Blue is the world’s most popular favorite color. But as everyone knows, there are seemingly endless shades of blue. You might prefer light, cheery sky blue — but your best friend might be more partial to navy.
One of the most well-known (and well-liked) shades of blue is royal blue. This cool yet lively shade looks a lot like the blue on the color wheel, and it’s pretty close to the shade most of us imagine when we picture “plain” blue.
As you might imagine, those characteristics make royal blue a hit with digital designers and their audiences. Take a deep dive into this intriguing shade and discover how you can successfully use it in your own designs.
Royal Blue in Brief
Royal blue might be one of the best-known shades of blue — especially among people who don’t have an extensive background in color theory or design. Naturally, that might make you think that there’s a straightforward definition like there is for sky blue or navy blue. Here’s how a few major dictionaries define royal blue:
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary: a vivid purplish blue
- Webster’s New World College Dictionary: a deep, vivid reddish or purplish blue
- Cambridge Dictionary: a strong, bright blue color
- Oxford English Dictionary: a deep vivid blue
With so many different dictionary definitions floating around, it’s understandable that people have some confusion over what exactly constitutes “royal blue.” It’s also no wonder that in the digital space, there are two main versions of the shade: royal blue (traditional) and royal blue (web color).
Traditional royal blue is a deep, dark blue with a touch of a purple undertone. It also looks a bit like navy blue, but lighter — it’s roughly in between navy blue and what we typically call “royal blue.” Here are its color codes:
Web color royal blue is lighter and brighter, and it comes closer to the shade most of us imagine when we picture “royal blue.” As you can see, it’s a markedly different shade from the traditional royal blue shown above:
Because the web color version of royal blue comes closer to the popular idea of royal blue (and because many digital designers work with web colors), this is the shade we’ll focus on throughout the article.
Royal Blue in History
Few colors have origin stories as unique as that of royal blue. This famous shade came into being (or at least came into the public consciousness) thanks to a contest held centuries ago.
It all started when King George III of England (who reigned from 1760-1820) announced a contest for clothing makers across the country. He challenged them to create a color that could be worn by royalty. The winning color would be used to make robes for future rulers King William IV and Queen Charlotte.
Scutts Bridge Mill, a cloth-making company that ultimately operated until 1904, created the winning shade: a deep, rich blue color that was fittingly called “royal blue.”
The Meaning of Royal Blue
Royal blue isn’t just pretty to look at. It’s also rich in symbolic meaning. Here’s a brief overview of the meaning of royal blue.
This color has been connected to rulers for centuries, so it’s no wonder that we still associate it with royalty and formality. Much like other shades historically used by royalty (burgundy comes to mind), royal blue lends an air of authority to any design you use it in.
Shades of blue have long been associated with stability, reliability, and trustworthiness. This quality isn’t unique to royal blue, but it’s important to keep in mind when using this shade in any design.
You might have noticed that the color blue is very common in logos for companies where reliability and trust are especially important. Many banks, cell phone companies, and auto manufacturers have logos that are at least partially blue.
As a cool color, royal blue also inspires a sense of peace and tranquility. This is a quality shared by many blue shades, although some are more peaceful than others.
Royal blue does well when it comes to balancing peace and energy. Even though it’s a cool color, it’s bright and vivid. If you want to make sure your design isn’t too quiet or too loud, royal blue is a great shade to choose to keep things in the middle.
Shades of Royal Blue: Example Color Codes
Above, we noted that the web color version of royal blue (Hex #4169E1) is essentially a “standard” version of the color. However, it’s not the only shade that could be called royal blue. Below are a few colors that are essentially “shades” of royal blue.
1. Blueberry Blue
You might imagine that a color called “blueberry blue” would come close to the deep, blackish blue of an actual blueberry. However, it looks more like a shade of royal blue.
That said, there’s a definite difference: blueberry blue is a lot darker. As you can see, it has a K value double that of royal blue!
2. Dark Royal Blue
Appropriately enough, dark royal blue really does look like a darkened royal blue. It’s so dark that it comes close to a shade of midnight blue or navy blue.
