Among the various visual components of a business, none are as fundamental as color. In many cases, a single color can be a reflection of your brand.
The color scheme chosen to visually represent a company plays a crucial role in communicating a distinct message to customers about the brand, and the purpose of the business. And, consequently, entrepreneurs should note that color impacts the perception of a brand indiscriminately of how well or poorly a company economically performs.
When determining your company's principle color that will dictate your color scheme look to other brands within your industry for guidance. The color schemes other companies adopt provide valuable insights on how specific color schemes impact brand perception, and customer expectations.
While start-ups have the benefit of beginning with a blank slate when determining their color scheme, entrepreneurs should recognize that the initial color scheme becomes an integral part of the business, and should be maintained over the long term. Established companies with strong brand recognition who alter their color scheme occasionally suffer unintended and negative consequences from customers who become confused about the change and it's meaning.
Therefore, value the exercise of determining your primary color and your color scheme. It should become a constant for your business.
In today’s saturated marketplaces, making your product or service stand out can be a real challenge. Selecting the right primary color can meaningfully impact your solution's visibility and catch the eyes of potential customers. Among our natural human senses, color happens to be the most influential, followed by shapes, symbols and lastly, words.
A company logo is typically the first visual indicator customers will experience when discovering a new solution and learning about a brand. The specific color or color combinations used within a logo, and employed broadly across a brand, are among the first elements that can impact customers and generate a favorable reaction for your solution.
Here, we examine the basic principles and best practices of color, color schemes and how different hues can be leveraged to improve your brand recognition and company success.
Color theory covers a variety of topics related to the study and creation of colors, however at a basic level color theory focuses on the interaction of colors through complementation, contrast and vibrancy.
Beginning with the writings of Leone Battista Alberti in 1435 and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci in 1490, color theory has evolved over the centuries to transform into and independent artistic tradition with strong references to colorimetry and vision science.
Central to color theory is the color wheel, a circularly diagram that illustrates the color spectrum, the relationships between colors, and how they can be effectively paired or mixed for varying purposes.
Components of Color
Every color of the color spectrum possesses 3 fundamental components, which together define individual colors and guide the selection of an effective color scheme.
These elements include the following:
Hue, synonymous with color, represents the definition or name of a color. This means how closely a color can be characterized as; red, green, blue, yellow, etc…
Saturation represents the broad purity or intensity of the color. Saturation can also be thought of how vivid a color looks. Colors that appear dull are typically referred to as desaturated.
Value, sometimes called brightness, represents the lightness or darkness of the color, and it's respective color scheme. Within value, colors can have shade and/or tint. Shade represents how the value of the color changes with the addition of the color black, while tint represents how the value of the color changes with the addition of the color white.
To build on the 3 fundamental elements of color, it is important to study how different colors across the color spectrum interact with one another to produce varying visual effects, and reactions from viewers.
Generally, colors interact in 3 different ways:
Refers to the way a specific color interacts with, or is perceived in relation to, another color. When brands use colors with significant contrast, or from opposite ends of the spectrum, the interaction of the colors create easily discernible visual designs. Therefore, colors from opposite ends of the color spectrum complement each other.
On the other hand, when brands use colors that have little contrast, or are close together on the color spectrum, the interaction of the colors create visual designs that are hard to effectively discern or understand.
Companies should always use complementary colors because they will make the brand’s design elements easy to understand and visually appealing.
The diagram above illustrates the primary and secondary colors that effectively complement one another, and which entrepreneurs can leverage for their branding designs.
Contrast refers to the way complementary colors are combined to facilitate how easily a person can focus their eye on the important elements within a particular design.
The most basic example of contrast used in the right way is employing black font on a white background. The result is text that is easy to read. An example of poor contrast would be employing an orange text on a yellow background, which would be hard to read.
The vibrancy of a color is an emotional indicator or metric of your brand’s design element. Vibrant colors are bright and lead people to feel energetic and enthusiastic, attracting a viewers attention and retaining their focus. Colors with little vibrancy appear dull and lead people to feel relaxed and reserved, allowing their mind to focus on other elements within your branding designs.
