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Complementary colors on the color wheel.

Complementary colors are contrasting colors, appearing on opposite sides of the color wheel. | Layout & Design Glossary | Alpha Index to Full Glossary:

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Colors from different segments of the color wheel are contrasting colors. You may also see these referred to as complementary colors if they are directly or nearly directly opposite each other on the color wheel. A complementary color is one of the colors in a pair of high contrast colors — each complementary color completes the contrasting pair.

In design we tend to use the terms complementary or clashing more loosely than in the strict scientific color theory sense. Colors within a small range on the opposite side of the color wheel can be considered opposites, not just a specific color pair. Call it artistic license.

Blue and yellow are an example of complementary colors.

Complementary colors, when paired up, may create a nice high contrast pair of colors that increase readability or visibility. Complementary is often confused with complimentary so people may think that all complementary pairs go well together (complimentary = flattering) but that isn't always the case. Some complementary colors are less attractive pairings than others.

Using Complementary Colors
Common color combinations that use two, three, or four contrasting colors are described as complementary, double complementary, triad, and split-complementary color schemes.

Each additive primary color (RGB) pairs up nicely with a complementary subtractive (CMY) primary color to create contrasting pairs of colors. Vary the shades for additional complementary colors.

  • Red (additive) and aqua/cyan (subtractive)
  • Green (additive) and fuchsia/magenta (subtractive)
  • Blue (additive) and yellow (subtractive)
Also Known As: contrasting colors
Common Misspellings: complimentary colors

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