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Why is purple complementary to yellow?

Why is purple complementary to yellow?

Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are considered to be complementary colors. Complementary colors create maximum contrast and reinforce each other when placed side-by-side. The high visual contrast of complementary colors captivates viewers’ attention and brings a vibrancy to designs. Understanding color theory and the basics of complementary colors can help creators use color more effectively.

What are complementary colors?

Complementary colors are any two colors opposite each other on the color wheel. The color wheel organizes colors into a circle based on their hue and relationship to primary colors. The three primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. Secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors, and tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary and secondary color.

On the standard color wheel, red’s complement is green, blue’s complement is orange, and yellow’s complement is purple. These opposing colors complement each other because they share no common hues. For example, yellow contains no traces of blue or purple pigments. This creates the maximum amount of visual contrast when complementary colors are combined.

Why do complementary colors create high contrast?

Physically, complementary colors have high contrast because of how our eyes perceive color. The cells in our eyes, called cones, detect color through absorbing light wavelengths. There are three types of cones that are most sensitive to short (blue), medium (green), and long (red) wavelengths. All other colors are perceived through combinations of these three cone types.

Complementary colors activate different cone types because of their different wavelengths. This creates a strong visual contrast. The high excitation of cones sends more signals to the brain, causing complementary colors to pop out and create vibrancy.

Benefits of using complementary colors

Using complementary colors in design provides many benefits:

  • Creates maximum contrast – Complementary colors maximize contrast, making elements stand out
  • Adds visual interest – The contrast draws viewers’ eyes and adds excitement
  • Reinforces color themes – Complementary colors enhance each other when used together
  • Conveys energy – Vibrant complementary colors feel energetic and lively
  • Communicates ideas – Color associations help communicate ideas and set moods

Proper use of complementary colors is key in graphic design, digital interfaces, advertising, fashion, interior design, and more. But color theory should guide your use of complements to ensure optimal results.

Tips for using complementary colors

Here are some tips for effectively using complementary colors in design:

  • Use complements in moderation – Large areas of high-contrast complements can strain the eyes
  • Watch lightness contrast – Bold darks against bold lights maximizes contrast
  • Add a bridge color – Add a color between complements to transition and tone down contrast
  • Use one complement dominantly – Let one color take visual priority to avoid conflict
  • Consider cultural meanings – Colors may evoke different meanings in different cultures

Testing colors to ensure they create the desired look, meaning, and accessibility is also important. Evaluate complements across different media since they may appear differently.

Why purple and yellow are complements

On the standard RYB color wheel, purple and yellow are directly opposite each other, making them complementary colors. This is because purple and yellow contain no shared hues or pigments.

Purple sits between red and blue on the color wheel. It contains traces of both red and blue pigments. Yellow sits directly opposite purple. Yellow contains no traces of red or blue. This makes their color contrast extremely bold and vibrant.

In design, purple and yellow make a powerful complementary pair. Purple’s meditative qualities contrast wonderfully with yellow’s optimism and cheer. Using purple and yellow together can convey a wide range of moods in visual arts, graphic design, and marketing.

Associations of purple and yellow

Here are some common color associations of purple and yellow:

Purple Yellow
– Wisdom – Happiness
– Creativity – Optimism
– Royalty – Energy
– Luxury – Warmth
– Ambition – Intellect
– Spirituality – Freshness

These contrasting associations make purple and yellow a popular complementary pair for expressing ideas across many contexts and cultures. Their vibrancy captivates attention while their symbolic meanings help shape experiences.

Using purple and yellow in design

In graphic design and visual arts, purple and yellow make a lively complementary duo. Here are some tips for using them together:

  • Use yellow for highlights – Yellow draws the eye, use it strategically to highlight key elements
  • Use purple for backgrounds – Purple recedes, using it in backgrounds pushes other colors forward
  • Add white space – Give the eyes a rest with whitespace between bold complements
  • Use a bridge color – Add blue or green hues to transition between the complements
  • Balance warm and cool – Combine warm yellow with cool purples for more contrast
  • Watch accessibility – Ensure text has enough contrast to remain readable

Testing purple and yellow combinations across different media can help optimize their vibrancy and effectiveness for your project.

Examples of purple and yellow designs

Many iconic logos and designs have leveraged the power and contrast of complementary purple and yellow:

  • Cadbury chocolate wrappers
  • Nikon camera logo
  • World Wildlife Fund logo
  • Baltimore Ravens logo
  • Minnesota Vikings logo
  • NYU logo
  • Rockstar Games logo
  • Twitch logo

These examples use purple and yellow in balanced, strategic ways to create impact and visibility. When combined skillfully, purple and yellow can capture attention, convey meaning, and create memorable visuals.


In summary, purple and yellow are complementary colors that create strong visual contrast. Complementary colors activate different color channels in our eyes, allowing them to reinforce each other. Using complements in design adds vibrancy, energy, and visibility. Purple and yellow specifically have symbolic associations that allow designers to strategically communicate ideas.

Understanding color theory helps artists and designers use complementary colors effectively. While high contrast complements can feel jarring when overused, strategic combinations of purple and yellow create visually captivating, meaningful designs across many media and contexts.