Understanding, and applying vibrancy to your chosen colors is particularly useful when the objective is to illicit a specific emotion response for your product or service from potential customers.
The interplay of these three visual elements; complementation, contrast and vibrancy, dictate how the colors you adopt for your branding will impact potential customers. So it is important to think carefully about what colors are appropriate for your specific brand, and examine what kind emotional response they will produce.
Testing various color schemes among different groups of people is a great way to discover which colors and color schemes have the best effect for your brand, and positively impact customers to make purchasing decisions that translate into sales.
Understanding the components of color and the ways colors interact will place entrepreneurs and their design teams in a great position to select the right colors for their business. Colors can be defined in a variety of ways, with each definition illuminating which colors successfully or unsuccessfully combine or complement one another.
The following analysis can meaningfully facilitate how businesses determine which colors to choose for their color scheme and branding purposes.
Red, Yellow & Blue.
The primary colors are the 3 pigments that can not be created by mixing any other combination of colors. All of the colors on the color spectrum are derived from these three foundational hues.
Green, Orange & Purple.
The secondary colors are the colors formed by mixing any two of the 3 primary colors.
Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green.
The tertiary colors are the colors formed by mixing primary and secondary colors together, hence the two part names to these colors.
Complementary colors represent the colors from opposite sides of the color wheel or color spectrum. For instance blue and orange, green and red, or yellow and purple.
Complementary colors provide for very clear, contrasting and visually appealing designs that maximize aesthetic stability.
Analogous colors are the colors which are side-by-side on the color wheel, or in the same area of the color spectrum, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange.
Analogous colors are typically differentiated by their vibrancy and contrast, with one of the three colors often dominating the other two.
Compound colors are adjacent colors chosen from opposite ends of the color wheel or color spectrum.
Compound colors allow more creative freedom to designers and benefit from being visually appealing because of their strong complementation.
A great and free resource for discovering inspirations about color is mother nature. Throughout nature, complementary, analogous and compound colors can be easily identified from the yellow and black colors found on bees, to the purple, blues and greens found in wild flowers.
Correlating colors found in a nature with the colors you choose for your business is the easiest way to make viewers comfortable with your brand's visual elements and message. Effectively matching your color(s) with common aspects of nature & life will facilitate how potential customers understand your solution, and increase their likelihood of making a purchasing decision.
For instance, a company that offers offshore fishing expeditions would be smart to use the color blue throughout their design elements. Likewise a company developing a new farming technique or product would be wise to use the color green, and a company focused on forest fire prevention would be smart to use the color red.
Characteristics of Color
Each specific color of the color spectrum has particular characteristics the can define and benefit your brand's design elements and marketing efforts. The goal is to choose colors that thematic match your specific business.
The Color Red Evokes:
Power, energy, activity, passion, love, desire, speed, strength, heat, fire, vigor, courage, aggression, danger, blood, war, violence, intensity, celebration, joy, luck, and stop.
Red is a warm and active color hue that energizes and is often associated with intimacy, passion and the will to survive. The color red motivates action and often indicates strength, perseverance and vitality. Red is the color of sexuality in western culture, and good luck in eastern cultures. It can be used to improve self confidence, promote ambition and determination, and expresses a strong spirit with good leadership qualities.
Shades of Red:
Light Red: Symbolizes joy, sexuality, passion, sensitivity & love.
Pink: Signals romance, love, friendship and female qualities.
Dark Red: Symbolizes energy, willpower, rage, anger, leadership, courage and evil.
Reddish Brown: Associated with harvest and autumn, as well as masculine qualities.
Effects of Red:
- Increases enthusiasm.
- Stimulates energy, increased blood pressure and a heightened heart beat.
- Calls to action and increases confidence.
- Offers a sense of security and protection against emotions of fear and anxiety.
The Color Yellow Evokes:
Joy, optimism, infancy, sunshine, idealism, arrogance, imagination, hope, summer, gold, deceit, danger, philosophy, education, law, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, and disease.
Yellow is a warm and active color that invigorates the spirit and is often associated with learning. The color stimulates the mind a positive ways, boosting enthusiasm and confidence to be curious and creative. Yellow promotes practical thinking, clarity, and new ideas. The color helps foster increased concentration and represents communication in the field of in psychology.