3. Blue Ribbon
If you like royal blue but wish it was a little bit brighter and more saturated, check out blue ribbon. Although it’s very bright and attention-getting, it’s deep enough to not hurt your eyes like neon or highlighter-like shades do.
Fittingly enough, Mariner is a blue shade that’s somewhat reminiscent of the sea. When you compare the values below, you’ll see that it’s one of the colors most closely related to standard royal blue.
5. Royal Azure
Royal azure isn’t one of the most well-known royal blue shades. However, if you like royal blue but need something a little darker for a design, this color is worth looking at.
How Does Royal Blue Compare to Other Common Shades of Blue?
Even people who aren’t color experts are familiar with royal blue. But there are lots of other blue shades — like sky blue, navy blue, and powder blue — that the average person has at least some familiarity with, too.
However, unless you work with color on a daily basis (or are really familiar with color theory), you might not know what exactly sets royal blue apart from the rest of these colors. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of royal blue and some other beloved blue shades.
1. Sky Blue vs. Royal Blue
Most people know the difference between these two shades. Both of them are bright, but sky blue is significantly lighter.
2. Navy Blue vs. Royal Blue
Both of these shades are classic blues. But as you can see below, navy blue is both darker and more saturated than royal blue.
3. Cobalt Blue vs. Royal Blue
Like navy blue, cobalt blue is also more saturated than royal blue. Below, you can see that royal blue has some red undertones. Cobalt, as a cooler-leaning shade of blue, does not.
4. Powder Blue vs. Royal Blue
Powder blue is a very dilute version of blue. In many ways, it’s the opposite of royal blue: it’s both pale and muted, with a bit of a dusty cast.
5. Cerulean Blue vs. Royal Blue
If you grew up coloring with Crayola crayons, cerulean might be a familiar shade. However, cerulean blue is a darker and deeper shade of blue. When you put cerulean blue and royal blue side by side, you’ll see that these two colors are remarkably similar!
What Colors Pair Well With Royal Blue?
Now you’ve had an introduction to royal blue. If you’re considering using it in your next design, there’s a critically important decision to make: what other color do you want to include? Here are a few colors that pair well with royal blue:
1. Cool White
Hex Codes: #F4FDFF, #3772FF, #080708
Whether you’re creating a logo, designing an interior, or building a website, you really can’t go wrong with the combination of blue and white. Shades of bright blue and cool white look especially nice together.
The above palette shows you the striking contrast between cool white and bright royal blue. This combination is great for logos, patterns, or other applications where contrast is important. If you want to add another color to ground this energetic pairing, black is an effective option.
Hex Codes: #FFDB58, #1E2EDE, #A2999E
The combination of blue and yellow (or gold) is one that seems to vibrate with energy. That’s why these two shades are often used as school or sports team colors.
However, depending on the project, putting bright yellow against bright royal blue can be overwhelming. If you like the contrast but want to create something a little calmer, try substituting it with a muted, ochre-like yellow.
3. Medium Gray
Hex Codes: #BEBEBE, #3D52D5, #ED254E
The combination of gray and royal blue is another classic that works just as well in digital designs as it does in interiors. If you’re designing a room, consider building a mostly-gray space and then adding in a few accents of royal blue — vases, rugs, accent throws, and wall hangings are all great ideas.
4. Pumpkin Orange
Hex Codes: #FF7518, #2F21ED, #E3E3E3
Blue and orange are complementary colors, so if you want to create a design that really pops, pairing pumpkin orange with royal blue is a great option. If you want your design to keep some distance between blue and orange, a quiet shade of gray like the one above will work nicely.
5. Medium Green
Hex Codes: #00A86B, #3454D1, #EFEFEF
As you can see, putting royal blue against hot colors like yellow and orange is an easy way to create dynamic designs. However, it also works beautifully with cooler colors like green. The combination above is reminiscent of a globe, so it’s ideal for projects related to sustainability. For example, if you’re creating a logo for a conservation group, you might consider using royal blue and a shade of medium green.
