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What colors are opposite on the color wheel?

What colors are opposite on the color wheel?

Understanding color theory and the relationships between different colors on the color wheel is an important concept for artists, designers, and anyone interested in color. The color wheel shows how colors relate to each other and which colors are considered complementary or opposite colors.

Complementary colors, also sometimes called opposite colors, are any two colors directly across from each other on the standard color wheel. These color pairs balance each other out and create a strong visual contrast when used together. Knowing what the complementary color pairs are and how to use them effectively is key for graphic designers, painters, photographers and more.

Primary Colors

The basic color wheel consists of primary colors, secondary colors and tertiary colors. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. These colors can’t be mixed from any other colors and all other colors are derived from them. Red, yellow and blue form an equilateral triangle on the color wheel.

Primary Color Hex Code
Red #FF0000
Yellow #FFFF00
Blue #0000FF

The primary colors are equally spaced around the color wheel at 120 degree angles. These pure base colors are considered extremely vibrant and dynamic. When placed next to each other, they create strong visual contrast and liveliness.

Secondary Colors

The secondary colors are created by mixing together two primary colors. The three secondary colors are green, orange, and purple.

Green is made by mixing blue and yellow. Orange is made by mixing red and yellow. Purple is made by mixing red and blue. The secondary colors each lie between two primary colors on the color wheel.

Secondary Color Created By Hex Code
Green Yellow + Blue #00FF00
Orange Red + Yellow #FFA500
Purple Red + Blue #800080

The secondary colors are less vivid than the primary colors, but are still very bright and intense. Using adjacent secondary and primary colors together (like purple and blue) creates a strong but harmonious visual contrast.

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are made by mixing together a primary color with a secondary color that is adjacent to it on the color wheel. For example, red mixed with purple makes red-purple, red mixed with orange makes red-orange, yellow mixed with green makes yellow-green, and so on.

There are six tertiary colors within the basic RYB color wheel. These colors have more complex and subdued hues than primary and secondary colors. Tertiary colors bridge the gap between the primary and secondary color families. Using adjacent tertiary and secondary color combinations creates pleasant contrast with lots of nuance.

Tertiary Color Created By Hex Code
Red-orange Red + Orange #FF5349
Red-purple Red + Purple #C71585
Blue-purple Blue + Purple #8A2BE2
Blue-green Blue + Green #0095B6
Yellow-green Yellow + Green #9ACD32
Yellow-orange Yellow + Orange #FFAE42

These tertiary colors help fill in the gaps between the main colors on the wheel. They have a wide range of applications for shading, blending and color mixing.

Complementary Colors

Now that we’ve looked at the structure of the color wheel, we can identify which colors are considered complementary or opposite colors.

Complementary colors are any two colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. These color pairs share no common hues and have the highest contrast of any two colors.

The basic complementary color pairs are:

Color Complementary Color
Red Green
Yellow Purple
Blue Orange

For example, red and green are opposite each other, blue and orange are opposite, and yellow and purple are opposite.

These complementary color combinations produce the strongest contrast because they share no common hues or pigments. When complementary colors are mixed together, they effectively cancel each other out and produce a neutral gray or brown.

Color Wheel Demonstration

Here is a color wheel showing how the primary, secondary and tertiary colors relate to each other:

Red Red-orange Orange Yellow Yellow-green Green
Red-purple Blue-purple Purple Blue-purple Blue-green Blue

And here are the basic complementary color pairs demonstrated:

Red Green
Yellow Purple
Blue Orange

As you can see, complementary colors are located directly across from each other on the color wheel. These opposite color combinations have maximum contrast and really make each other stand out.

Uses of Complementary Colors

Complementary color schemes are very popular for designers, artists and photographers because of their high-contrast and vibrant visual effects. Here are some of the ways opposite colors are utilized effectively:

Composition and Focal Points

Complementary colors can be leveraged to make certain elements stand out and draw attention. Using an opposite color as an accent can highlight the focal point of a composition. This creates visual interest and directs the viewer’s eye.

Color Balance

Complementary colors have the ability to cancel each other out and produce a neutralized effect. Using them together in the right proportions can create excellent color balance.

Energizing Combinations

The lively contrast of complementary colors has an energizing and stimulating effect. These color combinations are often used in modern graphic design to create high-impact layouts.

Shading and Dimension

Adding shades of an opposite color can create depth and dimension. Complementary colors are ideal for shading in illustrations and art.

Color Mixing

Mixing paints or light of opposite colors results in a neutralized gray or brown tone. This is useful for subtly adjusting hues and tones.


Placing complements side-by-side makes both colors appear more vibrant, intense and saturated than they would on their own.


Using complementary colors for text and backgrounds creates high readability. This technique is frequently used for displays and user interfaces.

So in summary, opposite color pairs from the color wheel provide strong contrast ratios that are visually striking and draw attention. Properly leveraging complementary colors creates color harmony, balance, dimension and vibrance. It’s an essential tool for artists, designers and other visual fields.

Split Complementary Colors

A variation on complementary colors is to use split complements. This involves using one color plus the two colors adjacent to its complement.

For example, to split the complements for yellow:

  • Yellow’s complement is purple
  • The colors adjacent to purple are blue-purple and red-purple
  • So the split complements for yellow are: yellow, blue-purple, and red-purple

Split complementary color schemes have slightly less contrast than straight complements but still retain vibrant energy. This creates a visually pleasing palette with more nuance and interest than basic complementary colors alone.

Color Temperature

In addition to hue, another important way to analyze color relationships is by temperature. Some colors feel warm, while others feel cool or cold.

Warm colors are hues in the red, orange and yellow families. They evoke feelings of comfort, energy and cheerfulness.

Cool colors are greens, blues and purples. They are more calming and can sometimes suggest sadness or indifference. Cool colors often seem more distant visually.

Warm and cool colors are essentially complementary in temperature. Combining warm and cool colors together creates a dynamic temperature contrast, similar to complementary hues.

Analogous Colors

Analogous colors are any groups of three or more adjacent colors on the color wheel. Examples include:

  • Yellow, yellow-green, green
  • Blue, blue-purple, purple
  • Orange, red-orange, red

Analogous colors have a harmonious and pleasing visual relationship. They are not as contrasting as complementary colors but sit well together in a palette.

Triadic Colors

A triadic color scheme uses three colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel, forming a triangle. For example:

  • Red, yellow, blue
  • Orange, green, purple
  • Yellow-orange, red-purple, blue-green

Triadic color combinations tend to be quite vibrant and versatile for color mixing. While not directly opposite, triads create decent contrast since the colors share no common hues.

Tetradic and Square Colors

Tetradic color schemes use four colors arranged into two complementary pairs. This creates a square or rectangle on the color wheel. For example:

  • Red, yellow, blue, green
  • Purple, orange, blue-green, red-orange

Four balanced complementary pairs produces a variety of vivid color options. Tetrads and squares have the harmony of analogous colors but with more nuance and possibilities.


Understanding complementary colors and color relationships is an important foundation for mixing, theory and harmony. Complementary colors directly oppose each other on the color wheel, creating the highest contrast and liveliness. They form the basis for many other color schemes and are widely used in design and art.

Knowing the complementary relationships between the primary, secondary and tertiary colors provides endless options for experimentation. Whether using strict complements or variations like split complements, temperature contrast or tetradic schemes, opposite colors from the color wheel are an essential tool for manipulating color and light.