Complementary colors are two colors that appear opposite one another on the color wheel. If you look at a color wheel, the opposite of red is green so green is the complement to red. The same principal holds true for other colors in the wheel. Purple is the opposite or complement to yellow, and orange is the opposite or compliment of blue. This is just a brief overview of complementary colors. In this article we will teach you more about them. This knowledge will help you understand how complementary colors work, how to mix complementary colors, how complementary colors interact, and how to make better color choices for your art or design work.
Knowing which colors complement one another is a great way to make color choices. When used next to one another, complementary colors can make one another appear brighter. When mixed together, complementary colors can create neutral hues. If you are already a little familiar with color theory, then let’s dive into complementary colors and learn how you can use complementary colors to enhance your artwork.
Basic Primary Complementary Colors
Complementary colors are the opposite hues of the primary colors. This is the core concept behind color theory. If you look at a six-color color wheel, you will see that directly opposite of a primary color is a secondary color, one that is made up of two primary colors. The secondary combination of two primary colors is called a complement. So, the complement of each primary color is a secondary color made from a combination of the other two primary colors. For example, the complementary color of red is green, which is a mix of the two primary colors blue and yellow.
With that information, it is easy to memorize the basic set of complement colors:
- Red and Green (created from blue and yellow)
- Yellow and Violet, or purple, if you prefer that name (created from red and blue)
- Blue and Orange (created from yellow and red)
Tertiary Complementary Colors
In an expanded color wheel, you will be able to see even more complementary colors in the form of tertiary colors. Tertiary colors are those made up of one primary and one secondary color. A full color wheel will contain six tertiary colors. These six tertiary colors combine to give us 3 more sets of complementary colors.
In a complementary set of tertiary colors, both colors will be made from one primary color and one secondary color. It is easier to understand tertiary complementary colors if you have a color wheel on hand to refer to. If you don’t have a color wheel on hand, look one up with a Google search. Color wheels are easy to find and reference. The tertiary complementary colors include:
- Red-Purple, or pink if you prefer and Green-Yellow
- Yellow-Orange and Blue-Purple, also known as indigo
- Orange-Red and Blue-Green, or aqua
Infinite Complementary Colors
While a basic color wheel will have 12 total colors, they are actually a lot more colors in the world so what are the complements to those? With so many various tints, tones and shades of each color, it would be impossible to list them all on one color wheel. However, a color wheel can be divided up any number of times to include additional tints, shades, and hues to get even more complementary colors.
Viewing a basic six-color color wheel is the easiest way to visualize and understand how colors are made and how to find complementary color combinations. The most important thing to remember when it comes to complementary colors is that no matter the hue, tint, or shade of the color, the color directly opposite on the wheel is its complement.
Now that we know what complementary colors are and how they are made, let’s take a look at how we can put that knowledge to use in painting. Mixing paint can be a wonderful experience. By blending complementary colors together, you can create dynamic range in any painting or art piece.
Toning Down a Color with its Complement
To make a color less intense, you can use its opposite and complementary color. The more paint that you add, the more neutral the result will be. To tone down a bright red, add some green. For an even duller result, add even more green. A small amount of green paint mixed with red will result in a burnt sienna color. Adding even more green will result in a darker sienna. Mixing both colors together equally will give you a warm-toned brown. The tint and shade can be changed by mixing in white or black paint.
Enhance the Vibrancy and Contrast
Another thing to note about complementary colors is that a pair is composed of one cool color and one warm color. Warm colors are those in the orange, red, and yellow family. Blues, greens, and purples are considered cool hues. Visually, the use of one cool and one warm color creates what is called simultaneous contrast.
Simultaneous contrast is created by a visual illusion that occurs when two complementary colors are placed next to each other. Both colors will be brighter and more attractive to the eye. This is a technique artists use all the time to their advantage. Take a look at a painting of a realistic sunset. The gradient will range from deep blue to orange. This creates visual appeal from simultaneous contrast.
When used next to one another, complementary colors boost the vibrancy of their opposite. When you paint yellow or blue flowers on green grass, they blend into the grass. This is because green is a mixture of blue and yellow these two colors do not make for a complementary scheme. Instead, try red flowers and you will find that the red flowers pop right out of the field.
How to Use Complementary Colors
Try out these complementary color experiments to learn even more. These examples can give you more ideas for art and color theory. Try mixing up your own paint swatches using complementary colors. Experimenting on your own can help you learn and remember how complementary colors react.