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Opposite of Green: Complementary Color Wheel Surprises

Curious about what color is the opposite of green on the color wheel? Well, while this complementary colors question has one relatively simple answer, buckle up because there’s also a more complicated correct reply.

As background, I’m an artist and teacher named Lillie who greatly enjoys hand-illustrating lessons like “What is the Opposite of Orange?” Despite my years of experience in the field of color theory, I am always delighted — and sometimes surprised — by the answers. Let’s dive in!

Opposite of green
The opposite of green, in the RYB color wheel.

Opposite of Green

In the traditional RYB color wheel, which I’ve illustrated above, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue, and the secondary colors are orange, green, and purple. As you can see, in this model the opposite of green is red, because they sit directly across from each other, and thus provide the highest possible contrast when used together.

As we learned in “What Does Red and Green Make?” another feature of complementary colors is that they are inverts. This means that when you mix them together, they cancel each other out and form a neutral like brown, black, or gray.

This also meshes with what we learned in “What Colors Make Green?” To form green, we put together the primary colors, blue and yellow, and leave red out. Therefore, red is the opposite.

Complementary colors in RGB
The complements in the RGB color wheel.

Complementary Colors in RGB and CMYK

Here’s what makes things so complicated: More than one color wheel exists, and you need to use a different one depending on your context! If you’re working with screens and web pages, use the RGB color wheel, which has the primary colors red, green, and blue, and the secondary colors yellow, magenta, and cyan.

In the RGB model, the complement of green is actually… magenta! (This is a bright purplish-pink like fuchsia color.) The CMYK model (illustrated below) has the same answer, even though the primary and secondary colors are flipped on the wheel. See my article on the opposite of pink for more complexities about this.

Green invert in CMYK
Green’s invert in CMYK.

Do Green and Red or Magenta Go Well Together?

Now that we know that they’re complementary colors, do green and red go well together? What about green and magenta (what red and purple make in the RYB system)? The answer is that it depends what effect you’re going for.

The thing with opposite colors is that they provide the highest possible contrast when put together. If you’re looking for something bright and eye-popping, using inverts together is fabulous — as with holiday drawings. If you want something more subtle and calm, however, consider just using another cool color with green, like blue or purple.

Color Changes Between Models

It’s worth noting that the color called “green” looks different, depending on which color model you’re using. As you can see in my illustration below, the RYB green is darker (though not as dark as viridian color), while the RGB and CMYK green is a brighter, lighter, almost lime shade.

Green, red, and magenta
Green, red, and magenta, illustrated.

Green’s Figurative Opposite

Now, since I’m an English teacher in addition to being an artist, I feel compelled to add in that “green” also has a non-literal meaning, in figurative language. Figuratively, calling someone “green” means they are new or inexperienced, so the opposite of that would be “experienced.”

Nature’s Green Inverse

In the natural world, a field or tree is bright green when it’s alive and healthy. in this context, therefore, the opposite of green would be brown, since that’s the color of leaves or grass that have perished or become dormant. If we’d colored a leaf dull brown instead of mint green color, it wouldn’t look so healthy, would it? But now we know that what’s opposite in nature is not opposite in color theory.

Opposite of Green, in Sum

I hope this investigation about the opposite of green has been useful — and maybe even surprisingly illuminating. Do check out my article on the opposite of red, and let me know what else you’d like me to illustrate!

Want more? Click on over to my illustrated answer to, “What is the Opposite of Blue on the Color Wheel?”