Everything You Know About Warm and Cool Colors Is Wrong

Red, orange, yellow – warm colors right? Green, blue, purple are cool colors, right? Wrong. Warm and cool colors are not what you think they are.

warm and cool colors

The truth is, that every color is both warm AND cool, and that warm and cool colors are all relative to each other.

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Take purple for example. Purple is made up of red and blue, and lies between them on the color wheel. So two different ways to describe purple would be to call it either a warm blue, or a cold red. It can accurately be described both ways.

Green is either a very cold yellow, or a very warm blue. Orange can be described as being either a cold red or a warm yellow.

It also applies to the primary colors (red, yellow & blue). Take yellow, for example. Most lemons are a cooler variation of yellow, whereas mustard tends to be a warmer yellow.The color of lemons is often towards the cool, green side of the color yellow. The color of mustard leans towards the warm, orange side of yellow.

Using “warm” and “cool” to describe colors is simply a way of describing the hue of the color, or where it lands on the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple color wheel.

Want to learn more about warm and cool colors? Check our color theory worksheets.

warm and cool colors

More Color Theory Articles:

Triadic Colors

How to Make Blue Colors

Colors Opposite on the Color Wheel

Are you surprised to learn that all colors are both warm and cool? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Want to learn more about atelier training? Listen to SAA Director Mandy Theis on the Thriving Artist Podcast.

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  1. Haha!! This makes so much sense!! I admit to teaching my students the basics of ‘warm and cool’ colours…hence incorrectly (for years!), although already knowing that sometimes purple (for example) is indeed closer to red, or closer to blue, offering a cooler or warmer hue…I should lead with that and carry the colour wheel me at all times for reference! I finally put a more comprehensive colour wheel in my art bag when I visit my classes. Thank you for sharing this insight!

  2. I’ve been stumbling over teaching warm and cool colors for years and feeling like I’m confusing my students. So much of what we teach, and of life in general, is relative. There is almost always some gray between the black and white, and good for all us (students included) to embrace it. This is very helpful. Thank you!

  3. Don’t forget the neutral colors. There are definitely cool and warm greys, browns, blacks, and whites.

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