Follow TV Tropes


Color Contrast

Go To

The colors that humans can see are known to become more distinct to viewers when placed in juxtaposition against another color. Knowing this rule of perception, creators of visual media use Color Contrast to draw the viewer's attention to an image, frequently using something akin to a color wheel to know which colors contrast with what.

The general rule of thumb is that a warm color (red, orange, yellow) should be juxtaposed with a cool color (green, blue, purple). Several types of contrast have common uses:

  • Black/White: The most common type of contrast as well as the most recognizable. Though early films used this by necessity, it can also be used deliberately, whether in the style of these old movies or for certain symbolic situations that rely on the popular idea of "as different as black and white" referring to polar opposites. See Light Is Good and Dark Is Evil or Light Is Not Good and Dark Is Not Evil; Chiaroscuro. Sometimes select objects are coloured differently for extra contrast.
  • Red/Blue: Used to contrast hot and cold or fire and ice; see Red Oni, Blue Oni. Also used when creators want to give the same good/evil dichotomy as Black/White Contrast but either don't want to go the monochrome route or think that Black/White Contrast is overused.
  • Red/Green: Usually this contrast plays with the symbolism of the two colors. For example, red can attach a vivid emotion to an element in an otherwise bleak green Color Wash universe. Alternatively, the peaceful, lively, cool green of nature can be contrasted with the violence of some red elements (like blood). Also a prevalent Christmas color scheme.
  • Orange/Blue: Became very common during the Turn of the Millennium, its prominence is due to (lighter) human skin tones having a median orange or peachy tint and blue being the color that contrasts the most with orange.
  • Yellow/Purple: Not as common as red/green or orange/blue, but still sometimes shows up as they are the other two complementary colors besides the first two pairs. Can be portrayed for royal and aristocratic factions due to the historical importance of both colors.
  • Green/Purple: Common in forest settings, as the color green is already in abundance and purple, whether it's found in flowers or other sources, is bound to be there as well. Bodies of water found in forests are occasionally made purple instead of blue to fit this.
  • Yellow/White with Green/Blue/Red/Black/Purple: Used in heraldry to create distinctive coats of arms.

On some occasions, creators go out of their way to avoid Color Contrast. Creators may want a particular image not to stick out, but to be "flat," often because the mood of a scene needs to be either gloomy or simply understated. The Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty typically guides such decisions. Other times, creators may think that Color Contrast is too unnatural compared to real life; this results in Real Is Brown.

Compare Chiaroscuro and Mood Lighting, when the contrast comes more from lighting than from color. See also Color Wash, Color-Coded for Your Convenience, and Splash of Color. Hailfire Peaks uses this often to contrast the two or more Video Game Settings mixed into it. Also often seen between Primary Color Champions and their Secondary Color Nemeses.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Kaiju Girl Caramelise: Whenever Kuroe Akaishi turns into Harugon, she has mostly blue skin with her horns, claws, spikes, wings, and eyes being a pinkish-red.
  • Slayers has Xelloss, with purple hair and largely black clothes, and Filia with yellow hair and white clothes. They're also representatives of the two opposing factions, demons and dragons.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion's Evangelion Unit-01 is noted for its purple armor splashed liberally with green.

  • Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe: The forest scenery is painted in dark greens and browns, with the exception of the pond and the two men wear black suit jackets. By contrast, the picnic implements are painted in comparatively saturated hues (blue, orange, and light beige), while the two women are naked and white-skinned. This helps draw the eye to the aforementioned elements.
  • Wassily Kandinsky's paintings from the Der Blaue Reiter era are easily recognizable for their focus not on shape but on color. They are full of triadic and dual color palettes that vividly contrast each other. His "Squares with Concentric Circles", for example, explores all kinds of combinations, even some unusual ones (yellow/blue, green/orange, red/blue, etc.). His "Landscape With Two Poplars" uses a green/yellow juxtaposition.
  • The Lady of Shalott (Waterhouse): The river's dark hues contrast greatly with the lady's Ethereal White Dress, therefore serving to encase her frame and drawing attention to her and her richly-colored tapestry.
  • Nefertiti Bust: The colors of the bust contrast along two duos. Primarily, there's the presence of Orange/Blue Contrast from the blue of the crown against its own gold and Nefertiti's brown skin. Secondarily, there's the Red/Green Contrast from the green and red band that encircles the crown in the middle and vertically splits into three bands at the back of the crown. It all makes for a striking look.
  • Portrait of Madame X: She is portrayed as incredibly pale, made even more so by her brown hair and stunning black décolleté dress.
  • The Problem We All Live With: Bridges' dark skin contrasts very sharply with her clean white dress, drawing attention to her and her Blackness.
  • Venus and Cupid (Gentileschi): The bright blue blanket Venus is resting on contrasts with the equally saturated red pillows and curtain. This serves to encase the goddess, making a sharp division between the forefront and the background planes. Therefore bringing attention solely to her.

