Discover green’s enigmatic symbolism, as well as how to pair with other colors to create a contemporary scheme. Pick up pro tips on how to design and decorate using the color green in this complete guide.

The color of growth, regeneration, and cleanliness, green is intertwined with the natural world and healthy living. Often employed by designers to convey environmental ideas or promote health products, green is also associated with cleanliness, luck, and prosperity.

Although psychologically perceived as a lethargic color, green’s links with wellbeing and the environment continue to make it an extremely popular and naturally beautiful color to use in designs. From emerald to viridian, and olive to aqua, green comes in a huge range of jewel-like, leafy, or blue-infused shades. Each one also has their own distinct symbolism and associations.

Skip to the end of the article to discover three on-trend green color palettes to use in your designs. You can also discover a whole spectrum of incredible colors to use in your designs with our new color tool.

What Colors Make Green?

On the visible spectrum, green sits between blue and yellow. In painting and printing, green is a secondary color, meaning that it is created by mixing two primary colors—yellow and blue.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Green Color Wheel

In the digital RGB color model, green is an additive primary color, alongside red and blue. These three colors are mixed together to create a full range of screen-friendly colors.

On a painter’s color wheel, green sits next to yellow on one side and blue on the other.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Painter's Color Wheel

Color wheel images adapted from contributor Antun Hirsman

Varieties of Green Colors

Green can vary in both shades (in which the green is mixed with black for a darker green) and tints (which are mixed with white, to produce a paler result). But, there are also a broad range of green varieties that are mixed with other colors, such as yellow, blue, gray, and brown.

  • Yellow-greens such as chartreuse (named after the French liquor which shares the distinctive color) and lime green have a lively, energetic feel.
  • Blue-greens such as aqua, sea green, and teal have a more subtle energy which helps designs to feel calmer and more chic.
  • Gray-greens like seafoam and sage are wintery and more somber than their yellow- and blue-green relations.
  • Brown-greens like dark olive have a formal and dignified air, which explains why they are often selected for military uniforms.

Explore the diverse world of green with the Shutterstock color tool, which explores palettes and images related to a range of vivacious and vibrant greens, including mint green, spruce, jade green, and pistachio.

Green’s Complementary Color

Green sits opposite to red on the color spectrum, creating the perfect high-contrast pairing of lethargic, calming green with hot-blooded, energizing red.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Complementary COlors

Color wheel images adapted from contributor Antun Hirsman

The Meaning of Green

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — The Meaning of Green
Image by contributor soft_light.

Perhaps because green is so common in nature, it is primarily associated with growth, life, energy, and fertility. It is the most healing and soothing color for the eye to process, and has been proven to enhance vision, stability, and endurance in human viewers.

Green’s association with healing and its proven ability to also help to alleviate anxiety and depression explains why it is often chosen to advertise drugs and other medical products.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Green and Healing
Image by contributor sylv1rob1.

“Absolute green is the most restful color, lacking any undertone of joy, grief or passion.”

– Wassily Kadinsky, artist

Compared to divisive blue and passionate red, green is often perceived as a neutral color, perhaps because throughout human evolution we became used to seeing a large amount of green in our daily lives. However, the downside of green’s neutrality is that it can become like background noise, with too much green tending to promote lethargy, laziness, and a lack of energy.

Aside from its environmental associations, green has a wide range of other meanings specific to certain cultural uses. For example:

  • Green can be symbolic of good luck, money, and prosperity. In Ireland green is the national color and is associated with good fortune. Irish children began the tradition of pinching people who forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day and this playful tradition is still practiced today.
  • Darker shades of green can symbolize greed, ambition, and wealth, which might explain why dark greens is popular for banking and exclusive or luxury branding.
  • Olive green, with its connections to the symbolic olive branch, can be symbolic of peace. But, ironically it is also frequently chosen as the color for military uniforms.
  • Green is the historic color of Islam, with the color representing the vegetation of Paradise. Green is featured in the flags of nearly all Islamic countries.
  • In the late 1800s author Mark Twain wrote about a character turning “green with envy,” but green’s association with jealousy has much deeper roots, stemming back to the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks believed that the body produced too much bile when a person was jealous or ill, giving the skin a green tint.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Green and Envy
Image by contributor Elena Sherengovskaya.

The Origins of Green

Green is the most commonly occurring colors in nature, with chlorophyll-producing plants making up a largely green outdoor environment. Many birds, mammals and reptiles followed suit, evolving green colorings to help camouflage themselves in jungle and forest environments.

There are also minerals that obtain their green coloring from their iron or chromium content, such as emerald, jade, and chlorite. Historically, some of these minerals have been prized as precious stones or jewels, and emerald in particular continues to have significant value today for both its rarity and beauty.