Yellow can also provoke anxiety, nervousness, cowardice, envy and encourages criticism. As a color that promotes change, yellow is not well received by older populations.
Shades of Yellow:
Light Yellow: Associated with intelligence, freshness and joy.
Dark Yellow: Symbolizes caution, jealousy, decay and disease.
Effects of Yellow:
- Facilitates decision making and clarity.
- Stimulates the nervous system.
- Sharpens memory and concentration.
- Promotes communication.
The Color Green Evokes:
Nature, environment, health, good luck, renewal, youth, spring, generosity, fertility, calm, endurance, completion, protection, jealousy, inexperience, misfortune, envy, and wealth.
Green is a cool and passive color typically symbolizing nature, and is often associated with growth, and fertility. The color encourages compassion, listening, healing and contributing to the well being of society and nature. The color green, formed by mixing the primary colors yellow and blue, is a relaxing hue because it is well balanced and evokes harmony.
In contemporary culture, the hue is generally associated with agricultural, monetary, financial and military systems, while in Islam green is considered a holy color. Green can promote a strong sense of what is write or wrong, and is conducive of sound and balanced judgement.
Shades of Green:
Light Green: Associated with harmony and growth.
Yellow-Green: Symbolizes sickness, cowardice, jealousy and discord.
Blue-Green: Represents healing and protection.
Dark Green: Associated with ambition, greed and jealousy.
Effects of Green:
- Offers mental and physical relaxation.
- Heals depression, nervousness and anxiety.
- Provides a sense of renewal, freedom, and self-control.
The Color Blue Evokes:
Peace, harmony, unity, trust, truth, security, stability, confidence, wisdom, friendship, order, the sky, water, technology, science, cleanliness, depression, loyalty, courage, immortality.
Blue is a cool and passive hue that promotes a strong sense of creativity and a high degree of intelligence. The color is sincere, reserved and evokes senses of reliability, order and trust, which is part of the reason why blue is such a popular color for businesses.
In psychology the color blue encourages peace, tranquility and contributes towards fostering relaxation. The hue and is often associated with teaching, supporting meaningful communication and friendship.
Shades of Blue:
Light Blue: Symbolizes health, healing, tranquility and understanding.
Dark Blue: Associated with knowledge, power, integrity and professionalism.
Effects of Blue:
- Soothes and relaxes.
- Encourages communication.
- Widens perspective and extends intuition.
- Bestows feelings of coolness and inner peace.
The Color Purple Evokes:
Royalty, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mystery, transformation, power, wisdom and enlightenment.
The color purple is a cool and passive color combining the stability of blue and the energy of red. Throughout history, the color purple has been associated with prestige and nobility, largely because of how difficult it was to naturally create. Purple calls for creative thinking and the power to inspire others to act in new and compassionate ways. The color is often combined with gold to signify wealth and power.
Purple is also a common symbol for mystery, magic, and power. The color stimulates the imagination, and encourages people to reflect on the meaning of life, balance their spirituality, and achieving a higher level of consciousness. In psychology, purple represents the future, dreams, and inspires psychic abilities.
Shades of Purple:
Light Purple: Symbolizes awakened romantic and nostalgic emotions.
Dark Purple: Induces sadness and feelings of frustration.
Effects of Purple:
- Stimulates the mood in positive ways.
- Soothes the mind, and calms nerves.
- Provides a sense of spirituality.
- Encourages creativity and imagination.
The Color Orange Evokes:
Energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, vitality, adventure, spontaneity, flamboyance, joy, passion, confidence, pleasure, enthusiasm, fascination, creativity, intuition, and autumn.
The color orange is a warm and active color that combines the physical energy of red and the joy of yellow. Orange is often attributed with the element fire, the sun, and is considered a warm color that stimulates positive mental activity, or reflection in ways that increase mental strength to nurture an optimistic outlook on life.
In psychology, orange is the color of youth, spontaneity and independence. It is associated with joy, trying new things, and stimulates appetite. As a warm color, orange promotes mutual respect to support social interactions and two-way conversations, which makes the color popular among restaurants. Darker hues of orange of often associated with the autumn season.
