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Purple is a general term used in English for the range of shades of color occurring between red and blue. In additive light combinations it occurs by mixing the primary colors red and blue in varying proportions. In subtractive pigments it can be equal to the primary color magenta or be formed by mixing magenta with the secondary colors red or blue, or by mixing just the latter two, in which case a color of low saturation will result. Low saturation will also be caused by adding a certain quantity of the third primary color (green for light or yellow for pigment). There is a disagreement over exactly which shades can be described as purple, some people preferring more precise terms such as magenta or heliotrope for particular shades. A difference in retinal sensitivity to red and blue light between individuals can cause further disagreement.

In color theory, a "purple" is defined as any non-spectral color between violet and red (excluding violet and red themselves). The spectral colors violet and indigo are not purples according to color theory but they are purples according to common English usage since they are between red and blue.

In art, purple is the color on the color wheel between magenta and violet and its tints and shades. This color, electric purple, is shown below.

In human color psychology, purple is also associated with royalty and nobility (stemming from classical antiquity when Tyrian Purple was only affordable to the elites).

Etymology and definitions

The word 'purple' comes from the Old English word purpul which originates from the Latin purpura. This in turn is derived from the Koine Greek (porphyra), name of the dye manufactured in classical antiquity from the mucus-secretion of the hypobranchial gland of a marine snail known as the Murex brandaris or the spiny dye-murex.

The first recorded use of the word 'purple' in English was in the year A.D. 975.

Purple versus violet

Violet is a spectral color (approximately 380-420 nm), of a shorter wavelength than blue, while purple is a combination of red and blue or violet light. The purples are colors that are not spectral colors – purples are extra-spectral colors. In fact, purple was not present on Newton's color wheel (which went directly from violet to red), though it is on modern ones, between red and violet. There is no such thing as the "wavelength of purple light"; it only exists as a combination.

On the CIE xy chromaticity diagram, violet is on the curved edge in the lower left, while purples are the straight line connecting the extreme colors red and violet; this line is known as the line of purples, or the purple line.

One interesting psychophysical feature of the two colors that can be used to separate them is their appearance with increase of light intensity. Violet, as light intensity increases, appears to take on a far more blue hue as a result of what is known as the Bezold-Brücke shift. The same increase in blueness is not noted in purples.

Pure violet cannot be reproduced by a Red-Green-Blue (RGB) color system, but it can be approximated by mixing blue and red. The resulting color has the same hue but a lower saturation than pure violet.


On a chromaticity diagram, the straight line connecting the extreme spectral colors (red and violet) is known as the 'line of purples' (or 'purple boundary'); it represents one limit of human color perception. The color magenta used in the CMYK printing process is on the line of purples, but most people associate the term "purple" with a somewhat bluer shade. Some common confusion exists concerning the color names "purple" and "violet". Purple is a mixture of red and blue light, whereas violet is a spectral color.

Historical development of purple

Tyrian purple: Classical antiquity

The actual color of Tyrian purple, the original color purple from which the name purple is derived, is the color of a dye made from a mollusc that in classical antiquity became a symbol of royalty because only the very wealthy could afford it. Therefore, Tyrian purple was also called imperial purple.

Tyrian purple may have been discovered as early as the time of the Minoan civilization. Alexander the Great (when giving imperial audiences as the emperor of the Macedonian Empire), the emperors of the Seleucid Empire, and the kings of Ptolemaic Egypt wore Tyrian purple. The imperial robes of Roman emperors were Tyrian purple trimmed in metallic gold thread. The badge of office of a Roman Senator was a stripe of Tyrian purple on their white toga. Tyrian purple was continued in use by the emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire until its final collapse in 1453.

Han purple: Ancient China

Han purple is a type of artificial pigment found in China between 500 BC and AD 220. It was used in the decoration of the Xianmarker Terracotta Armymarker.

Royal purple: Medieval Europe

This shade of purple is bluer than the ancient Tyrian purple.

In medieval Europe, blue dyes were rare and expensive, so only the most wealthy or the aristocracy could afford to wear them. (The working class wore mainly green and brown.) Because of this (and also because Tyrian purple had gone out of use in western Europe after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476), Europeans' idea of purple shifted towards this more bluish purple known as royal purple because of its similarity to the royal blue worn by the aristocracy. This was the shade of purple worn by king in medieval Europe.

Artists' pigment purple (red-violet): 1930s

'Royal purple' (shown above) or the dark violet color known as vulgar purple is the common layman's idea of purple, but professional artists, following Munsell color system (introduced in 1905 and widely accepted by 1930), regard purple as being synonymous with the red-violet color shown at right, in order to clearly distinguish purple from violet and thus have access to a larger palette of colors . This red-violet color, called artist's purple by artists, is the pigment color that would be on a pigment color color wheel between pigment violet and pigment (process) magenta. In the Munsell color system, this color at the maximum chroma of 12 is called Red-Purple.

