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What is the Opposite of Blue? Color Wheel Fun…

As our color mixing chart fun continues, a question has started to pop up: What is the opposite of blue on the color wheel? The answer is WAY more complicated than I realized, because it turns out that complementary colors depend on which model you’re talking about.

Here is some background before we start this investigation. I am an artist and teacher named Lillie, and I hand-illustrate all of the art in my lessons on this site. Sometimes I even go a little wild with the drawings, as with our recent article on mint green! Ready for today’s tutorial? Let’s go!

What is the opposite of blue
What is the opposite of blue?

Complementary Colors

In order to answer this question, we need to back up and define a few art vocabulary terms. First, the color wheel (or “colour” wheel, if you’re British) is a diagram in color theory created in 1666 by Sir Isaac Newton in order to organize and chart how colors relate to each other. (Note: In the compliment vs. complement spelling quandary, this is the latter, because it’s about completion.)

Complementary colors are the colors that are directly across from one another on the wheel, and thus provide high contrast when juxtaposed together. But wait — there are MULTIPLE different color wheels now, so there are actually several answers to “What is the opposite of blue?”

Opposite of blue
The opposite of blue in a RYB color wheel.

The RYB Color Model and Wheel

The traditional color wheel that many of us learned with paints in Kindergarten art class has red, yellow, and blue as the primary colors. These then combine in the wheel to form the secondary colors, orange, green, and purple.

In this color wheel, which I’ve illustrated above, the opposite of blue is orange, because the two sit directly across from one another in the circle. (You may have seen this coming if you already read my article on the opposite of orange.) Indeed, you can see that they sort of “vibrate” and “pop” when placed next to each other — a sign of complementary color contrast.

What is the Opposite of Blue in the RGB Model?

But wait — there’s more! For screens, a different color model is used: the RGB wheel. In this model, the primary colors are red, green, and blue, and they form the secondary colors, magenta (kind of like fuchsia), yellow, and cyan.

In the RGB model, the opposite of blue is yellow. Note: RGB is an “additive” color model, meaning combining all three primary colors makes white — not black, like the subtractive RYB or CMYK models. Let’s check out my illustration of what this looks like, then explore that second one mentioned….

See what colors are facing each other in the RGB color wheel?
See what colors are facing each other in the RGB color wheel?

The CMYK Color Model

In the subtractive CMYK color model, which is used in printing, cyan (slightly lighter and greener than azure color), magenta, and yellow are the primary colors, and the secondary colors are red, green, and blue. Because it’s the same colors but flipped primary and secondary, this color wheel produces the same result as the RGB wheel for the opposite of blue: yellow.

It is bizarre to me how different each of the models can be. For example, in the RYB model, blue and yellow aren’t complementary colors — rather, as we learned in “Blue and Yellow Make What Color?” they form green.

Opposite of blue in CMYK
The opposite of blue in CMYK.

Other Meanings of the Inverse of Blue

As an ELA teacher in addition to being an artist, I have to address the fact that the word blue also has a meaning in a common English language idiom that adds a new dimension to our question. “Feeling blue” is figurative language that means feeling sad. Therefore, in this context, the opposite of blue would be happy!

Meanwhile, in the world of gender traditions in the U.S., blue is associated with boys and males, so in this framework (for example, in a gender reveal party), blue would be the opposite of pink: the color associated with girls and females. Isn’t it interesting how science doesn’t actually match with cultural norms?

What is the Opposite of Blue?

Did these different answers to “What is the opposite of blue on a color wheel?” blow your mind? They sure did for me! If you want to take this to next step, check out “What Does Orange and Blue Make When the Colors are Mixed Together?”

Want more? Check out the many interesting answers to the question: “What Colors Make Purple?” Despite being an artist for decades, these “color math” investigations continue to surprise and delight me — and I hope you, too. Happy mixing!