When mixing colors together, the resulting color can sometimes be unpredictable. Green, purple and orange are all secondary colors on the standard color wheel. Mixing these vivid shades together results in a dark, earthy tone. Understanding color theory and the basics of mixing paints or dyes can help explain why certain color combinations like green, purple and orange make particular hues.
How Secondary Colors are Formed
Green, purple and orange are all considered secondary colors. This means they are created by mixing two primary colors together. The primary colors are red, blue and yellow. Mixing two primaries makes a secondary:
- Red + Yellow = Orange
- Yellow + Blue = Green
- Blue + Red = Purple
Secondary colors are vibrant and eye-catching on their own. When multiple secondaries are combined, they neutralize each other and create a more muted, tertiary color.
Mixing Paint Colors
When working with paint, mixing more than one pigment together will blend the components to make a new color. If green, purple and orange paint is mixed together, the resulting color is a dark brown or ochre hue.
Green paint has a large amount of yellow in it, since green is made from yellow and blue. Purple contains a good amount of red. When the yellow and red mix with the orange paint, which also contains yellow and red, the result is a neutralized brown.
The more paint colors that are mixed together, the more muted and grayed the color becomes. Overlapping secondary colors pushes the mix toward a brown or earthy tertiary shade.
Mixing Dye Colors
Dyes and fabrics work a little differently than paints. With dyeing or printing fabric, the dye does not blend together to make a new color the way wet paint mixes. Instead, the fibers absorb the dyes separately.
When a dye containing the secondary colors green, purple and orange is used to color fabric, the result is actually a pattern of all three colors distributed through the material. The orange, green and purple dye molecules each tint certain fibers, leaving a speckled effect.
At a distance, the overlapping dye colors create a vaguely brownish tone. But up close, the individual hues are still visible in the woven fibers. Dyeing with multiple colors does mute and gray the overall appearance, but does not actually blend the pigments to make a tertiary color.
The Color Wheel
The color wheel depicts how colors relate to each other. Secondary colors are located between the primaries they are made from. For example, orange sits between red and yellow.
Opposite colors on the wheel, like red and green or purple and yellow, are considered complementary colors. These pairings create strong visual contrast when placed next to each other.
Adjacent colors have less contrast between them. Green next to yellow, or orange beside red, are less eye-catching combinations.
When multiple adjacent colors on the wheel are mixed, like the green, purple and orange combination, they end up forming a tertiary color between them. This brown or ochre result sits between the parent secondaries visually and on the color wheel.
Color Mixing Rules
While the exact resulting shade can be hard to predict when mixing colors, some general rules provide guidance:
– Mixing pure saturated colors together will create a less saturated, grayer color. Adding white will soften the saturation as well.
– Using one dominant color with small amounts added from others will mute and tone down the dominant color.
– Mixing complementary colors will create a neutralized version halfway between them.
– Combining adjacent colors on the color wheel results in a tertiary blend of the two, while still retaining aspects of both parent colors.
Following basic color theory concepts helps explain why combining green, purple and orange makes a nondescript, desaturated brown tone overall.
Examples and Uses
There are not many examples where green, orange and purple are purposefully mixed together. Given the muddled result, color combinations usually utilize one or two of these secondaries together instead.
However, the combination does occasionally occur by coincidence in nature. Looking closely at moss on a wet tree trunk in autumn light can reveal tiny flecks of orange and purple complementing the dominant green.
Some species of birds or insects may also display the trio of colors in small touches across their predominantly brown and green plumage. Analyzing the feathers up close allows the hints of all three secondaries to emerge.
In manmade contexts, a heavy paint mixer ending up with remnants of green, orange and purple could mix them together to empty the cans for disposal. The three paint colors mixing together into a nondescript sludge provides an example of why this color combination is uncommon.
Textile production waste may also combine scraps or rags containing traces of all three dyes. When added to the scrap pile, the orange, purple and green fabrics overlap to form a composite brown tone overall.
Green, purple and orange are vivid secondary colors with strong visual impact. But when mixed together in paint or dye, they end up forming a muddy, brownish tertiary instead of a bright secondary. Their combination loses the chromatic brilliance prized in color use.
Understanding the relationships between adjacent colors on the color wheel helps explain how mixing such vivid hues can result in a totally different, dull tone. Following the interactions between primary and secondary colors provides guidance for how combining any colors will impact their appearance.
So while green, orange and purple seem like they would make an exciting color, their combination actually neutralizes into a lackluster muddy shade. Color theory makes clear why mixing such bright vivid secondaries together generally produces an underwhelming effect best avoided.