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 the pictured 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 Contrast: 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; Chiaroscuro.
- Orange/Blue Contrast: Became very common during the Turn of the Millennium, its prominence is due to human skin tones having a median orange tint and blue being the color that contrasts the most with orange.
- Green/Purple Contrast: 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.
- Red/Blue Contrast (sometimes Red/Green-Blue Contrast): Used to contrast hot and cold or earth and water; 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 Contrast: usually this contrast plays with the symbolic 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).
- Yellow+White/Green+Blue+Red+Black+Purple Contrast: 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 and Color-Coded for Your Convenience. 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.
- The Hulk, in his most iconic version, is green with purple pants.
- 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.
- Also from DC, most incarnations of Brainiac use the green-purple contrast, as well as some of his descendants, like Querl Dox/Brainiac V from Legion of Super-Heroes. Averted, however, with Brainiac II (from L.E.G.I.O.N), who wears black, white and yellow.
- Superman and Spider-Man both contrast Red and Blue.
- Spider-Man 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 daughter, Ravager, also follow this color pattern.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Additionally, Mario and Luigi contrast one another's trademark hat and shirt colors (Red/Green), as do Wario and Waluigi (Yellow/Purple).
- The Legend of Zelda:
- The Gerudo, including Ganondorf, have had a recurring Red/Blue color motif in their clothes ever since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Gets a subtle Call-Forward in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, where the Mecha-Mooks in time-shifted areas of Lanayru Desert (which later becomes Gerudo Desert) also feature this Red/Blue contrast.
- In keeping with the Mirror Universe motif, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds gives Princess Zelda of Hyrule blond (i.e. yellow) hair and gives Princess Hilda of Lorule purple hair. The same is true of Link and Ravio.
- The ancient Sheikah Magitek objects in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will glow orange if Link hasn't activated them or interacted with them yet, and blue if he has.
- 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 like orange/blue, pink/teal, green/purple, and yellow/pink among others.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.