Shades of Orange:
Light Orange: Bestows feelings of prestige, wisdom and high quality.
Red-Orange: Symbolizes desire, sexual passion, pleasure and domination.
Dark Orange: Associated with deceit, and a lack of confidence.
Effects of Orange:
- Encourages social activity.
- Increases creativity.
- Stimulates appetite.
Earth, home, outdoors, soil, natural materials, security, reliability, comfort, endurance, stability, simplicity, comfort, trees, growth, nature and autumn.
The color brown is a warm active color that promotes stability and structure. Brown is often associated with security, protection and acting with a strong sense of duty or responsibility. The color is welcoming and exudes physical comfort and simplicity. As a scarcely used color in business, brown favors quality over abundance. The hue offers a sense of luxury, elegance and sophistication, and combines well with bright colors.
In psychology, brown is referenced as a honest, genuine and sincere color, typically evoking hard work and reliability. As a warm color it can evoke clam and comforting emotions, as well as practicality. Brown is often associated with healthy, natural and organic products, and anything related to the outdoors.
Shades of Brown:
Light Brown: Symbolizes friendship and honesty.
Beige: Associated with practicality, conservation, and loyalty.
Dark Brown: Represents a strong conservative color that can be sad and depressing.
Effect of Brown:
- Offers feelings of good health.
- Stabilizes other colors.
- Grounds the perspective.
- Cultivates order in life.
Safety, reliability, intelligence, melancholy, isolation, neutrality, detached, modesty, dignity, elegance, maturity, soundness, functionality, old age and grief.
Grey is a cool and passive color that has become increasing popular among designers and corporations. The hue is neutral and impartial color, and combines well with other colors by providing a good stabilizing base. A grey that is closer to black is dramatic and mysterious, while a grey that is closer to white is more luminous and uplifting.
The color grey is both reliable and practical that often signals maturity. In professional environments, grey is a neutral, formal and conservative color that while sophisticated is often described as boring. In psychology, grey invokes sadness and depression and often drives people towards isolation.
Shades of Grey:
Light Grey: Symbolizes relaxation and soothing emotions.
Dark Grey: Associated with serious, solemn, disciplined, and inflexible attitudes.
Effects of Grey:
- Emphasizes obedience.
- Creates expectations.
- Reduces energy from other complementary colors.
- Provokes a sense of Isolation.
Reverence, virginity, nothingness, cleanliness, peace, hope, tranquility, humility, comfort, precision, innocence, youth, birth, winter, goodness, marriage, medicine, and sterility.
White is a neutral and active color that is generally associated with purity, peace, cleanliness and good nature. By balancing all the colors of the color spectrum, white represents both the warm and cool aspects of color. The hue is often employed to produce peaceful and serene emotions that offer comfort and hope. The reflective qualities of white provide very simple, clean and visually appealing designs that subtly stimulate the imagination, and encourage a sense of openness.
White is a often used by charity organizations because of the color's close association to concepts of heaven and angelic entities. White encourages purification of thoughts, feelings and of the spirit to refresh and strengthen one's physiology. The color is employed by hospitals because of its sterile qualities, and it's strong sense of order and efficiency. In some cultures, white is associated with death, rebirth, and mourning. In psychology, white represents the beginning of a new cycle.
Shades of White:
As a combination of all colors, white does not have any different shade. Adding or subtracting other colors will affect the white hue to align closer to other colors.
Effects of White:
- Produces mental clarity.
- Encourages renewal.
- Empties the mind.
Power, mystery, sophistication, formality, elegance, functionality, mystery, fear, evil, anonymity, depth, style, sadness, remorse, anger, shadows, space, and death.
Black is a cool and passive color, most often used by businesses to portray class, elegance and power. The hue is typically employed for stylish clothing, and produces vivid impacts when combined with and contrasted against other colors, which often evokes confidence.
Black is the color that conceals, produces mystery and evokes the unknown. In psychology, the color black represents the concealment of emotions, vulnerability and insecurity from the outside world. In this way, black is a powerful and manipulative color that evokes self-control, discipline, independence and radiates authority. The hue has the negative effect of preventing two-way communication because of its intimidating effects.