How Do You Successfully Use Royal Blue in a Design?
Now that you’ve gotten acquainted with royal blue, you might be eager to bring it into your own designs. However, because this is a shade with a lot of personality, you should use it with caution! Here are some tips to help you effectively use royal blue in any kind of design.
Make It Pop With High-Contrast Pairings
You saw in the palettes above that pairing royal blue with warm, almost-complementary colors is a great way to make a design “pop.”
While this type of effect can be wonderfully eye-catching, it often isn’t a good idea to put royal blue and the contrasting color directly against one another — at least when it comes to digital design. You may have noticed in the palettes above that the boundary between royal blue and pumpkin orange (and the boundary between royal blue and yellow) appears to “vibrate.”
This is a known effect called “visual vibration.” It happens when the afterimages of both bright colors interfere with each other.
When you stare at a bright color and then look away, you see an “afterimage.” The afterimage is the same shape as the original, but its color is complementary. For example, if you stare at a bright red dot and then look at a blank sheet of white paper, you’ll see a greenish afterimage.
Afterimages happen because the photoreceptors in your retina become fatigued as you look at a bright color. It takes a moment for these cells to re-equilibrate when you look away. For a few seconds, your photoreceptors still behave as if they’re focused on the original color, and that creates the afterimage.
Normally, if you’re just looking at one bright color, the afterimage isn’t disruptive to your vision. But when you’re looking at two bright shades whose boundaries touch, both colors are generating afterimages at the same time. These afterimages compete with one another, creating what looks like a vibrating boundary between the two.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t use royal blue along with bright orange, bright yellow, or a similar color. As long as you have a neutral boundary between the two colors, you can avoid the problem of vibrating boundaries.
If you aren’t quite sure how to use the royal blue/warm color combination effectively, try starting with the famous 60-30-10 rule. If you aren’t familiar with it, the rule tells you the ratios of different colors to use in a design:
- Choose a neutral color and use it for about 60% of the design
- Use your secondary color (in this case, royal blue) for about 30% of the design
- Choose an accent color (in this case, bright yellow or bright orange) for about 10% of the design
This is a general guideline, but always trust your eye! It’s entirely possible to create a successful design that doesn’t follow the 60-30-10 rule.
Cultivate Elegance With Nature-Inspired Textures
Royal blue’s vibrance is part of its appeal. But often, designers incorporate elements to temper that vibrance and give it an elegant twist.
For example, say you’re designing a bathroom. You might choose to cultivate a bold design with royal blue walls. If you install a shower with a glass door and slate-tiled walls, you might find that the understated, natural look of the slate helps to balance out royal blue’s high energy.
Create a Gradient
There’s nothing wrong with choosing royal blue as the only shade of blue in a design. However, if you want to add a sense of movement and interest, consider incorporating it as part of a monochromatic gradient.
For example, if you need to create a blue backdrop, you could make it a single shade of royal blue. You also could start with navy blue and make the navy fade gradually into royal blue.
Using a gradient makes a design more dynamic. In some cases, it can also act as a counterbalance for royal blue’s vibrance, quieting down the design as a whole.
Shape the Energy With Warm-Leaning and Cool-Leaning Neutrals
As you’ve seen, using warm vs. cool colors alongside royal blue can make a major difference in the overall energy of a design. Neutral shades might not technically be warm or cool, but their undertones make them lean toward either side. People sometimes forget that the neutrals you choose impact the overall design, too.
Imagine you’re creating a design for wallpaper involving royal blue flowers on a light background. If you put the flowers on a backdrop of cool, stark white, the design will have a clean, crisp, modern look.
Now imagine that same design on a cream-colored background. Cream is a neutral with plenty of warmth, and it often gives designs a vintage feel. Even though royal blue is a high-energy color, pairing it with cream makes it seem a little softer and quieter.
Add Cool (Yet Vibrant) Energy With Royal Blue
Royal blue is a classic, vivid blue that can quickly liven up just about any design. Whether you want to make it the focus of your project or just sprinkle in a few accents, it’s worth incorporating into your next project!