    Comic Books 
  • The Incredible Hulk:
    • Hulk, in his most iconic version, is green with purple pants.
    • His cousin She-Hulk has green skin and wears a (partially) purple costume.
  • Also from Marvel Comics: Green Goblin, the Skrulls true form, Drax the Destroyer, Impossible Man, all them with green skin (in Goblin's case, fake skin) and purple clothes.
    • All the Green Goblin's evil sucessors named Hobgoblin used the orange-blue contrast: blue for the scaled parts of his costume (imitating reptilian-like skin covering arms and legs), orange for the rest of the costume. Mask is pale-yellow.
  • The Joker, from DC Comics: clothes mostly purple with some green, plus green hair.
  • Sin City is in black and white with the exception of certain objects that are coloured for extra contrast.
  • Superman:
  • Spider-Man contrasts Red and Blue. He also had black-and-white contrast costumes: 1- the alien symbiote; 2- the common fabric replica of the alien outfit; 3- the Future Foundation version.
  • Two masked mercenaries created by George Pérez share the orange-blue contrast: Taskmaster, from Marvel Comics, and Deathstroke, from DC Comics. The latter's daughter, Ravager, also follow this color pattern.
  • The Mighty Thor: Thor's wardrobe tends to feature primarily red fabrics, while his Arch-Enemy and evil brother Loki has primarily green fabrics. Furthermore, the metal in Thor's armor is generally silverish, while Loki's armor is goldish. They are both fond of black though (also not always enemies... their relationship is complicated and their family really dysfunctional).
  • Robin: Tim Drake took advantage of the contrast between green and red by switching out the yellow cape of his predecessors for a black one with yellow lining, and the shorts for green pants.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Little Mermaid (1989): Word of God confirmed that one of the reasons Ariel was a redhead instead of the traditional blonde was because of how red would compliment the color of her green tail.
    • Also, as a mermaid, Ariel wears a purple seashell bra, which contrasts to her the color of her tail. Interestingly she is the only mermaid whose seashell bra does not match the color of her tail.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Amélie: the visual palette of the movie is dominated by a Red/Green contrast (and yellow) that gave a visual impression of warmth and nostalgia
  • Avatar emphasizes the purple part of the Green/Purple Contrast a lot more than most forest settings.
  • Django Unchained: the peace/violence symbolism of the Green/Red contrast is used to oppose slaves/masters. Red is associated with Candie, the rich decoration of master's interiors and blood while Green is associated to Django (and his green mantle) and the green cotton fields and forests where slaves lives.
  • Godzilla 2000 gives Godzilla dark green skin and contrasting purple dorsal spikes, in contrast to how Godzilla usually has charcoal-grey skin and white spikes.
  • Kill Bill contains an action scene where everyone is a sillhouette against different brightly colored backgrounds.
  • Sin City is mostly in black and white, but adds color to certain objects for extra contrast, same as its comic book counterpart
  • The Matrix: The "Woman in the Red Dress" of course. Beside being gorgeous, her bright colored dress stands out in the washed-out green world of the Matrix. Adding to the significance is that she isn't part of the Matrix, but rather an element introduced into the training programs created by Mouse; in other words, a human component in an otherwise artificial environment.
  • TRON has Orange/Blue Contrast for its Tron Lines, with Orange corresponding to the bad guys and Blue corresponding to the good guys. TRON: Legacy carries over this contrast, while also giving a more monochromatic Black/White Contrast to the non-Tron Line elements.
  • Vertigo uses a red-green contrast. Most notably green is used to represent Madeline and the feelings she inspires.
  • Wes Anderson loves this. Especially in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy Krueger wears a red and green striped sweater as part of his signature outfit. Word of God explained that this particular color combination was chosen because he read in some article that it's the one that the human eye has the most difficulty processing, thus adding to Freddy's unsettling appearance.

  • The wolf pack in Child of the Wolves is led by the all-white Snowdrift and her all-black mate Ebony.
  • The Splash of Color in several illustrations in One Cool Friend, has a lot of contrasting color, like Magellan's red scarf and backpack contrasting blue ice packs, and Elliot's father's green clothes contrasting his red hair.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Friends has this in Monica's apartment. She uses a lot of green and purple for her color scheme as well as other colors in the contrast. This is to reflect at how neat and upkeep Monica keeps her place whereas in contrast, Joey and Chandler's apartment is very dull and faded with all the colors blending together.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: Naturally the deep red of the Handmaids dress is contrasted with the blue-green worn by the Wives, and the faded green of the Marthas. More generally, the settings are mostly composed of blue, green and yellow elements that all make the Handmaids visually stand out.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Some of the oldest Slaaneshi troops use eye-wateringly clashing colors as a matter of principle, both because their god is worshiped through sensory excess of all kinds (both by themselves and their enemies) and because their senses are dulled by centuries of overload and abuse (for example, their armor is hot pink and black because it's one of the few combinations they're still able to tell apart).
    • Orks hold that colors have different effects and paint themselves and their vehicles to achieve the same effects (most famously Red Ones Go Faster, and blue is lucky, black is tough, etc.). Fanon holds that orks believe a combination of orange and purple is the sneakiest possible combination. Why? Well, have you ever seen a seven-foot-tall green-skinned lunatic berserker dressed in hideously contrasting colors? Of course not! That's how sneaky they are.

