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What are the different tones of royal blue?

What are the different tones of royal blue?

Royal blue is a classic and versatile color that has been used for centuries. It gets its name from being associated with British royalty and aristocracy. While the core royal blue shade evokes richness and elegance, there are actually many different tones and variations of this regal color.

The origins of royal blue

The first known use of royal blue as a color name in English was in 1810. It was originally based on the deep, vibrant blue tone used in the royal court of King George III. Clothing, uniforms, and décor in the royal household were often dyed or made with fabrics colored this rich blue. As its use became more widespread, especially for military and other official uniforms, royal blue grew in popularity and recognition as a distinct shade.

Chemical manufacturing advancements in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed dyes and pigments to be produced for royal blue in greater saturation and permanence. French ultramarine, made from the mineral lapis lazuli, was an early pigment used to create a deep royal blue for luxury goods and artworks. By the late 19th century, artificial dyes like indigo and Prussian blue could be manufactured in factories to dye fabric, yarn, and paint on an industrial scale.

Key characteristics of royal blue

So what defines the essential characteristics of royal blue? Here are some key components that distinguish this regal shade:

  • Deep, saturated blue – Royal blue is a very deep shade without appearing inky or blackened. It has a high degree of saturation compared to lighter or muted blues.
  • Hint of red undertone – While a pure blue, royal blue leans slightly toward having a subtle red or purple undertone. This gives it a jewel-toned richness.
  • Darker than primary blue – Royal blue typically has more intensity and depth than primary blue. Primary blue relates more to cyan on the color wheel.
  • Brighter than navy blue – Navy blue is a darker blue with more black added to it. Royal blue has a vibrancy closer to pure blue before it becomes navy.

With these distinctive features, royal blue commands attention and stands out as a bold, dynamic shade in contrast to lighter blues.

Key shades and tones of royal blue

Within the broad category of royal blue, there is actually a range of shades and tones. Here are some of the most common variations:

Bright royal blue

This is the lightest and brightest version of royal blue. It has a vibrant, saturated appearance leaning towards a primary blue, while still retaining a subtle warmth in its undertone.

Medium royal blue

As the name suggests, this is the midpoint between light and dark royal blues. It offers a balance of richness and brightness. Many classic uses of royal blue in uniforms, banners, and insignia employ this medium-toned shade.

Dark royal blue

Dark royal blue has more black added to deepen the shade. But it still retains a blue intensity and sense of royalty, unlike navy blue which appears almost black. This is a good choice when you want the regal impression of royal blue in a darker tone.

Dusty royal blue

This refers to a royal blue with a grayish cast that subdues the brightness slightly. It can provide a more weathered, vintage royal blue tone in contrast to the jewel-like vibrancy of the core shades.

Pale royal blue

As a pastel variation, pale royal blue offers a much softer, lighter feel. Consider this tone for a spring or coastal inspired color palette. Keep in mind it may lose some of the commanding presence of richer royal blues.

Royal blue highlights

Incorporating royal blue as an accent color can provide regal flair. Use it in small touches on linens, pillows, artwork, or accessories. Vivid royal blue highlights stand out well against neutral backdrops.

How light reflects off royal blue

The way light illuminates royal blue can alter its perceived color. Here’s how different lighting interacts with this shade:

  • Natural daylight – Sunlight emphasizes the richness of royal blue. Outside, it appears deep and saturated.
  • Warm incandescent light – Royal blue may take on more subtle red/purple undertones under incandescent bulbs or candlelight.
  • Cool fluorescent light – Fluorescent lighting leaches out warmth, so royal blue can look slightly duller and flatter.
  • Shade/shadow – In shade, royal blue loses vibrancy but still maintains depth. Dappled light through trees gives it visual interest.

For the most flattering results, opt for using royal blue in naturally lit spaces where its regal qualities shine through. Candlelight also casts a lovely glow, playing up its nuanced warmth.

How paint finish impacts royal blue

If using royal blue paint for walls, furniture, crafts, or other finishes, the paint formula and sheen affect its look. Here’s an overview:

Matte royal blue

Flat, matte, or eggshell royal blue has a velvety, muted appearance. It tones down the shade’s brilliance for a more subdued effect. Matte paint absorbs light with almost no sheen.

Satin royal blue

Satin finish offers a low to mid-sheen that lets some light reflect gently off royal blue. It provides a smooth, lightly lustrous appearance.

Semi-gloss royal blue

As the name describes, semi-gloss falls between satin and high-gloss. It presents medium light reflection, bearing more sheen and luminosity than satin.

Gloss royal blue

Gloss or high-gloss royal blue finish reflects the most light. This enhances the richness and intensifies the shade for maximum jewel-tone effect. Consider gloss paint or lacquer for a striking royal blue statement.

Complementary colors for royal blue

Certain shades pair beautifully with royal blue to create energizing or elegant color combinations. Some top choices include:

  • Gold: The classic pairing of royal blue and gold exudes regality and luxury. Gold’s warm metallic shine makes an elegant contrast against cool, deep blue.
  • White: Crisp white helps lighten and brighten up the richness of royal blue. This high-contrast duo offers a clean, timeless look.
  • Red: For patriotic flair, royal blue works well with bold red. This Flag of England-inspired combo commands attention.
  • Yellow: From bright lemon yellow to goldenrod, yellow creates an uplifting energy against dark royal blue. It provides just enough contrast without clashing.

There are no strict rules – feel free to get creative combining royal blue with different accent colors. Tangerine, mint green, or plum can all make exciting pairings.

Using royal blue for interior design

In home decor, royal blue can lend a richness that flatters most design aesthetics. Here are some tips for stylishly incorporating it:

Focal accent wall

Paint one wall in a saturated royal blue as a dramatic backdrop. Contrast it with white crown molding and neutral furnishings for a bold but elegant look. Use a deeper shade like dark royal blue for maximum impact.

Bohemian flair

Consider pale or dusty royal blue accents in a boho-chic space. Blue paisley throw pillows on a couch, pale blue kitchen cabinetry, or vintage royal blue glass vases all work beautifully for this casual style.

Regal dining room

For formal dining spaces, bring in touches of rich royal blue. Options include velvet dining chairs, dark blue curtains or table linens, and royal blue china patterns. Candlelight amplifies the feeling of refinement.

Coastal charm

In coastal decors, use blue as a unifying thread. Navy and sky blue are most common, but pale or medium royal blue can provide just the right pop of color. Try beachy accessories like striped towels, cerulean glassware, or naval-inspired artwork.

Wardrobe choices with royal blue

In fashion and apparel, royal blue is a versatile color that flatters most complexions. Here are some stylish ways to wear it:

Statement accessories

Small touches of royal blue make an impact. Try wearing a thin royal blue belt, scarf, or hat with neutral outfits. Royal blue handbags, jewelry, or shoes work nicely too.

Professional look

Deeper shades of royal blue suit jackets, trousers, and dresses lend a polished, professional air. To balance the richness, pair with light items in white, tan, or pale blue.

Denim pairings

Medium blue jeans or jackets complement lighter royal blue tops or accessories. This creates an easy, casual color scheme that isn’t overly matchedy-matchy.

Black and white combos

Since royal blue has bold presence, it works with simple black and white for strong high-low contrast. Try a black dress with a royal blue blazer or white jeans with a royal blue top.


Royal blue encompasses a wide spectrum – from the vivid brightness of light royal blue to the muted elegance of dusty royal blue. While different in tone, these rich blues all share a regal essence. Next time you use this versatile color, think about the unique shade and finish that best suits your project. With its commanding presence, royal blue is sure to add some majestic flair.