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Opposite of Yellow: Color Wheel Surprises

What is the opposite of yellow on the color wheel? This complementary colors question may seem simple, but in fact there are multiple correct answers! Let’s explore them, shall we?

As background, I am an artist and teacher named Lillie who is fascinated with color theory. I hand-draw all of the illustrations on this site, and do hours of research and experimentation to create articles for you — from “What is the Opposite of Blue?” and beyond.

Opposite of yellow
What’s the opposite of yellow?

Complementary or Invert Colors

On a color wheel, the color opposite any given one on the color wheel is called the invert of complementary color. (See my article on compliment vs. complement for why this is spelled with an “e.”) Here’s the issue, however: there are several different color wheels! Let’s start with the most well-known one.

Opposite of Yellow

The most commonly understood color wheel is the one you probably learned in elementary school: the RYB model. In this model, the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue, and the secondary colors are orange, green, and purple.

As you can see in my illustration above, in the RYB color wheel, the opposite of yellow is purple. (You may have seen this coming if you read my recent lesson on the opposite of purple.)

This means that if you juxtapose those two colors next to each other, they will have high contrast and visual excitement, and if you mix them together, they’ll cancel each other out into a neutral like brown. (See “What do Yellow and Purple Make? for more on this.)

You can also test this out with a scientific optical illusion with your eyes. If you stare for 30 seconds at something purple, then look at a blank white wall, you’ll see a yellow aura.

Yellow's complementary color in RGB
Yellow’s complementary color in RGB.

Yellow’s Complement in RGB and CMYK

Now let’s move on to the other two color wheels, which give us a totally different answer about which color is the opposite of yellow! As you can see in my illustration above, yellow’s complement in the RGB model (used in screens) is blue, because the primary colors in this system are red, green, and blue.

Below, you can see my illustration of what the CMYK color wheel (used in printing) looks like. Though the primary and secondary colors are flipped from the RGB model, the answer about yellow’s invert color is the same: blue is what sits across from it on the wheel. (This is a pure blue, not azure color.)

Yellow's invert in CMYK.
Yellow’s invert in CMYK.

Do Yellow and Purple or Blue Go Well Together?

Now that we know the two possible opposites of yellow, this begs the question: Do yellow and purple go well together? What about yellow and blue? (Note that in the RYB model, yellow and blue make green, not a neutral!)

Well, part of the purpose of identifying a complementary color is to find the highest contrast possible. If you are going for an intense, eye-popping piece of art, fashion, or decor, they’re fabulous together. As I explained in my article about the opposite of red, however, if you want something more subtle, maybe stick with colors that have less contrast — or steer away from warm colors like yellow, altogether.

Yellow, purple, and blue
Yellow, purple, and blue, illustrated.

Opposite of Yellow, in Sum

I hope this article has been useful, as well as interesting. Now that you know the opposite of yellow (in three different color wheel systems), what else would you like me to illustrate and explain beyond my recent lesson on the opposite of purple? Do share!

Want more? Check out the wonderful intermediate colors located between primary and secondary colors on the color wheel! I find them so beautiful…