In the pigment spectrum, the primary colors are red, yellow and blue. When working with light, red and blue stay constant and green becomes the third primary color. The listing below deals with pigments.

color wheel showing primary, secondary, tertiary colors
Color Wheel

Primary Colors

Red

Red was once the color of royalty. Curiously, while red dye from plants was not uncommon, the royal red shades came from insects.

The red cochineal dye pulled from insects that live on the nopal cactus is both vibrant and stable. A common challenge for those trying to turn fabric the richest colors of red was fixing the dye into the fabric.

Proper dye saturates the fibers of the fabric weave and stays there. Some plants did, but cochineal dye was the first consistent red.

Red is one of the few RGB code colors that contains two O’s. It’s a bold color that contrasts both with other primary colors and may overpower other colors that you pair it with.

RGB Code: 255, 0, 0
HEX Code:: #FF0000

Yellow

Yellow is a common dye color, though most natural yellow dyes fade to lemon or cream. In ancient art techniques, the yellow tones found in pottery glazes, stained glass and paint often come from urine.

In decorative glassware of the early 20th century, the yellow uranium glass may still be radioactive enough to glow under a blacklight.

Yellow is also high on the contrast scale; though it has only one 0 in the RGB code, the other two numbers are maxed. This is not a color that will fade.

RGB Code: 255, 255, 0
HEX Code: #FFFF00

Blue

One ancient blue dye came from the Indigo plant and was commonly used in the land of India. The woad plant was used by the ancient Scots to dye their faces. Both indigo blue and woad blue are formulated to fade away. The ancient Israelites fixed a permanent blue dye with the help of a mollusk.

While blue is also a strong RGB primary, this is a color that is visually more soothing than yellow or red. While red is the color of fire and yellow the color of the sun, blue tones are related to water and sky.

RGB Code:: 0, 0, 255
HEX Code:: #0000FF

Red, yellow, blue wall art
Primary colors: Red, Yellow, Blue

Secondary Colors: What You Get When You Pair Two Primary Colors

Orange

Orange is a combination of red and green. The green dulls the red and the yellow warms up blend to orange. Orange has no blue in it at all, so blue tones will stand out against this color.

If you’re working with a blue base to a space, such as a blue carpet, you may have an easier time adding orange if you include green tones or if you lighten the orange shade to peach.

RGB Code: 255, 127, 0
HEX Code: #FF7F00

Green

When looking at pigments, green is an equal pairing of blue and yellow. This color offers a strong support to contrasting colors; because it’s an equal mix, the visible contrast from red and pink tones will be visually appealing rather than jarring to the eye.

Green can run the gamut from mint to aqua to teal. If you want to use it as a background color, pay special attention the amount of sunlight the space gets.

RGB Code: 0, 255, 0
HEX Code: #00FF00

Purple

Purple is a pairing of red and blue. As noted above, both of these colors are challenging to make permanent. When these pigments were paired, securing the color was even more of a challenge.

Purple was the color of royalty because there was a time when mixing this pigment and affixing it effectively to the fabric was both difficult and risky; if one pigment failed, the dying would fail.

RGB Code: 128, 0, 128
HEX Code: #800080

orange, green, purple, wall art
Secondary colors: Orange, Green, Purple

Tertiary Colors: When Primary Colors and Secondary Colors Combine

Vermilion

The rich shade of vermilion is orange combined with red. It is also called cinnamon or derived from cinnabar.

Because the saturation of red in this RGB blend is a much higher percentage than the other colors, this red will provide a strong contrast against other primary shades, especially those on the cool side.

RGB Code: 227, 66, 52
HEX Code: #E34234

Magenta

Because magenta is red combined with purple, it would be tempting to think that this blended color is easy to combine with other colors. However, the RGB code for magenta is a hot combination of red and blue.

It will coordinate well with pure blue and many purples, but this will not be a restful color.

RGB Code: 255, 0 255
HEX Code: #FF00FF

Violet

Violet is a lush pairing of purple combined with blue. Because the blue percentage is markedly higher than red, this pretty purple is actually quite easy to pair with other color. It squares up against many green shades and will work with amber, gold and yellow.

RGB Code: 143, 0, 255
HEX Code: #8F00FF

vermillion, magenta, violet wall art
Tertiary colors: Vermillion, Magenta, Violet

Teal

Teal is a lush tone of blue combined with green. There is no red in this color and offers a visual calm that includes both blue and green. If you love the look of green leaves against a blue sky, you can find a place for teal in your home.


RGB Code: 0, 128, 128
HEX Code: #008080

Chartreuse

Because chartreuse is green combined with yellow, this bright green shade actually has a fairly hot or strong quality when used on walls and in fabrics.

Because there is fundamentally twice as much green and yellow than there is blue, a little will go a long way. If you love it, go for it. Just be prepared for this color to draw a battle line near anything high in blue, such as aqua or teal.

RGB Code: 177, 188, 85
HEX Code: #B1BC55

Amber

While amber is a nicely balanced pairing of red and yellow, it’s important to note that this RGB code contains no blue. Technically, amber is yellow combined with orange.

Because orange is yellow combined with red, the yellow in this pigment will be extremely reactive to any blue you have. If you want a less intense amber, mix in a cream instead of a bright white; if there is any blue in your white mixing paint, you will end up with a color closer to mustard than amber.

RGB Code: 255, 198, 0
HEX Code: #FFC600

teal, chartreuse, amber wall art
Tertiary colors: Teal, Chartreuse, Amber

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