Artists' pigments and colored pencils labeled as purple are colored the red-violet color shown at right.

Electric purple: 2000s

This color, electric purple, is precisely halfway between violet and magenta and thus fits the artistic definition of purple.

Using additive colors such as those on computer screens, it is possible to create a much brighter purple than with pigments where the mixing subtracts frequencies from the component primary colors. The equivalent color on a computer to the pigment color red-violet shown above would be this electric purple, i.e. the much brighter purple you can see reproduced on the screen of an electronic computer. This color is pure purple conceived as computer artists conceive it, as the pure chroma on the computer screen color wheel halfway between electric violet and electric magenta. Thus, electric purple is the purest and brightest purple that it is possible to display on a computer screen.

Computer web color purples

Purple (HTML/CSS color)

This purple used in HTML and CSS actually is deeper and has a more reddish hue (#800080) than the X11 color purple shown below as purple (X11 color) (#A020F0), which is bluer and brighter.

This color may be called HTML/CSS purple.

Purple (X11 color)

At right is displayed the color purple, as defined in the X11 color, which is a lot brighter and bluer than the HTML purple shown above.

See the chart Color names that clash between X11 and HTML/CSS in the X11 color names article to see those colors which are different in HTML and X11.

This color can be called X11 purple.

Medium purple (X11)

Displayed at right is the web color medium purple.

This color is a medium shade of the bright X11 purple shown above.

Additional variations of purple


The color orchid is a light shade of purple. The name 'orchid' originates from the flowers of some species of the vast orchid flower family, such as Laelia furfuracea and Ascocentrum pusillum, which have petals of this color.


The color heliotrope is a brilliant shade of purple.

Heliotrope is a pink-purple tint that is a representation of the color of the heliotrope flower.

Psychedelic purple

The pure essence of purple was approximated in pigment in the late 1960s by mixing fluorescent magenta and fluorescent blue pigments together to make fluorescent purple to use in psychedelic black light paintings. This shade of purple was very popular among hippies and was the favorite color of Jimi Hendrix. Thus it is called psychedelic purple. It is shaded somewhat more toward the magenta than electric purple.

In the 1980s there was a Jimi Hendrix Museum in a Victorian house on the east side of Central Ave. one half block south of Haight Street in the Haight-Ashburymarker neighborhood of San Franciscomarker which was painted this color.


The color mulberry is displayed at right. This color is a representation of the color of mulberry jam or pie. This was a Crayola crayon color from 1958 to 2003.

The first recorded use of Mulberry as a color name in English was in 1776.

Pansy purple

The pansy flower has varieties that exhibit three different colors: pansy (a deep shade of violet), pansy pink, and pansy purple.

The first recorded use of Pansy Purple as a color name in English was in 1814.

Purple in nature



Purple in human culture

Academic Dress

  • In the Frenchmarker academic dress system, the five traditional fields of study (Arts, Science, Medicine, Law and Divinity) are each symbolized by a distinctive color, which appears in the academic dress of the people who graduated in this field. Purple (usually a hue close to Royal Purple) is the distinctive color for Divinity. It is also worn by high academic officials (University President, Head of Faculty, Rector, etc.) regardless of the field in which they graduated.

Anti-apartheid movement


  • One of the stars in the Pleiades, called Pleione, is sometimes called Purple Pleione because, being a fast spinning star, it has a purple hue caused by its blue-white color being obscured by a spinning ring of electrically excited red hydrogen gas.

Billiard games

  • Purple is the color of the ball in Snooker Plus with a 10-point value.
  • In the game of pool, purple is the color of the 4-solid and the 12-striped balls.


  • Purple is associated with Saturday on the Thai solar calendar. Anyone may wear purple on Saturdays and anyone born on a Saturday may adopt purple as their color.



  • The Purple Moon Dance Project is a dance group in San Francisco.



  • Porpora, or purpure, was not one of the usual tincture in European heraldry, being added at a late date to bring the number of colors plus metals to seven, so that they could be given planetary associations. The classic early example of purpure is in the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Leónmarker: argent, a lion purpure, as early as 1245.


  • Byzantine empresses gave birth in the Purple Chamber of the palace of the Byzantine Emperors. Therefore, being named Porphyrogenitus ("born to the purple") marked a dynastic emperor as opposed to a general who won the throne by his effort.
  • In China, the Chinese name of the Forbidden Citymarker literally means "purple forbidden city" 紫禁城 with first character 紫 meaning purple (even though the Chinese Emperor himself wore yellow, which was considered in China to be the imperial color).



  • Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, said, "Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender."
  • As a result of its association with royalty and luxury, the term purple is often used to describe pretentious or overly embellished literature. For example, a paragraph containing an excessive number of long and unusual words is called a purple passage (see Purple prose).







  • People with purple auras are said to have a love of ritual and ceremony.



see:red states and blue states.

