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What is the Opposite of Red on a Color Wheel?

We’ve just answered the question, “What is the opposite of orange?” Now, moving on in the color wheel, it’s time to investigate another complementary colors query: the opposite of red! Our answer may surprise you, because it’s actually not that simple.

As background, I am an artist and teacher named Lillie, and I enjoy hand-illustrating lessons on a wide range of color questions. “What do red and yellow make?” was a fun recent one.

Complementary or Inverted Colors

First, what do we mean by “opposite color?” When someone says that, or “inverted color,” they are usually talking about complementary colors: the two colors that are directly across from one another on a color wheel. 

Complementary colors (see my lesson on complementary vs. complimentary) are useful because when they are placed next to each other, they vibrate and pop out to the eye in a way that is pleasing, and when they are mixed together, they cancel each other out and make a neutral like gray. Here’s the thing that makes it complicated, though: there’s more than one model of the color wheel, depending on your context!

Opposite of red
The opposite of red in the RYB model.

The RYB Color Wheel

The classic color wheel used with paints and elementary school classes around the world is the RYB model. In this framework, red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors, which form the secondary colors, orange, green, and purple.

In the RYB color wheel — as you can see from my illustration above — the opposite of red is green. (You may have seen this coming if you read my article about the opposite of green already.)

Indeed, when these colors are juxtaposed next to each other, they have such an intense contrast that they almost wiggle off the page! They are highly useful for design, fashion, and decor to create balance and excitement. 

By extension, the opposite of pink is light green, since pink is just red plus white. We simply add white to the other side of the wheel to get mint as the complement.

Red, green, and cyan
Red, green, and cyan, illustrated. See how they “pop?”

Meanwhile, as we learned in “What do red and green make?” when mixed together, they cancel each other out and become brown, black, or gray. This is why green is sometimes called the inverse of red, or its invert.

You can actually see this inversion yourself in a scientifically-based optical illusion. If you stare at something red for 30 seconds, then stare at a blank white wall, you’ll see a green aura!

Complement of red in RGB
The complement of red in the RGB color wheel.

Opposite of Red in RGB and CMYK

Now let’s move on to the other two color wheels. In the RGB system used in screens, the primary colors are red, green, and blue, and they form the secondary colors magenta, cyan, and yellow. In this RGB color wheel, the opposite of red is cyan — a light and bright greenish blue (a bit more green than azure color).

In the CMYK color model used in printing, the foundational colors are the same as RGB — the primary and secondary colors are just switched. Hence, the CMYK color wheel has the same result as RGB: the complement or inverse of red is cyan because they sit directly across from each other on the wheel. (Our color mixing and contrasting has taken some surprising turns, eh?)

Red inverse in CMYK
Red’s inverse in CMYK.

What is the Opposite of Red?

Now you know that the answer to “What is the opposite of red?” is green… if you’re talking about the traditional RYB color wheel. However, the answer is cyan in RGB or CMYK. Which art lesson would you like me to illustrate next, beyond my recent article on the opposite of purple? Do share!

Want more? Check out “What is the Opposite of Blue?”