Skip to Content

What shade of red is crimson?

Crimson is a rich, deep red color that has been prized throughout history for its vibrancy and intensity. From being used to dye the cloaks of Roman emperors to its associations with prestige and royalty, crimson has long been considered one of the most regal shades of red. But what exactly defines the crimson color? Let’s take a closer look at the origins, meanings, and uses of this eye-catching hue.

The Origins of Crimson

The word “crimson” comes from the Old Spanish word “cremesín” which was derived from the Arabic term “qirmiz.” Qirmiz referred to the Kermes dye that was produced from crushed Kermes insects found in the Mediterranean region. These insects were gathered and dried to produce a powerful red pigment to dye textiles. Kermes dyes were considered some of the finest red dyes available in medieval times. The popularity of kermes-dyed textiles led to crimson becoming strongly associated with prestige and royalty in Europe during the medieval period.

The Shade and Meanings of Crimson

So what defines the specific shade of crimson? On the color wheel, crimson sits between red and rose. It is a warm, deep red color that has a bluish undertone compared to other shades of red. Crimson is considered a saturated and rich color.

In fact, crimson is notable for being the most vibrant shade of red with the highest saturation. It exhibits a brightness and intensity that other reds like burgundy lack. At the same time, crimson is slightly less aggressive on the eyes than a primary red due to its hint of blue undertones.

Color Hex Code
Crimson #DC143C
Red #FF0000

This vibrant saturation has endowed crimson with several symbolic meanings:

  • Luxury, prestige, and royalty – Crimson’s historic use among nobles and aristocrats imbued it with a sense of grandeur and privilege.
  • Passion and desire – The intensity of crimson has given it strong associations with romance, lust, and sensuality.
  • Courage and sacrifice – The deep hue is connected to concepts like bravery, valor, and sacrifice, particularly related to war and soldiers.
  • Sin and transgression – Crimson’s passionate undertones have also given it connotations of immorality and sin from a religious standpoint.

So in essence, crimson encapsulates a duality between refined privilege and primal passion. It’s a regal yet fervent shade steeped in evocative symbolism.

Uses of Crimson Over the Centuries

The eye-catching depth of crimson has made it a popular shade for textile dying, art, flags, uniforms, and more throughout history. Here are some key uses of crimson over the centuries:

Ancient Rome and Byzantium

In Ancient Rome, crimson attire was seen as a status symbol reserved for emperors and high officials. The pigment originated from the Kermes insects found around the Mediterranean.

Later in the Byzantine Empire, emperors continued to wear crimson silks as a symbol of their imperial power. The vibrant color came to be known as “Tyrian purple” in this region.

Medieval Europe

During the Middle Ages, crimson remained a color of royalty across Europe. Fine crimson silks were popular among kings, nobles, and religious figures. Cardinals of the Catholic church wore crimson robes, hats, and capes.


In China, crimson was considered an auspicious wedding color. Chinese brides often wore crimson wedding attire. Crimson was also used in religious Taoist temple decorations.

In India, crimson symbolized life and happiness. Brides traditionally wore bridal saris dyed crimson, while sindoor powder and bindi dots were deep crimson shades.

Pre-Raphaelite paintings

During the 19th century Pre-Raphaelite art movement, crimson emerged as a popular color used to convey passion, sensuality, and transgression. Painters like Dante Gabriel Rossetti applied lush crimson tones to the lips and clothing of female subjects.

Military uniforms

Crimson shades and scarlet (a bright tone of crimson) were widely used in military uniforms in the 17th to 20th centuries. British Redcoats, French soldiers of Napoleon, and the Italian Bersaglieri all wore crimson jackets or accessories.

University colors

Today, crimson serves as an official school color for several universities including Harvard, Utah, Kansas, and more. Students show their pride by wearing crimson shirts, hats, and other gear.

Crimson vs. Other Shades of Red

Crimson belongs to the red color family but has some subtle differences from other popular shades of red:

Shade Characteristics
Crimson – Deep, bluish red
– Highly saturated
– Associated with luxury and passion
Scarlet – Bright, slightly orangey red
– Primary shade of red
– Sense of boldness and excitement
Ruby – Pinkish red, close to rose
– Elegant and precious
– Named after ruby gemstones
Burgundy – Dark reddish purple
– More subtle and muted than crimson
– Sense of refinement

So in summary, crimson stands out for its striking saturation while retaining some refinement thanks to its bluish undertone. It occupies a distinctive place among shades of red.

How Lighting Affects Crimson

The way crimson is perceived can change significantly based on the lighting conditions. Here’s how it tends to look in different lighting:

Natural Light

In natural daylight, crimson appears vivid, saturated, and bold. Its blue undertones are quite apparent.

Indoor Lighting

Under indoor incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, the blue undertone gets muted. Crimson looks warmer, less vivid, and closer to a primary red.


In candlelight, crimson takes on an especially warm, fiery glow. The yellow candlelight brings out its red and orange hues.


When backlit, crimson becomes darker and more blackened, appearing closer to a burgundy shade.

So crimson can take on distinctly different vibes based on how it’s lit. Dramatic or moody crimson hues can be achieved through careful lighting choices.

Crimson in Modern Fashion and Decor

Crimson remains a popular shade in the fashion and interior design worlds today. Here are some modern uses of crimson:


Crimson suits, dresses, shirts, or accessories add flair to outfits. Deeper crimsons work well for winter while slightly lighter, cherry crimsons suit summer.


Crimson lipstick provides a sensual, eye-catching lip. Blue-toned crimson works well on cool skin, while orangey crimson complements warm undertones.


Upholstering couches or chairs in crimson velvet creates a luxe, ornate look. Deeper burgundy crimsons are well-suited for traditional décor.


Crimson accent walls enliven a space while creating mood and drama. Lighting choices impact the wall color significantly.


Crimson grabs attention in logos, web design, or packaging. It suggests passion, vibrancy, creativity, and sophistication.

From haute couture to home furnishings, crimson continues to make a vibrant style statement in today’s fashions and interiors.


Crimson is a captivating and regal shade of red that has enthralled artists, rulers, and designers for centuries. Its richness and subtle blue undertones give it a sumptuous, eye-catching look. Crimson has embodied everything from high nobility to primal desire through its varied symbolic associations and context-dependent tones. This ancient hue remains forever timeless thanks to its head-turning saturation and ability to transform under different lighting. Whether gracing textiles, lipsticks, or velvet sofas, crimson continues to reign as one of the most striking colors across cultures and eras.