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What colour scheme is red and yellow?

What colour scheme is red and yellow?

Red and yellow are vibrant, energetic colors that create a bright, lively color scheme. Combining these two primary colors results in a palette that conveys excitement, optimism, and youthfulness. Red and yellow have a long history of being paired together in art, design, and culture across the world. Their complementary nature allows them to stand out when placed side by side, making them ideal for grabbing attention. This article will explore the red and yellow color scheme, looking at the meaning behind these colors, examples of their use, and tips for working with them in design.

The Meaning of Red and Yellow

To understand what red and yellow represent together, it helps to first examine what each color symbolizes on its own.


Red is associated with energy, passion, aggression, excitement, strength, danger, heat, and love. It has a stimulating effect and is known to increase heart rate and raise blood pressure. Red captures attention and demands action, which is why it’s commonly used for warnings and important notifications. Culturally, red can signify life, vitality, courage, anger, warning, celebration, and revolution.


Yellow is the color of sunshine, joy and happiness. It represents optimism, positivity, clarity, creativity, warmth, intellect, and energy. While also energetic like red, yellow is a cheerful and uplifting shade. It sparks feelings of hope and conveys youth and fun. In design, bright yellow commands attention without the intensity of red. Culturally, yellow is connected with cowardice, jealousy, deception, and caution in some contexts.

Red and Yellow Color Psychology

When combined as a color pairing, red and yellow take on some shared meanings while also balancing each other’s intensities. Here are some of the psychological effects of this color scheme:

  • Energy and Excitement – Together red and yellow create a vibrant, lively palette full of movement and enthusiasm. The combination conveys an upbeat, friendly energy.
  • Attention-Grabbing – With their high visibility, red and yellow are impossible to ignore when side by side. They grab the viewer’s attention immediately.
  • Optimism and Positivity – Yellow lightens up the darker undertones of red, bringing an optimistic, hopeful element to the pairing.
  • Youth and Fun – The childlike playfulness of yellow combined with the passion of red gives this pairing a youthful, entertaining sensibility.
  • Celebration – For their ability to energize and uplift, red and yellow are often used in combination for festive occasions and celebrations.
  • Warning – While less intense together than red alone, this scheme still retains a sense of danger or caution due to the presence of red.

With thoughtful design, the red and yellow palette can take on additional meanings related to the context. But in general, these core meanings shape the immediate impression that red and yellow make when seen together.

Examples of Red and Yellow in Design and Culture

The eye-catching red and yellow pairing features prominently across cultures, holidays, brands, art movements, events, and graphic design. Here are some prominent examples of how it is used:

International Flags and Symbols

  • The flag of Spain – This national flag features horizontal bars of red over yellow and inspired many Spanish colonial flags in the Americas and Pacific.
  • The flag of Maryland – Adopted in 1904, the bold diagonal bars of red and yellow/gold make this state flag instantly recognizable.
  • The Red Cross emblem – The red cross on a yellow background was the original symbol of the international Red Cross, first used in 1863.

Holidays and Events

  • Chinese New Year – Red and yellow are considered auspicious colors in Chinese culture and feature heavily in New Year decorations.
  • Mardi Gras – Purple, green, and gold are the official Mardi Gras colors, but yellow, red, and green feature prominently in the New Orleans event.
  • Day of the Dead – For Mexico’s Día de Muertos, marigold flowers and red pepper wreaths adorn altars and graves.
  • Oktoberfest – Blue and white are the official colors, but red and yellow feature heavily in Oktoberfest tent decor and staff uniforms.


  • Cardinal – The male cardinal bird species displays brilliant red plumage contrasted with black and yellow accents.
  • Monarch butterfly – The monarch’s wings are a vivid orange with black veins and outer edging.
  • Fire – Red, orange, and yellow flames create a visual symbol of danger, heat, and destruction.

Branding and Marketing

  • McDonald’s – Red and yellow are the primary colors of McDonald’s, featured in its logo, restaurants, branding, and packaging.
  • IKEA – IKEA uses a blue and yellow color scheme, but often incorporates red in its marketing materials.
  • Shell – The Shell logo pairs red and yellow in a distinctive, memorable design.
  • Kodak – Kodak’s classic logo features red and yellow accents to stand out against its blue and white.

Art Movements

  • Impressionism – Impressionist painters like Monet used red and yellow extensively to capture the fleeting effects of light.
  • Fauvism – Fauvists emphasized strong red and yellow tones laid down thickly in bold brushstrokes.
  • Art Deco – Red and yellow form a key palette in Art Deco works, along with black and silver.

This sample demonstrates the diverse applications of the red and yellow pairing throughout history and culture. It’s an endlessly versatile combination for adding visual excitement.

Tips for Using Red and Yellow in Design

For designers looking to implement a red and yellow color scheme, here are some tips for using these colors effectively:

  • Use warm yellow tones like goldenrod rather than cool greens to maintain vibrancy with red.
  • Add black, white, or gray as neutrals to create contrast and prevent overpowering brightness.
  • Use yellow as the dominant color for a cheerful, energizing effect. Lead with red for intensity.
  • Add dimension by varying shades and tones – try a burnt orange red or ochre yellow.
  • Be aware of potential meanings like danger, caution, or warning if using red dominantly.
  • Use fewer supporting hues to avoid a clownish, excessive look. Streamline your palette.
  • Apply red and yellow to vector shapes, diagonal lines, and asymmetry to convey dynamism.
  • Implement smartly on packaging design – research shows both colors can boost perception of food and beverage taste.

When combined skillfully, just a touch of red and yellow can enliven any design. But exercise restraint – a little goes a long way with these bold, expressive hues.


Red and yellow have long served as a lively color pairing connected with celebration, positivity, and youthful energy. Their complementary primary colors allow them to stand out vividly when combined in flags, branding, events, nature, and artistic works. Both warm and attention-grabbing, this scheme conveys cheerfulness, fun, and dynamism along with underlying notes of intensity and caution due to the presence of red. With a thoughtful and balanced approach, designers can harness the power of red and yellow for vibrant, uplifting appeal across all types of projects.