By absorbing negative energy, the hue often indicates conservative and sophisticated views. Similarly, black is often associated with sexuality and seductive behavior, and can represent submission to another person, belief or idea, with the implication of a future renewal.
Shades of Black:
Black represents the absence or complete absorption of light and contains no shades. Adding or subtracting other colors will affect the black hue to align closer to other specific colors.
Effects of Black:
- Represents concealment.
- Provides reflective and clam emotions of emptiness.
- Invokes mystery and wonder.
Choosing the right color combinations for your business can be achieved using a variety of techniques from personal preference, standard methodologies, or the use of programmatic software tools.
To begin with, it is valuable to understand how colors visibly combine to form other colors, and how we see these colors through our human eyes. Fundamentally, colors can either combine in additive or subtractive ways.
Additive Colors are created by emitting a variety of colors of the light spectrum with shades of red, green and blue. The more light is added, the brighter and lighter the colors become. The combination of these primary additive colors, in equal proportions, produce secondary colors including; cyan, magenta or yellow, which make up the primary colors of the Subtractive Color system. When hues of red, green and blue light are combined proportionally they produce the color white. In the additive system, white is the combination of color, while black is the absence of color.
Subtractive colors represent how the secondary colors of the Additive Color system reflects light mix to produce a wide variety of pigments and hues, including red, green and blue. The mixtures of subtractive colors yellow, magenta and cyan either partially or completely absorb (subtract) specific wavelengths of light to create different colors depending on how much of each subtractive color is mixed. When cyan, magenta and yellow are proportionally mixed, they produce the hue black. In the Subtractive system white is the absence of color, while black is the combination of color.
Among the available methods to create a color scheme, the easiest way to choose an effective three color scheme that possess strong complementary colors and branding qualities is to employ the following 3 step process.
Color Scheme Guide:
- Use a color wheel, and choose your principle color.
- Draw an Equilateral Triangle from your principle color.
- The three points of the triangle touching your principle color, and 2 other colors will form your tricolor color scheme.
red-orange, blue-purple, & yellow-green
When choosing your color scheme, it is also important to take into account how specific colors evoke warmer and cooler emotions that can dictate or affect your color scheme.
Mixing warm and cool colors is a great strategy to emphasize the importance of different visual elements among throughout your branding designs. A warm color, for instance orange, will pop when applied over a cool color like purple, and visa versa.
Warm & Active Colors:
Warm and active colors represent the brighter hues on the left side of the color wheel. These colors typically catch the eye to indicate importance and produce heightened emotions.
Cool & Passive Colors:
Cool and passive colors represent the somber hues on the right side of the color wheel. These colors typically balance warm & active colors and produce calmer emotions.
Neutral colors, sometimes called earth tones, don't typically appear on the color wheel as they include the colors; black, white, grey and sometimes brown.
If more than 3 colors are required for your business's color scheme, use the tricolor color scheme as a basis or guide, and expand from it. The goal, as expressed before, is to match the right colors with the message you are trying to convey to customers about your brand.
It would not be wise to use dark and cool colors to represent a brand that promotes group activities or a sport. For instance an extra-curricullar company offering a new team-based game should employ a bright royal blue, or a bright yellow, rather than a dark indigo or forest green.
Likewise, a company that offers financial products or services should consider using hues of dark blue or red, rather than a bright purple or orange.
* These examples should not be taken as rules of what colors to apply to specific businesses and situations, they are simply suggestions about the colors that are commonly used for different commercial products and purposes.
Types Of Color Schemes
When determining your color scheme, designers and their entrepreneurial leaders can adopt 6 different approaches. Each specific approach guides the election of specific colors to ensure that the color scheme is visually appealing.
Monochromatic color schemes use variations of shades of a single color such as red, blue, green & yellow. These schemes are often clean, simple, elegant and balanced.
Analogous color schemes use colors that are related to one another, or adjacent on the color wheel such as red and violent. These color schemes are richer and offer more creative variety than monochromatic color schemes.
