But what colour is chartreuse?

Learn what makes this yellow-green colour special and how to integrate chartreuse into your own designs, photos and illustrations.

A painted texture in chartreuse

So many colours, so little time.

Unlike bright blue aquamarine or rich pink magenta, the colour chartreuse isn’t very well known. In fact, “I think that many people don’t know what colour chartreuse refers to,” says designer Emma McGoldrick. But this green-yellow colour is nothing new to the world of design.


Art, design, fashion and colour are cyclical. What’s in vogue today fades in popularity tomorrow and retro aesthetics often make a comeback years after they’ve fallen by the wayside. But certain hues can represent entire design trends. “Millennial pink” for example, is a warm shade of light pink that dominated the design world in the mid-2010s. And while chartreuse has been around for a while, it’s gaining popularity again.

A chartreuse-coloured liquid in a glass

What’s in a colour name?

Chartreuse was named after a greenish-yellow French liqueur, originally made by Carthusian monks in the early 1600s. With the rise in popularity of this distinctive beverage during the 1800s, the drink’s colour and name became synonymous. From there, chartreuse made its way into women’s fashion and decor, including feather fans, beaded purses and silk gowns. It was especially popular in the 1920s, since it was viewed as bold, vibrant and rebellious.


More recently, though, “something that really made people start talking about it was the chartreuse gown and jacket that Michelle Obama wore,” explains designer Emma McGoldrick. “That’s where the big obsession with chartreuse began.” Now, according to Etsy, chartreuse is the official colour of 2020.

Various yellow-green colour palettes

Shades of chartreuse.

Just like every other hue on the colour wheel, chartreuse comes in different tints, shades and tones. “Chartreuse is really a mix of warm and cool colours,” explains designer Aliza Ackerman. “The greener shades of chartreuse have more of a fresh springtime, retro feel to them, while the yellow shades of chartreuse can be a little bit perkier. In general, it’s a very reassuring and refreshing colour. It represents life, growth and vitality.”


Some examples of chartreuse are more bright, like a lime green or apple green. Others are more subtle and muted, like a pistachio or avocado green.


How to use chartreuse.

Vivid and visible.

The colours we see and experience are a result of which wavelengths of light are reflected off objects and back into our eyes. The poles and cones in the human eye then translate that information and transmit it to the brain. Because of this, certain colours are easier for us to see and understand. “And chartreuse is the colour on the spectrum most visible to the human eye. So it’s a great design decision to use that colour as a call to action or accent an area that you want to draw attention to,” explains Ackerman. Consider the colour chartreuse the next time you design an app or website.

Complimentary colour palettes for chartreuse

Eye-catching colour combinations.

Chartreuse is best used as a highlight or accent colour. Since many shades are quite bright and attention grabbing, they can overwhelm the viewer when used as the primary colour. “Instead, pair chartreuse with a warm dark grey or something,” says Ackerman. When you add more neutral or calm hues to your colour system, like cream, black, grey or blue, you can either tone down the bright shades or highlight the contrast. Just experiment with different shades and tones and see what works best for your design.


Wall paint colours and home decor.

Aside from web design and illustrations, chartreuse also makes a great choice for interior design colour schemes. The Pantone colour Bright Chartreuse is a popular favourite of late. “But keep in mind, chartreuse shows up very differently in different mediums, whether digitally, in fashion or paint,” explains McGoldrick. So before you choose a darker green chartreuse for your dining room or a bright chartreuse yellow for the sitting room, get samples and see what works best for the space, especially if you plan to take real estate photographs.


The colour chartreuse is bright and cheerful and with such a wide range of shades and hues, it’s a versatile colour for your design needs. So whether you incorporate chartreuse into your next website design, digital drawing or still life photo, use Adobe Creative Cloud to fine-tune all your projects and find the perfect shade of chartreuse.

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