Religious text


  • Few, if any words used in modern English rhyme with the word "purple."
  • Robert Burns rhymes purple with "curple" in his Epistle to Mrs. Scott. Burns is, as far as we can tell, the only writer to have used the word. A curple refers to 1) the small of the waist before the flare of the hips or 2) a derriere, rump or behind.
  • In the song Grace Kelly by Mika the word purple is rhymed with "hurtful".
  • In his hit song "Dang Me," Roger Miller sings these lines:
: Roses are red, violets are purple
: Sugar is sweet and so is maple surple [sic]


  • Today the color purple is also known as a "pride" color among the gay community.
  • At the 24 June 2007 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, Yahoo passed out 3 7/16" in diameter round plastic stickers with a picture of a gay man or woman imaged as one of the Yahoo Gay Pride avatars against an HTML/CSS Purple background that said Out, Proud, and Purple.
  • In the mid 1970s, there was a gay piano bar at 2223 Market St. between Noe and Castro in San Francisco called the Purple Pickle.
  • The purple hand is an LGBT symbol that derives from an incident which occurred on Halloween night (31 October), 1969, when sixty members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) staged a protest at the San Francisco Examiner in response to a series of news articles disparaging LGBT people in San Francisco's gay bars and clubs.

Science fiction


Transpersonal psychology

Transportation planning

See also


  1. Mish, Frederic C., Editor in Chief Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A.:1984--Merriam-Webster Page 957
  2. Graham, Lanier F. (editor) The Rainbow Book Berkeley, California: Shambhala Publications and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (1976) (Handbook for the Summer 1976 exhibition The Rainbow Art Show which took place primarily at the De Young Museum but also at other museums) Portfolio of color wheels by famous theoreticians—see Rood color wheel (1879) Page 93
  3. Oxford English Dictionary, second edition
  4. Tyrian Purple in Ancient Rome:
  5. Varichon, Anne Colors: What They Mean and How to Make Them New York:2006 Abrams Page 161
  6. Graham, Lanier F. (editor) The Rainbow Book Berkeley, California:1976 Shambala Publishing and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Handbook for the Summer 1976 exhibition The Rainbow Art Show which took place primarily at the De Young Museum but also at other museums) Portfolio of color wheels by famous theoreticians—see Rood color wheel (1879) Page 93 Purple is halfway between magenta and violet
  7. Maerz and Paul A Dictionary of Color New York:1930 McGraw-Hill Page 199; Color Sample of Mulberry: Plate 48 Color Sample E9
  8. Maerz and Paul A Dictionary of Color New York:1930 McGraw-Hill Page 201; Color Sample of Pansy Purple: Page 131 Plate 54 Color Sample L8
  9. Barnett, Lincoln and the editorial staff of Life The World We Live In New York:1955--Simon and Schuster--Page 284
  10. Home page for The Purple Onion:
  11. Purple Moon Dance Project website:
  12. Bibelforshcer—The German name for “Jehovah’s Witnesses”:
  13. Early Earth Was Purple, Study Suggests:
  14. Twain, Mark,"The Prince and the Pauper", ISBN 0 14 04.3669 3, Penguin Books, 1997, p.71.
  15. Official Deep Purple website
  16. Lyrics and audio recording of the song Purple People Eater:
  17. Purple website for Prince fans:
  18. Purple Music, Inc (Producers of House Music):
  19. The Purple Pinot Maker:
  20. Swami Panchadasi The Human Aura: Astral Colors and Thought Forms Des Plaines, Illinois, USA:1912--Yogi Publications Society Page 37
  21. Fire Destroys Home of Tiburon’s ‘Purple Lady’—San Francisco Chronicle October 22, 2009
  22. Varichon, Anne Colors:What They Mean and How to Make Them New York:2006 Abrams Page 140 – This information is in the caption of a color illustration showing an 8th Century manuscript page of the Gospel of Luke written in gold on Tyrian purple parchment.
  23. Yahoo Gay Pride Avatars:
  24. San Francisco Frontiers [Biweekly Gay] Newsmagazine Volume 15, Issue 4 June 20, 1996 Gay Pride Issue Pages 38-39 Can You Remember When? The List --List of Every Gay Bar that Ever Existed in San Francisco
  25. Berman, Rick and Braga, Brannan (Creators of Star Trek: Enterprise) editors Glass Empires (Three Tales of the Mirror Universe--Age of the Empress by Karen Ward and Kevin Dilmore [ Story by Mike Sussman ]; Sorrows of Empire by David Mack; The Worst of Both Worlds by Greg Cox) New York:2007 Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. (Trade Paperback) Page 363
  26. Leary’s 8 Calibre Brain Psychic Magazine April 1976
  27. A black and white copy of the chart may be found at the front of the following book: Leary, Timothy - "Info-Psychology", New Falcon Publications. ISBN 1-56184-105-6

Further reading

  • "The perception of color", from Schiffman, H.R. (1990) Sensation and perception: An integrated approach (3rd edition). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

External links

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