Are red and blue complementary colors

Complementary colors: combine colors correctly

Color theory has a bigger role in our modern life than many people assume. Colors have the power of subconsciously affecting people.

As we already explained in our article “The right color design in your own four walls”, colors can make a room appear larger or smaller, help us to concentrate or ensure a good night's sleep. In order for this to be possible, however, the colors must be selected appropriately and combined with one another. Because every color has a partner who goes perfectly with it. Two colors that go well together are called complementary colors - and they are the topic of this article.

Color wheel by Johannes Itten

Color wheel according to Johannes Itten

The Swiss painter and art teacher Johannes Itten is a founder of the theory of color types. In addition to his teaching activities, Itter also worked as a painter and studied the effect of colors. As a painter he was very fascinated by the interaction of color and shape. His experiments brought him a lot of knowledge, which he incorporated into his works.

So he began to set up his color theory (main work: Art of Color). He took a theory from his teacher Adolf Hölzel, expanded it and wrote it down in the work “Seven Color Contrasts”, which is still taught today at various arts and crafts colleges. The seven color contrasts consist of:

  1. Light-dark contrast
  2. Cold-warm contrast
  3. Quality contrast
  4. Quantity contrast
  5. Complementary contrast
  6. Simultaneous contrast
  7. Successive contrast

In Johannes Itten's color wheel you can find the primary, secondary and tertiary colors, which are mixed from all three basic colors. Two complementary colors are diametrically opposite in the color wheel. Red and green, yellow and blue are complementary.


Which colors do you prefer to use when designing / decorating your living space?

Source: Tomorrow Focus Media (July 2014, 728 respondents in DE)

Combine colors with a color wheel

The combination of colors does not suit everyone. For this reason, the color wheel is a practical tool that everyone can use with ease.

The color wheel has its origin in the light spectrum, which is usually represented as a line from ultraviolet to infrared radiation. With a circular arrangement it is possible to read the relationship between the colors more easily.

Each color wheel has primary colors, such as yellow, red, and blue. Depending on which color model you follow, these can also change. For example, as in our case, you can use lighter colors.

Using the color wheel provided by us, you can, as shown in the picture, combine colors in three ways:

  1. harmonious
  2. accentuated
  3. lively

Harmonious colors are very similar because they belong to the same group. You can't go wrong with these colors, but they also lack that certain something. This can be found with accentuated colors: Here two complementary colors are used, in our case orange and blue. The basic color is orange, while blue is only used for accents, because the even use of both colors creates an overall picture that looks too colorful. On the other hand, lively colors, of which three to four can be used, do not appear bright. In our example we used a triangle to choose three matching colors within the color wheel (purple, orange, yellow-green).

The effect of complementary colors

Complementary colors effect

Complementary colors complement other colors to white or black. The complementary color that goes with green is magenta. If you mix magenta with green, you get black.

Most people associate the term contrast with a visible difference, for example between black and white. But the effect of two colors can also produce color contrasts. Snow, for example, highlights the wintry contours of a tree. The same applies to complementary colors: They make the other color shine more strongly. We would like to demonstrate this using the following figures.

Complementary colors effect

The small, gray square appears darker against a white background than against the black background. It is exactly the same shade of gray. It is important that the gray tone only has a different effect for a short time, as afterimages arise in the eye as a result of fixing. This can be overcome by taking a break while looking at it or looking elsewhere.

Next is a similar experiment, but with colored squares. The background is now gray so that the colors are less radiant.

If you fixate on the cross, the left red square looks more intense. The fact that colors are able to reinforce each other is called simultaneous contrast or complementary contrast.

Calculate complementary colors with tools

Adobe Color CC

An alternative to the classic color wheel, which is limited in its use to the colors used, are various tools that are available on the Internet. One of these tools is the Color Scheme Designer from paletton: Here you simply select and the desired color. The tool automatically shows the matching complementary color.

A similar tool is Adobe Color CC: Here you even have the option of determining the color scheme of an image. So if you find a nice design on the Internet and want to determine its color scheme, you can upload this to Adobe Color CC and the colors will be displayed.

Article image: © Peter Zvonar / Shutterstock

  • Has this article been helpful?
  • Yes No

The most common questions / FAQ

🌈 Which colors are complementary colors?

A color wheel or color wheel is a system in which the colors are represented in a circle. Complementary colors are colors that are opposite each other in this color wheel. These are e.g. blue and yellow, green and red, red and blue.

🔎 What are primary colors?

Primary colors or basic colors are yellow, red and blue. The colors are called basic colors because they cannot be made with the help of other colors.

🧐 What do complementary colors do?

Complementary colors reinforce each other and make the other color shine more strongly. This is also called complementary contrast or simultaneous contrast.

❓ What are secondary colors?

Secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors. For example, purple, green, or orange are secondary colors.
Corresponds to a rating of 4.9 / 5