Complementary color schemes use colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel and which visually contrast one another such as blue and orange. Contrasting cool colors against warm colors is the best approach.
Split-Complementary uses one principle color, plus the two colors adjacent to the principle color's compliment. This scheme benefits form having good visual contrasts, while offering less contrast than complementary color combinations.
Triadic color schemes use three colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel such as red, blue and yellow. These schemes are vibrant and harmonious.
Tetradic or Double Complementary:
A tetradic of double complementary color scheme uses two complementary pairs that are not adjacent to one another. This color scheme provides greater visual and color flexibility, but can also be hard to effectively employ. Typically, the best approach is to have one color clearly dominate the others, and adjust the saturation and value of the other colors accordingly so that they balance well, and work seamlessly with text.
Color Scheme Tools
To facilitate your efforts to choose an effective color scheme consider using the following online tools:
Adobe Kuler: Adobe Kuler
Adobe Kuler is an Adobe resource that provides a dynamic color wheel tool that automatically matches complementary colors with whichever base color your choose. It is an easy and effective way to create a unique color palette, which can be saved, exported/downloaded, and published to the Adobe online community. Adobe Kuler is a favorite among designers and color enthusiasts.
Paletton is another color scheme tool that provides more comprehensive color, and color combination features compared to Adobe Kuler. The variety of clearly defined options makes Paletton a more effective tool for beginners who are unfamiliar with color theory. However, the color combination features are not as intuitive or as revealing of color relationships when compared Adobe Kuler.
Building upon the concept of complementary colors, an important concept to consider when implementing your color scheme is how certain colors behave in relation to other colors and shapes.
Moreover, It is always good practice to test how varying colors interact on different mediums including print and web browsers.
Generally speaking, bright colors will appear more brilliant against black backgrounds and duller against white backgrounds.
Conversely somber colors will appear more brilliant against white backgrounds compared to black backgrounds.
In addition, certain colors work more or less well against one another, for instance a red element overlaid an orange background is not particularly discernible or vivid. However, the same red element overlaid a blue-green background will contrast very well.
In addition, certain colors when applied together create varying illusions because of the degree of contrast between them. For instance, the yellow square overlaid on black background above, appears larger than the same yellow square overlaid on the white background.
Testing how different colors function together and in different contexts is a great way to make sure you make appropriate decisions about the colors you eventually employ for your branding efforts.
Plus, the examination will educate and provide a better understanding of the relatively of color.
- Employing colors of the opposite ends of the spectrum create visual harmony.
- A high contrast between colors and visual elements makes them easy to understand and effectively guides the views attention.
- The brighter the colors, the more mental energy they will demand upon the viewer.
All in all, the interaction of specific color values, saturation, and the warmth or coolness of various hues produce noticeable differences that you can leverage for your design elements. The primary objective entrepreneurs should aim for when determining which colors to use, is how they will impact customer behavior and drive sales.
The last element entrepreneurs consider when determining your color scheme is reflecting on how the color scheme will be implemented across your design elements.
To produce great, impactful and motivating designs it is important to develop a sense of harmony across the design elements that make up your brand.
Harmony is visually pleasing to the eye, engages the viewer, and cultivates a sense of order and balance throughout the visual experience you design. The objective is to inspire customers to feel a real sense of connection to your brand that motivates them to make purchasing decisions that positively impact your company.
Designs that lack visual harmony will appear chaotic, lack balance and confuse the viewer. But, do not misinterpret visual harmony for simplicity. Designs that are extremely simple and border on being bland will produce emotions of boredom and other negative under-stimulated reactions. Conversely, designs that are extremely busy and overdone will appear chaotic and produce emotions of disgust, confusion and other overstimulated reactions.
Balance must therefore be exercised. Test various colorful branding designs with different groups of people to analyze viewer reactions, and choose the designs that yield the best response.
The goal of harmony is to produce a distinct visual order that strikes a clear balance between simplicity and complexity. Work towards producing dynamic visual equilibrium that can be easily interpreted and appreciated by any viewer.
To discover more insights on choosing the right colors to make up your color scheme, examine Choosing Colors.
Share your thoughts!
Send me a question: email@example.com