Color Contrast

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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.

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.
  • 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.

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.

Examples of Color Contrast include:

Comic Books

  • The Hulk, in his most iconic version, is green with purple pants.


  • Avatar emphasizes the purple part of the Green-Purple Contrast a lot more than most forest settings.

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).