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What’s the difference between violet and purple?

What’s the difference between violet and purple?

Violet and purple are two colors that can often be confused with one another. Though they look quite similar to the naked eye, there are some key differences between these two shades that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the primary distinctions between violet and purple across the color spectrum.


First, let’s start with some basic definitions of violet and purple:

  • Violet is a spectral color, meaning it has its own wavelength on the visible light spectrum. Specifically, violet light has a wavelength between 380 and 450 nanometers.
  • Purple is a secondary color, made by mixing the primary colors red and blue. Purple does not have its own spectral wavelength.

So in brief, violet is a primary spectral color, while purple is a secondary color blend. This is a key difference between the two.


In their visual appearance, violet and purple look quite similar, which is why they are often confused with one another. However, some key differences include:

  • Violet has a blueish hue and is located at the end of the visible spectrum, closer to blue than red.
  • Purple is a blend of red and blue, so it has both a blueish and reddish tint.
  • Violet appears as a lighter, cooler, and brighter color than purple.
  • Purple tends to be darker, warmer, and duller than violet.

So in summary, violet leans more blue while purple is a more blended red-blue hue. Violet also tends to look lighter and brighter compared to the darker, duller purple.

Mixing Colors

Another way violet and purple differ is in how they are created through color mixing:

  • Violet can be mixed by combining the primary colors red and blue, with more blue than red. But true spectral violet cannot be reproduced through mixing, since it exists as its own wavelength.
  • Purple contains a more even mix of red and blue, with strong components of both primary colors.

So purple contains a more balanced red-blue blend, while violet mixes the primaries with a blue dominance.


Culturally, violet and purple also differ in their creative and symbolic usage:

  • Violet is strongly associated with spirituality, intuition, wisdom, and mysticism across many cultures.
  • Purple is commonly associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, ambition, and power throughout history.

So violet has spiritual and mystical connotations, while purple has royal and noble associations.


There are also some shades that are distinctly violet versus purple:

Violet Shades Purple Shades
Spectral violet Royal purple
African violet Tyrian purple
Pale violet Imperial purple
Iris Mauve

Some shades like iris and mauve straddle the line between violet and purple. But shades like spectral violet and African violet sit squarely on the violet side, while royal purple, Tyrian purple, and imperial purple are distinctly purple hues.


With art and design pigments, key differences include:

  • The violet pigment uses manganese or cobalt to produce violet-leaning paint colors.
  • The purple pigment uses organic red dyes like madder root combined with blue to make purple paints and dyes.

So violet pigments tap into those metal compounds while purple pigments use organic plant sources.


Lighting conditions also impact how violet and purple are perceived. For example:

  • In daylight, violet may appear lighter and brighter, while purple looks darker.
  • Under incandescent light bulbs, the warmer lighting can make both violet and purple appear more reddish.
  • Fluorescent lighting can drain richness from purple while accentuating the cool tones of violet.

So different lighting environments can shift the appearance of these colors in subtle ways.

Absorption and Reflection

On the technical side, violet and purple differ in how they absorb and reflect light wavelengths:

  • Violet has a shorter wavelength, so it absorbs longer wavelengths while reflecting shorter wavelengths.
  • Purple is not part of the light spectrum, so it absorbs and reflects across wavelengths to create the blending.

In essence, violet has a specific light absorption and reflection pattern while purple is more broad.


In science, violet and purple are distinguished as follows:

  • Violet has the shortest wavelength of visible light, so it has the most energy and the highest frequency.
  • Purple does not exist on the EM spectrum and has no specific frequency or wavelength.

So violet can be precisely measured scientifically while purple cannot.


In nature, some key examples include:

  • Violet examples: violet gemstones, iolite and tanzanite; violet flowers like Viola and Hyacinth
  • Purple examples: purple passionfruit, purple cauliflower, purple bacteria, purple iris flowers

So vibrant violet flowers and gemstones contrast with rich purple fruits and vegetables found in nature.

Dyes and Inks

With dyes and inks, violet and purple have some different sources:

  • Violet dyes come from chloride process for synthetic dyes, or natural sources like manganese minerals.
  • Purple dyes use madder, woad extract, purple cabbage, logwood, and other organic dyestuffs.

So violet utilizes more inorganic compounds while purple uses plant and animal sources for dyes.


In textiles, key distinctions include:

  • Violet fabrics tend to use lightweight and breathable materials like chiffon or linen.
  • Purple fabrics embrace luxurious materials like velvet, satin, and crushed velour.

So violet textiles favor lightweight chiffons while purple prefers rich velvets and satins.


The symbolic meanings of violet and purple include:

  • Violet represents spirituality, temperance, love, and sensitivity.
  • Purple symbolizes royalty, luxury, ambition, creativity, and magic.

So violet has spiritual and affectionate symbolism, while purple signifies wealth and creativity.


Some gender associations include:

  • Violet is traditionally a delicate, feminine color.
  • Purple is viewed as blending masculine ambition with feminine sensitivity.

So violet is seen as traditionally feminine while purple bridges masculine and feminine traits.

Cultural Meanings

Culturally, some key differences include:

  • In Asia, violet represents death and mourning while purple symbolizes wealth and privilege.
  • Ancient Greece viewed purple as a royal color but violet as pale imitation of purple.
  • In Western culture, violet is associated with spirituality while purple is tied to luxury and opulence.

So interpretations of violet and purple shift across cultural traditions.


Psychologically, violet and purple are said to have differing effects:

  • Violet promotes introspection, creative inspiration, and emotional calm.
  • Purple stimulates ambition, dignity, extravagance, and creative problem solving.

So violet has a meditative quality while purple energizes productivity and imagination.


In summary:

  • Violet is a spectral color with its own wavelength, while purple is a secondary blend.
  • Violet leans blue with a lighter, cooler appearance vs the darker, redder purple.
  • Violet has spiritual symbolism while purple connotes luxury and royalty.
  • Science precisely defines violet while purple is not on the EM spectrum.
  • Culturally, violet and purple have shifting interpretations across place and time.

So while violet and purple may seem interchangeable to the eye, they have distinct characteristics when examined more closely across the worlds of art, science, history, and culture.