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Complementary colors are pairs of colors that are in some way opposites of each other.

Color science

In color science, two colors are called complementary if, when mixed they produce a shade of grey (including white, or even black in a subtractive system). In most perceptual color models, white is towards the center of the color space, and complementary colors will lie roughly opposite each other. The clearest example is the HSV color space, in which complementary colors lie opposite each other on the wheel (or on any circular cross-section).

In most discussions of complementary color, only fully saturated, bright colors are considered. However, under the formal definition, brightness and saturation are also factors. Thus, in the formal CIE 1931 color space, any color of a particular dominant wavelength can be balanced to create white/grey by adding a particular amount (i.e. brightness) of the complementary wavelength, or a different amount of less saturated versions of the complementary wavelength.

Primary colors and secondary colors are typically paired in this way:

  • red and cyan (where cyan is the mixture of green and blue)
  • green and magenta (where magenta is the mixture of red and blue)
  • blue and yellow (where yellow is the mixture of red and green)

Art and design

Because of the limited range of colors that was available throughout most of the history of art, many artists still use a traditional set of complementary pairs, including:

  • red and green
  • blue and orange
  • yellow and purple

The complement of each primary color (red, blue, or yellow) is roughly the color made by mixing the other two in a subtractive system (red + blue = purple; blue + yellow = green; red + yellow = orange). When two compliments are mixed they produce a grey or brown.

The use of complementary colors is an important aspect of aesthetically pleasing art and graphic design. When placed next to each other, complements make each other appear brighter. On an artistic color wheel, complementary colors are placed opposite one another. Although these artistic complements may not be precise complements under the scientific definition, most artistic color wheels are laid out roughly like the HSV color wheel discussed above. de:Komplementärfarbe fr:Couleur complémentaire hu:Kiegészítő szín nl:Complementaire kleur no:komplementærfarge zh:互補色

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