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What color makes royal purple?

What color makes royal purple?

Royal purple is a rich, deep shade that has been associated with royalty and nobility throughout history. While modern dyes allow us to easily achieve this luxurious color, originally it was painstakingly produced from a rare sea snail known as the spiny dye-murex. Though difficult to make, royal purple garments became synonymous with high social status due to the costliness of the dye. So what gives royal purple its signature hue? The secret lies in combining two colorants: blue from indigo dye and red from murex purple. By mixing these pigments in the right ratio, a vibrant purple can be produced that contains undertones of both blue and red.

Making Murex Purple

The blues and purples of royal purple come from two natural sources: indigo plants and murex sea snails. Indigo dyes have been used worldwide for centuries to produce a range of blue shades. But the crimson pigment for purple historically came from murex snails, which were native to the Mediterranean. These snails produce a clear fluid that, when exposed to sunlight, quickly turns into a yellowish dye. After going through an elaborate process to concentrate and improve the color, it could produce a brilliant crimson-purple hue.

The Dyeing Process

To yield enough purple dye for even a small amount of fabric required thousands of murex snails. After being collected, the snail glands producing the dye had to be removed and soaked in saline solution. Next the solution was exposed to sunlight to induce the pigment change. The dye bath would be heated or fermented for days to concentrate the color. Excess tissue and impurities were strained out, leaving behind a viscous purple solution. Pieces of wool were then soaked in the dye until the desired shade of purple was absorbed.

Producing Royal Purple

On its own, murex purple produces a reddish-purple hue. To shift the color towards the desired royal purple, blue dye was necessary. For this, plant-based indigo dye was used. Indigo is extracted from the leaves of certain plants and goes through a similar process of soaking, filtering, and concentrating the color. The indigo leaves a blue pigment solution. Mixing the concentrated indigo dye with the red murex dye results in the signature rich, deep purple shade associated with royalty.

Additions Color Produced
Murex purple only Reddish-purple
More murex purple Deep crimson purple
Equal murex purple and indigo Royal purple
More indigo Bluish-purple

Why Royal Purple Was Rare

In ancient times, murex purple was incredibly labor-intensive to produce. Thousands of snails yielded only tiny amounts of dye. As a result, fabrics dyed this color were extremely expensive. The rarity of royal purple fabric became associated with high social status. In many cultures, rulers and nobility wore purple garments as symbols of wealth and authority. Purple dye commanded exorbitant prices, limiting its use by average citizens. Because only the very rich could afford it, royal purple attained a reputation as a prestigious color.

Substituting Synthetic Dyes

After synthetic dyeing techniques were invented in the 1850s, it became much easier to mass produce purple fabrics. Cheaper aniline dyes largely replaced natural pigments like murex purple and indigo. Today, royal purple can be easily achieved using synthetic dyes, without relying on rare sea snails. Mixing a bit of blue dye with a larger amount of magenta will create a vibrant purple very similar to the original royal purple. These inexpensive substitutes made regal purple colors available to everyone.

Modern Uses

Though murex purple is no longer used for dyeing fabrics, the color retains an association with luxury and exclusivity. Many brands utilize rich purple shades to evoke a sense of elegance, extravagance, and creativity. More vivid royal purples are popular for attention-getting marketing and branding. Darker eggplant purples suggest sophistication and intrigue. From fashion to interiors to product packaging, various hues of purple retain a touch of royal mystique and prestige.

DIY Royal Purple Dyes

For those interested in experimenting with natural dyes, royal purple can be attempted right at home using simple ingredients from your kitchen. Here are some ideas for homemade dyes:

Ingredients Dye Color
Blueberries or red cabbage Blue
Beets, cherries, or hibiscus Red
Blue and red dye mixed Purple

Any blue and red food with rich pigments will work. Try combining some boiled blueberries or red cabbage with beets or cherry juice to create your own custom purple shades. Though not as long-lasting as commercial dyes, these plant-based dyes can produce interesting results.


The signature royal purple color combines the prestige of rare murex snail dye with the depth of indigo. While tricky to make in ancient times, modern synthetic dyes put regal purple shades within anyone’s reach. With a mix of blue and red pigments, you can recreate the majestic hues fit for royalty. Whether it’s haute couture fashion or simple home DIY projects, royal purple retains its luxurious, mystical appeal.