Get to Know Dominant and Recessive Colors

The most important thing to remember when determining dominant and recessive colors is that dominant colors always stand out. On a photograph, poster, or sign, a dominant color creates a single point of focus. Simply put, it is the spot that draws your attention. In contrast, recessive colors blend into the background.

Therefore, it may seem as if the difference between dominant and recessive colors is a simple one. A full understanding of both is necessary to effectively utilize color in almost any situation.

Dominant Colors

Colors that are dominant tend to stand out. Whenever you look at an object, the color is the first thing you notice, regardless of how many other colors might be involved. It is important to remember that a number of different factors can influence how dominant or recessive a color is. Dominant colors grab your attention. It’s also interesting to know that there are different colors that can fulfill this role. Furthermore, there are even psychological aspects to using dominant or recessive colors.

One red pepper among many green peppers, dominant and recessive colors

The Psychology of Dominant Colors

The link between colors and psychology may not be surprising. We tend to associate particular colors with certain character traits. It has long been used in marketing to catch the attention of people and convey information about a company.

Here’s a way to look at it. Usually, people associate red with passion, happiness, or even excitement. Because this color has a tendency to capture the attention of those who see it, a number of marketing campaigns leverage its use. It can also hold the viewer’s attention for some time. On a deeper level, it conveys messages about the company to those who look at it. A company’s color can subconsciously be associated with archetypal qualities. This is the reason why so many companies, for instance, use the colors red and blue in a number of their marketing campaigns. Additionally, this is why many uniforms incorporate these same colors. That’s why you see blue police cars and red fire engines everywhere.

yellow flower on the black rocks. dominant and recessive colors

To dive deeper into the psychology of color, white is typically seen as pure and untouched while black conveys a sense of power, determination, or even corruption. Similarly, companies that want to associate themselves with nature use green in their marketing campaigns. The color yellow, in general, is considered to be associated with friendliness and joy.

Which Colors Are Most Dominant?

In addition to a number of different factors affecting the dominant color, there are several other variables that can affect it. The dominant colors on a color wheel are usually primary colors, such as red. Two reasons explain this. First and foremost, it is not possible to create these primary colors from other colors. Additionally, these colors have a tendency to stand out among other bold colors. It is, however, possible to use both secondary and tertiary colors as dominant colors.

a few apples with red, green and yellow colors

Even though it sounds complex, you can understand it if you look at an image filled with both dominant and recessive colors. Recessive colors tend to fade into the background. In contrast, dominant colors stand out and grab your attention.

What Makes Color Dominance?

Color dominance can be determined in several ways – through the use of color, intensity of hue, contrast, contrast strength, and perception of color.

Use of Color

How color is used can also go a long way toward dominance. When a design project uses a significant amount of one color, that color can become dominant. There are also certain colors that dominate design more than others. Colors such as blue and red are often used in design projects due to their associations with certain emotions. (Blue represents security, trust and reliability, whereas red is associated with speed, excitement, and courage.)

blue as a dominant color in interior design

Strength of Hue

Vibrant, saturated and strong colors are effective in virtually any design scheme. Think of hues from named color categories – red, blue, green, cyan, magenta. When used without tones, shades, or tints, the colors are the most dominant.


Foregrounds can almost always enhance a color’s prominence because our eyes naturally focus on the foreground in an image. A blurry background could also affect it. But what if the picture’s brightest and sharpest part is actually in the background? Most of the time, that will be the point of greatest dominance.


Combining colors with a lot of contrast – blue on a white background, for example – will make one color dominate. Almost anything can bring out dominant colors, but using them without much “color clutter” will enhance their intensity. Conversely, if a color is too dominant, adding or mixing with other colors can make it subdued. 

four pins, one with orange color and three with the blue colors on a blue background

Perception of Color

A color’s dominance is also affected by the way we perceive it. It is possible to change the perceived visual color mix by mixing light and dark hues or by using large and small amounts of color. Colors with the highest intensities can be dominant, even in small amounts. In addition, using multiple shades of the same hue can give the impression of color dominance, especially when paired with a contrasting accent color.

Recessive Colors

Colors that tend to blend into the background are defined as recessive colors. There’s no doubt that colors like red and blue won’t end up playing the recessive role, since both have a tendency to draw attention. 

Therefore, virtually any color can be made recessive given the right circumstances. Even the color blue can appear to be recessive when compared to a more bold color. This is especially true if the blue color is faded or lightened in some way. In the process of using recessive colors, you can incorporate a number of different colors without causing the overall project to look too busy.

one red tulip among many yellow tulips, dominant and recessive colors

Using Recessive Colors to Create Depth

Creating depth with recessive colors is one of the main reasons why recessive colors are so frequently used in art. It doesn’t matter if the object in question is for a marketing campaign or a piece of art that will be hanging on the wall. Using a combination of dominant and recessive colors creates a sense of depth. Simply put, this color combination invigorates a piece rather than making it feel incomplete. The effect would be almost impossible without recessive colors. It is likely that the piece would either feel incomplete or so busy that it would be difficult to look at.

art with red, yellow and purple colors, dominant and recessive colors

It wouldn’t be a pleasant aesthetic either way. Therefore, it is important to remember that recessive colors are just as important as dominant colors. Each plays an integral part in creating a piece.

Using Dominant and Recessive Colors to Create the Right Aesthetic

There is no doubt that the type of aesthetic you choose to create will depend on why you are creating a particular piece. You can use the combination of dominant and recessive colors to create specific aesthetics depending on how they relate to psychology. A color palette allows you to gain insight into the minds of other people in order to draw attention to something important to you.

red ladybug on the green leave, dominant and recessive colors

It’s really no different from creating something poignant with words. In poetry and prose, you can see this all the time. Writers create something that speaks to the souls of their readers. It’s the same thing. There is just a difference in medium. By using colors instead of words, you are getting your point across. Any time you try to connect with other people, you are trying to make a point, get across something, or persuade someone that your viewpoint is worth hearing.

Final Thoughts

Even though understanding dominant and recessive colors is a little confusing and inexact, it is a powerful tool that can help you learn about visual focus.

Dominant colors will draw attention faster and are often at the center of visual focus in almost any design. Using dominant and recessive colors is helpful when creating a mood or emphasis. Everything is a matter of perception – colors can be perceived in many different ways.

Also, you can get dominant colors of image online here.

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This is Zahra. I'm in love with different languages and colors. So I decided to be the messenger of the world of colors! Here in Dopely, I write about colors and I like to take you to their world with me.

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