Because greens naturally occur in and are synonymous with nature, particular green shades are often associated with specific environments or climates. Hunter green has a rich, melancholic feel reminiscent of evergreen forests, for example, while jungle green has a cooler blue undertone that mimics the green tint of tropical plants.

Although green is generally associated firsthand with plants, some greens originate from chemical reactions. Celadon green is a jade green created by applying a thin glaze of iron oxide. In ancient China this particular green was considered so beautiful that only the eyes of royalty could behold it, and it was known as mi se, meaning “mysterious color.” The French “celadon” name was later given to this elegant color,. The name is based on the literary character of a French shepherd who wore pale green ribbons.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Celadon Vase
Image by contributor bjaru.

How to Design with Green

Green has been a design favorite for centuries, with the Victorians favoring deep, somber tones like sage and brunswick green for their interiors. Many of the chemicals used to create these pigments were in fact extremely poisonous, with the famous example of Napoleon having apparently been slowly poisoned by the arsenic-rich green wallpaper used in his room in St. Helena.

Although the wallpaper has since been proven not to have been the sole cause of his death, deadly pigments did little to dissuade consumers from the joys of green in their homes. Green remained in fashion in various incarnations beyond the Victorian period.

In the 1950s aqua and mint green were paired with baby pink to achieve the ideal Americana aesthetic for kitchens and Cadillacs. In the 1970s, avocado became the height of fashion and enjoyed immense popularity, both gastronomically and in interior design.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Designing with Green
Image by contributor Gestan.

Nowadays, green can be used in a wide variety of shades and hues to achieve different stylistic looks for graphic design, interiors, and product design.

Neons are enjoying a huge revival across graphic design, with punchy lime, chartreuse, or other radioactive greens adding a lively juxtaposition to black-and-white photography or type.

This brand identity by Hamburg-based designer Marco Moccia for Museum Georg Schäfer uses a simple graphic segment of neon green to provide a modern foil to classical paintings.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Museum Branding

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Modernizing Art
Museum Georg Schäfer brand identity by German designer Marco Moccia.

Designing with luxury in mind? Deep, dark greens and their association with wealth make these the perfect basis for creating elegant and refined packaging or branding, as in this example by Australian designer Jackie Price for YIVIO Winehouse Branding.

Linking the wine to its earthy terroir origins with a green brand color is also mindful and appropriate. Try using green in your own designs to create a connection with eco-friendly or organic products.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Wine Branding

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Earthy and Luxurious
Brand identity for YIVIO Winehouse by Jackie Price.

This brand identity for hypothetical airline Emerald Emirates by Chris Do and Emily Xie for Adobe Live is a great example of a monochromatic green color scheme (see below) in action.

Building up shades of aqua and emerald in a gradient-themed style, these designs suggest both luxury and the dynamism of air travel. The choice of green is fitting for a brand that wants to convey an impression of both luxury and relaxation.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Emerald Gradient
Brand identity by Chris Do and Emily Xie for Emerald Emirates X Adobe Live.

What Colors Go With Green?

Colors that go with green depend on the type of color scheme you want to use:

  • A monochromatic green color scheme uses tints, tones, and shades to create an entirely green palette.
  • A complementary green color scheme incorporates red. Green’s cousins, yellow and blue, are complementary to purple and orange respectively.
  • An analogous green color scheme uses the colors bordering green on either side of the color wheel. In this case, yellow and blue.
  • A triadic green color scheme includes orange and purple since they are equidistant from green on the color wheel.

To find the colors and exact hex codes that go with green, use our color combinations tool. It shows you monochromatic, analogous, triadic, and contrasting color palettes for a variety of greens. Try a scheme with mint green, spruce, jade green, or pistachio.

Below, discover three cutting-edge, pre-made color palettes for the color green.

Palette 1: Seafoam and Pink

This fresh and alluring combination of colors mixes seafoam green with soft pink, magenta, and baby blue for a lively, on-trend scheme. This palette feels both feminine and enlivening, with a mid-century optimism. This palette would look best on branding and retail interiors that require an energetic, youthful look.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Seafoam and Pink

Palette 2: Nature’s Jewels

Nature will always generate the most beautiful of green color schemes. Here, the iridescent colors of hummingbird feathers provides the inspiration for a palette of jewel tones of grass green, royal blue, royal purple, and exuberant orange. This is a rich, earthy palette that will give your designs a nature-inspired look with added interest and depth. Perfect for giving logos or typography a lift.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — Nature's Jewels

Palette 3: English Sensibility

This palette is inspired by the deep bottle green and traditional racing green favored by 1940s and 1950s designers. This dark, intellectual green makes the perfect teammate for aquamarine and antique gold. Restrained and elegant, this is a palette that is suited to projects that require a touch of formality and luxury, such as hotel interiors or high-end packaging design.

All About Green: Origin, Theory, Design Applications, and Color Schemes — English Sensibility

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Cover image via merrymuu