Red is a color with a strong political and religious history. This article will compare shades of red colors including imperial, scarlet, and cardinal.

woman pointing at red paint colors

Red is associated with the pope and the Catholic church as the color of redemption and the passion of Christ. It is associated with royalty; at one point, the products that made up and fixed red dye were extremely rare. Reds and purples were reserved for royalty.

Curiously, red is also the color of barns. Why? Early farmers sealed their barns in linseed oil because it was cheap. They added ferrous iron to lower the risk of mold, which stained barns red. Bright red barn paint is the off-shoot of this stain.

Red Colors Compared: Imperial vs Scarlet vs Cardinal

Imperial

Imperial red is a hot color with a cool base. It leans more toward pink than it does orange thanks to the high ratio of blue blended into the color. This would be a wonderful red to pair with a charcoal grey or a cadet blue.

It should be noted that red will never relax against another color. It will always stand out. The goal when choosing a red is to look for colors that coordinate rather than contrast, unless contrast is your goal.

To get the best coordination with reds, look for impure colors. Grey is a pairing of black and white. It may have a blue or a yellow base. To pair most effectively with imperial red, you will want a grey with more blue than red. If you use a yellow-based gray, imperial red will contrast.

If you want to pair this with a blue, make sure that the RGB number has a balance between red and green. A pure or royal blue will create a strong contrast to this color; adding red and green to that blue will allow the blue to serve as a foil for imperial red.

Visual contrast can be quite exciting; for example, a sports jersey can draw your attention from blocks away. However, in your home, this much contrast can start to feel rather chaotic.

imperial red block color with paint cans

If you want to use imperial red in your home, consider using it in small patches and in portable items, such as pillows and throws.

An accent wall of imperial red will be extremely stimulating all the time.

In an office, it can be effective. In your bedroom or family room, it may be a source of agitation.

RGB: 231, 41, 57
Hex Code: #ED2939

imperial red paint splat

Scarlet

Scarlet is a pure red. This is a shade that always comes out swinging. If you love red in your home decor, this is the most powerful shade you can use. It makes a statement all the time.

People are often encouraged to plant red blooming flowers to draw pollinators. Curiously, bees can’t see red. However, pollinating birds can see red and are more inclined to visit red flowers than lighter colors and pastels.

If you are interested in drawing hummingbirds to your balcony or yard, plant scarlet flowers.

There is no calming scarlet. A simple way to get the most out of this color is to pair it with a dark, smoky pallet. Rich greens, velvety greys, and deep grey-blue tones will all serve as a supportive foil for scarlet. You want colors that will be dark and saturated enough to anchor scarlet.

If you pair it with a pale green, such as celery or mint, this red will grow teeth in terms of what it does to your home visually. Contrast quickly becomes overpowering if the color you put beside scarlet isn’t really saturated.

Textures can also increase the visual variety if your scarlet is getting to be too much. Gloss white and black trim paint will hold its own. Mirrored pieces and metallic objects with a lot of light bounce can draw down the intensity of scarlet.

imperial red, scarlet red, cardinal red paint colors

If you’re not sure about using scarlet on an entire wall but you really want some red to brighten your space, pair red with a variety of shapes.

One can of scarlet spray paint used on a variety of small frames, particularly if you can use squares, rectangles, ovals, and round frames, can create wonderful visual interest without overloading the space.

These small frames can also add a splash of kitsch; images of old advertisements can fill these frames for little money and great effect.

RGB: 187,0,0
Hex Code: #BB0000

scarlet red paint splat

Cardinal

Cardinal red is another shade that is quite close to cherry red and can actually sit side by side with fuchsia and not clash. Do be aware that this is a red that will lean if you pair it with cool colors.

Cardinal red against royal blue will stay fiercely red. Pair it with teal and it will lean toward an intense pink thanks to the high level of blue in this red blend.

You can also pair this red with warm tones. Against a deep, smoky olive green, this red will intensify and stay red. The cardinal red mix contains both blue and yellow; it just contains more blue than yellow. If you pair this color with rusts, greens, or a yellow-based grey, it will lean toward brick red.

Curiously, this red will also pair with light colors. Unlike the intense scarlet, which will completely wipe out a lighter shade of green or blue, cardinal and aqua or cardinal and mint can work.

Be aware that it will lean towards pink if you pair it with anything blue.

If you want a red wall, consider putting this color on the wall with a thick nap roller. Red paint is a great option to amend with textures; if you’ve ever wanted to add a sandy or suede texture to a wall paint, use at least a 3/8″ roller cover and buy enough to do at least two coats.

A red wall will draw all eyes anyway. Adding a texture will create hints of shadow. The color will change as the light changes and the shadows will give you a visual break.

RGB: 196, 30, 58
Hex Code: #C41E3A

cardinal red paint splat

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