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Red, the powerful and complex colour of extreme emotions.

Updated: Jun 23

Red acrylic paints

This is my third stop during my journey to discover every single colour of the colour wheel and today I'm going to talk about the colour "Red", the one that we automatically associate to passion and love.

Red is one of the primary colours in both subtractive colour mixing model (RYB) and in the additive RGB colour mixing model. Maybe it is the colour that has the most colourful range, whose shades can range from warm tones such red-oranges to cool tones such as pink (tinted red), magenta and red-purple.

It is the most passionate colour of the colour wheel and in this post I will talk about the origin of the colour name itself, its meaning in psychology and symbolism, the most important pigments and shades for art.

Where does the colour name "red" come from?

The word “red” comes from the Sanskrit "rudhira" and Proto-Germanic "rauthaz" and it was the third colour name to be added after white and black.

What does the colour red mean in psychology?

Red is the colour of strong emotions such as love and anger but also the one of primordial concepts such as blood and fire. Throughout time it has been associated to power, strength and divine and also today it is the colour that is used to give importance and, due to its capacity to attract attention, it is used to signalize danger. According to the way we are looking at it, it can have both a positive and a negative meaning. On the positive side it is considered the colour of passion, love, warmth and energy. On the negative side it represents sin, rage, aggression, fire, war.

What are the most important red pigments?

Red pigments, indicated with the letters PR in The Color of Art Pigment Database, are obtained from natural raw materials such as madder, red lead, red ochre, cinnabar (vermillion), alizarin or from artificial compounds such as cadmium red.

The most important red pigments are:

  • PR4 Permanent Red

  • PR254 Pyrrole red

  • PR112 Naphthol Red AS-D

  • PR101 Synthetic Iron Oxide Red

  • PR19 Aryalide Maroon

  • PR21 Pigment Red 21

  • PR22 Naphthol Red Bright

  • PR23 Naphthol Red Dark

  • PR108 Cadmium Red

  • PR209 Quinacridone Red

What are the most common shades of red?

Reds range from red-orange to bluish reds, from the brilliant yellow-tinged scarlet and vermillion to bluish-red crimson, and vary in shade from the pale red pink to the dark red burgundy.

Cadmium Red

Cadmium red (PR108) is the third colour from the cadmium colour family. It was developed around 1919 and obtained by adding selenium sulphide to cadmium sulphide. It is a very strong, warm and opaque red and, starting from the 20th century it replaced the distinctive but toxic vermilion. It can have light, medium and deep variations.

At the beginning Cadmium red was produced by heating the cadmium yellow together with selenium. Nowadays the production of the red pigment is very expensive and the pigment itself is the final results of several controlled chemical reactions involving ingredients such as mineral acids, sodium sulphide flakes, water and selenium.

Vermilion Red

Also called “Vermillion Red” is a red-orange colour, mainly used until the 19th century, obtained from the natural mineral cinnabar, a highly toxic mercury compound.

The name comes from the old French “vermeillon” meaning “worm” because it had a similar colour to the one of the dye obtained from an insect called Kermes vermillio.

Today the natural pigment is known under the name “cinnabar”; on the contrary, the synthetic alternative, red lead based, is called “vermilion”.

Scarlet Red

Scarlet red is a bright red with an orange bias similar to vermilion red. Similar to vermilion, it was obtained from a cinnabar based pigment but nowadays the main pigment has been substituted by the synthetic cadmium red.

The present name “scarlet”, which comes from the older French “escarlate”, has actually a Persian origin and in the Middle Age it was use to indicate clothes with a bright red.

In the past it was considered a colour for power, wealth and luxury. Then, due to a Bible passage, it was often used associated to immorality to symbolized sin, adultery and prostitution.

Another variation of the Scarlet is from the Renaissance and it was called Venetian Scarlet, due to the colour of the clothes that the members of the richest Venetian guild wore.

Crimson red

Crimson red is a rich deep purplish red, between red and rose, whose name was associated to the colour of the dye obtained from the insect Kermes vermillio.

Carmine Red / Cochineal Red

“Carmine” is the general term for some deep red colours, with a slightly purple bias, but still more reddish than crimson red.

The word Carmine, comes from the French word “carmin”, which itselfs comes originally from the Persian word “kirm” meaning worm, insect.

Carmin red is also called Cochineal red because the carminic acid based pigment used to produce it was extracted from the homonym cochineal insect.

Burgundy/Bordeaux red

Bordeaux Red (also known as burgundy or maroon) is a dark purplish red, whose name is associated to the homonym French wine.


Red-Violet (sometimes also red-purple) is a warm red situated between red and magenta with a strong magenta bias. (Read more.)

Rose madder

Rose madder (or simply madder) is a red colour obtained from the pigment madder lake extracted from the plant madder. In other languages such as French or Italian the colour is called respectively Laque de garance and Lacca di robbia.

The production of the madder pigment, which contained both red alizarin and purpurin, can be dated back to the Ancient Egyptians. Later, during the 19th century and due to the high production costs, it started to be substituted by synthetic alizarine dyes. Nowadays the color Rose Madder, as all madder based colours, are produced using lightfast violet quinacridone pigments.

Final words.

This was my third stop on our journey to discover the color wheel. As we have seen, red is a very passionate and complex colour, full of vitality, with wonderful shades and rich in meaning.

Is red your favourite colour? Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading. If you like the post, leave a like, a comment and don't forget to follow my blog, Instagram and Threads and share the content on your social media.

In the next post I will take a look at the most romantic colour that exists: pink.

Until then I hope you will have a great creative day!



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