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Choosing the right colour for your design

March 1, 2009

What colours should you choose for your design?

The most important factor to consider when designing your logo and branding your business is colour. Modern consumers are faced with so many choices it is becoming ever more difficult to get noticed and grab peoples attention.  One of the best ways to develop a lasting connection with your customers is on an emotional level, and nothing evokes emotion better than colour. Furthermore, colour plays a huge role in memory recall. It stimulates all the senses, instantly conveying a message like no other method of communication. There is more to colour than just a colour. Psychology has a huge role to play and colour resonates to peoples psyche in numerous ways.

Every shade of colour sends a distinct message. The more colours you associate with your brand, the more messages you send, which dilutes the distinction of your brand in the minds of your consumers. That’s why it’s so important to choose one dominant colour and stick with it.

Pantone colours

To ensure consistency in your branding, go a step further and choose a specific PMS (Pantone Matching System) colour.  Pantone colours are required to produce the exact colour you use for your brand. A CMYK colour may look great on a computer screen, but can be interpreted differently when it goes to a printing press.  By matching the colour with a Pantone Matching System palette you can be assured the colour you choose for your logo will be faithfully reproduced on all formats.  

The real trick is to choose the right Pantone colour for your brand, and reinforce it in your marketing. This colour should appear on all your promotional materials, including your logo, website and product packaging. The Pantone you choose should set you apart, work with your industry and image, and tie to your brand promise.

Colour Psychology

Colours can mean different things in different cultures and in different industries. However, studies do suggest some universal meanings.  Specific colours can send out specific messages and evoke specific emotions at a subconscious level.  Shown below is a break down of what some colours mean on a psychological level.

Black: Black is the colour of authority and power. It is popular in fashion because it makes people appear thinner. It is also stylish and timeless. Black can also imply submission. Priests wear black to signify submission to God. Some fashion experts say a woman wearing black implies submission to men. Black outfits can also be overpowering, or make the wearer seem aloof or evil. Villains, such as Dracula often wear black. Black is serious, bold, powerful and classic. It creates drama and connotes sophistication. Black works well for expensive products, but can also make a product look heavy.

White: White symbolizes purity and innocence, hence the bride at the “white” wedding.  White reflects light and is considered a summer colour. White is popular in decorating and in fashion because it is light, neutral, and goes with everything. However, white shows dirt and is therefore more difficult to keep clean than other colours. Doctors and nurses wear white to imply sterility. White connotes simplicity, cleanliness and purity. The human eye views white as a brilliant color, so it immediately catches the eye in signage. White is often used with infant and health-related products.

Red: The most emotionally intense colour, red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing. It is also the colour of love.  Since it is an extreme colour, red clothing might not help people in negotiations or confrontations. Red cars are popular targets for thieves. In decorating, red is usually used as an accent. Decorators say that red furniture should be perfect since it will attract attention. The intense responses stimulated by red can make it aggressive, energetic, provocative and attention-grabbing. Count on red to evoke a passionate response, albeit not always a favorable one. For example, red can represent danger or indebtedness.

Blue: The colour of the sky and the ocean, blue is one of the most popular colours. It causes the opposite reaction as red. Peaceful and tranquil blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals, so it is often used in bedrooms. Blue can also be cold and depressing. Fashion consultants recommend wearing blue to job interviews because it symbolises loyalty. People are more productive in blue rooms. Studies show weightlifters are able to handle heavier weights in blue gyms.

Cool blue is perceived as trustworthy, dependable, fiscally responsible and secure. Strongly associated with the sky and sea, blue is serene and universally well-liked. Blue is an especially popular colour with financial institutions, as its message of stability inspires trust.

Green: Green symbolises nature. It is the easiest colour on the eye and can improve vision. It is a calming, refreshing colour. People waiting to appear on TV sit in “green rooms” to relax. Hospitals often use green because it relaxes patients. Brides in the Middle Ages wore green to symbolise fertility. Dark green is masculine, conservative, and implies wealth. 

In general, green connotes health, freshness and serenity. However, green’s meaning varies with its many shades. Deeper greens are associated with wealth or prestige, while light greens are calming.

Yellow:  In every society, yellow is associated with the sun. Thus, it communicates optimism, positivism, light and warmth. Certain shades seem to motivate and stimulate creative thought and energy. The eye sees bright yellows before any other colour, making them great for point-of-purchase displays. Cheerful sunny yellow is an attention getter. While it is considered an optimistic colour, people lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms, and babies will cry more. It is the most difficult colour for the eye to take in, so it can be overpowering if overused. Yellow enhances concentration, hence its use for legal pads. It also speeds metabolism.

Pink: Pink’s message varies by intensity. Hot pinks convey energy, youthfulness, fun and excitement and are recommended for less expensive or trendy products for women or girls. Dusty pinks appear sentimental. Lighter pinks are more romantic. Sports teams sometimes paint the locker rooms used by opposing teams bright pink so their opponents will lose energy.

Purple: The color of royalty, purple connotes luxury, wealth, and sophistication. It is also feminine and romantic. However, because it is rare in nature, purple can appear artificial.  Purple is a colour favoured by creative types. With its blend of passionate red and tranquil blue, it evokes mystery, sophistication, spirituality and royalty. Lavender evokes nostalgia and sentimentality.

Orange: Cheerful orange evokes exuberance, fun and vitality. With the drama of red plus the cheer of yellow, orange is viewed as gregarious and often childlike. Research indicates its lighter shades appeal to an upscale market. Peach tones work well with health care, restaurants and beauty salons.  

Brown: Solid, reliable brown is the colour of earth and is abundant in nature. Light brown implies genuineness while dark brown is similar to wood or leather. Brown can also be sad and wistful. Men are more apt to say brown is one of their favorite colours. This earthy colour conveys simplicity, durability and stability. It can also elicit a negative response from consumers who relate to it as dirty. Certain shades of brown, like terracotta, can convey an upscale look. From a functional perspective, brown tends to hide dirt, making it a logical choice for some trucking and industrial companies.

Notice how different shades of the same generic colour send different messages:

Red: Dark red is often associated with aggression or passion, while bright orange-red often represents danger. Hot pinks convey energy and excitement. Dusty pinks appear sentimental. Light pinks are romantic.

Green: Deeper values are associated with wealth or prestige. Light greens are calming. Lime green often connotes health and freshness.

Purple: Darker shades evoke mystery or sophistication. Lavender, however, conveys nostalgia and youthfulness.

All the colours above can be categorised into two basic categories: warm and cold. In general, warm colours, like red and yellow, send an outgoing, energetic message, while cool colours, like blue, are calmer and more reserved. However, brightening a cool colour increases its vibrancy and reduces its reserve.

What is important to note is that every colour’s message varies by intensity. The best way to ensure you’re getting the exact value of the color you choose is to select a pantone colour that you can specify when printing or publishing materials. We provide a Pantone Colour Matching service, so if you have a logo that you would like the PMS code for then contact us for details.

Also when selecting a colour pay attention to the emotions different shades evoke in you, and ask others for their opinions. Keep in mind, however, that the emotional attitudes of consumers toward the same PMS color can vary by age, gender, culture and socioeconomic status. Make sure you understand the emotional appeal of your brand and find a Pantone colour that best communicates that appeal to your target audience.

It may take some time, but selecting the right Pantone colour for your brand is a key element to a sound branding platform. Choose your colour strategically, and you’ll ensure a bright future for your brand.

Good luck!