    Video Games 
  • Donkey Kong Country Returns has certain levels where everything in the foreground is a black sillhouete with the exception of Donkey Kong's red tie and Diddy Kong's red hat.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • The original Super Mario Bros used very basic color contrasts. Red, blue, green and brown contrasts are abundant (the grass and water levels), sometimes with black and grey (the underground and snow levels) or red, black and grey (the Castles). Justified, as the NES had an extremely limited color palette (53 colors) and they had very little memory to work with on the game.
    • Mario and Luigi contrast one another's trademark hat and shirt colors (Red/Green), as do Wario and Waluigi (Yellow/Purple).
    • The Streamers of Paper Mario: The Origami King usually go through areas that contrast their color. The red one goes through green grassy plains and a mountain; the blue one passes through an orange Forest of Perpetual Autumn; the yellow reaches to a desert that, because the sun is missing, looks to be a dark purple; and the green streamer eventually turns out to be held at Bowser's Castle, which is dark and red. Even the purple Streamer pops against the blue and white of the Great Sea.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • Splatoon focuses greatly on covering territory (and pretty much everything else) in ink, so having team colors popping out against each other is key. There are many colorful team combinations, with special mention going to the signature colors of each installment: orange/blue for the first game, pink/green for Splatoon 2, and yellow/purple for Splatoon 3.
  • In Ikaruga, the entire world is made of black ships that fire black/red coloured energy, and white ships that fire white/blue energy. The player character's ship can switch between the two colours, doing double damage to ships of the opposite colour, and becoming immune to the energy that matches the ship, though the ship can still can be hurt by energy of the opposite colour.
  • MadWorld is in black and white, with the exception of blood being colored in red.
  • In the Metroid series, Samus Aran's standard Power Suit uses reds, oranges, and yellows for the main body, and greens and blues for the visor and highlights. Her helmet and chest armor also stay red when she gains non-standard, predominantly blue suits like the Fusion Suit in Metroid Fusion, the P.E.D. Suit in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and the Dread Suit in Metroid Dread.
  • Pokémon loves using Red/Blue contrast for their main game titles. Most of the first pair of games of each generation have box arts that are primarily red hue versus blue hue, such as Pokémon Red and Bluenote  and Pokémon Sun and Moonnote .
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, as well as most other Star Wars works, the Empire's color scheme uses a lot of red and black/dark gray, while the Republic tends toward blue and white/light gray. Also, in visual representations of alignment, light-side is blue and dark-side is red.
  • Undertale uses this as a game mechanic. Battles involve dodging Bullet Hell type bullets against a black background. Most of these bullets are white and have to be dodged, but blue attacks can be avoided by not moving when you touch them and orange attacks will only hurt you if you stand still.
  • Halo has the United Nations Space Command give its soldiers and vehicles a predominantly green color scheme with a boxy, angular aesthetic, evoking the green camo of real-life human soldiers. The enemy Covenant, in contrast, has soldiers and vehicles with a predominantly purple color scheme and a curvier aesthetic. In fact, a sub-faction of Covenant who defect to join the humans switch their colors to green.

    Web Original 
  • John Kricfalusi has written many blog posts detailing how to properly use Color Contrast in animation. He's also noted how anime is brimming with good color mixers (an unusual break from his general dislike for anime).
  • Most wiki sites, This Very Wiki included, have Blue Links and Red Links, to signify links that leads somewhere, and links that don't.
  • Dad: The background for a majority of videos is a wall that is half-blue and half-pink, making a gradiant in the middle.

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers:
    • Most (or maybe all) incarnations of Optimus Prime are red and blue.
    • The Constructicons from the original cartoon The Transformers are green and purple, as is Scorponok.
    • As a homage to one of the Constructicons from the original show, Scavenger, from Transformers: Armada, is also green and purple. Ironically, he is an Autobot.
  • Green/Purple contrasts are very common on Danny Phantom, often in the form of green ghosts and purple backgrounds. The Fright Knight most noticeably contains both colors in his design.
  • The Legend of Korra: Opposing spirits of light and dark, Raava and Vaatu, look like color-inversions of each other. Raava is white and cyan, while Vaatu is black and red.

    Real Life 
  • Used in heraldry for very pragmatic reasons - contrasting the "metals" gold (yellow) and silver (white) against the "colours" blue, red, black, green and purple makes for a very distinctive shape that can be recognized from far away. Which means you can easily determine whether the guy at the other side of the battlefield is your ally and possibly in need of help or your enemy meeting up with his cronies. Once coats of arms were no longer used to identify factions in battle, the designs became more complicated and the rules were not adhered to as strictly.

Alternative Title(s): Colour Contrast