYB complements gives designers an excellent starting point to explore harmony and contrast through color.
In the RYB color system, complementary colors are positioned opposite each other on the color wheel. Red’s complement is green, yellow’s is purple, and blue’s is orange. When combined, complements neutralize each other to create gray.
RYB complementary pairs exhibit vivid contrast while also creating harmony and balance. This makes them useful for adding visual interest, emphasis and variety to designs. Complements allow colors to stand out vividly next to each other.
Understanding color relationships opens up many possibilities for graphic designers. Complementary RYB colors provide a dynamic and effective starting palette to build color schemes around.