The complete guide to decoding your color palette one step at a time
Table of Contents
What makes you select a white car over any other colors? You feel peace the moment you see it because white i universally accepted. Also, the color white flaunts every inch of its exterior. The way you interpret the color means a lot to the shopkeeper. For him, your choice of selection determines his sales.
Similarly, a glance at green grapes shapes your perception of their sweetness. Whether you purchase it or not depends on your taste experience.
In both cases, you have influenced the brand in one way or another. You reacted in a certain way because it evoked your emotions. The same can happen when you are working for your own company.
The world you live in used to be polarized once upon a time. It was always black and white or good ands bad. But this dichromatic thought couldn’t capture the full extent of the human experience. Scientists, over the years, are approaching the production and perception of colors. The studies provided a wide range of information about natural and synthetic dyes and how they influenced living beings. The study of colors are now in every field, such as optics, anatomy and physiology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, behavioral ecology, chemistry, mathematics, and visual psychology.
Let’s start with the color wheel. It represents the relationship between different colors. The colors are in three divisions – primary, secondary, and tertiary. But what most of you don’t know is the vast history behind the color wheel.
- Primary Colors: Primary colors are the three pigment colors – red, yellow, and blue. It cannot be mixed or formed by any combination. Other colors are created by depending on them.
- Secondary Colors: Green, orange, and purple are secondary colors. You form it by mixing two primary colors.
- Blue + yellow = green. - Yellow + red = orange. - Red + blue = purple.
The secondary colors are the combination of two primary colors in equal proportion. For instance, if it’s redder and less yellow, you’ll get a reddish-orange shade. On the other side, if the yellow level is more significant than red, the result will be yellowish-orange.
- Tertiary Colors: If you go one step ahead and blend a primary color with a secondary color, you’ll get a tertiary color. It’s a pack of six shades – yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green.
Here’s a brief history
The first color wheel was invented by Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th century. He discovered the visible spectrum of light. Colors were seen as a mixture of light and dark, with red being the “light hue” and blue the “dark hue.” But Newton saw flaws in this theory. He began testing the properties of white light and came with “Phenomena of Color.” Through his classic prism experiment, he found that white light is composed of a variety of colors. Later, he mapped these colors into an octave schema – the original VIBGYOR.
His experiments paved the way for secondary colors. Different colors popped out of primary colors. These mixtures were in varied ratios, and that’s how the color wheel was born in 1666. After Newton published his book – Opticks in 1704, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe experimented with color. His experience as an artist-led to studying colors a little more. He proposed a thought which was in contrast to Newton’s idea. Newton ideated that darkness was an absence of light. On the other hand, Johann insisted that colors cannot exist without darkness.
Goethe conducted many experiments with color to bring up the issues in Newton’s theory. His study had a psychological orientation because of his art background. His approach was about the psychological aspects of colors and their relationship to human behavior.
Through his experiment, the understanding of colors shaping human behavior became easier. The colors you use in your designs are the result of his research. The colors in his wheel have a visually antagonistic role. His observation has become the backbone for color interpretation.
Towards the 20th century, American painter Alfred Munsell came with two more versions. As a teacher, he felt the need for a systematic method for communicating colors. In his way, the color was easily measurable and defined. Munsell added the dimensions of “chroma” and “color value” as additions to hue. While chroma refers to saturation, color value means brightness. In Munsell’s tree, these dimensions were the 3D color space. It had color value as the y-axis, chroma as the x-axis, and hue as the z-axis. He also defined a standard method of writing down specific colors within this space. Variation in color properties is within a 3D graph space, and the new color formed is located in the concerning coordinate. This concept of “color space” is still relevant and is not restricted to one specific field.
It was the effort of these people that led to a standardized color wheel and color space. The colors used today are still standardized by hue, value, and saturation. These standards are also applicable to the production of paints, dyes, movies. Customer’s perception stems from the fundamentals of Goethe’s Theory of Color. Using this theory, you analyse how customers view your product and the way they discern.
Effect of colors
Why is color a fuel to light up your brand? How does it influence the customer’s brains? While perceptions of color are subjective, some aspects are universal.
Colors in the red area of the spectrum are warm colors. These are red, orange, and yellow. Warm colors evoke extreme emotions such as – warmth, comfort, anger, and unfriendliness. If you switch to the blue side of the spectrum, you can see cool colors. It includes blue, purple, and green. These are refreshing colors, but can also use it to describe sadness or indifference.
Role of color psychology and design
This section will answer all your queries. Persuasion of colors is a critical element of your design. The way to persuade is through using colors that promote your brand image. Emotion influences customers’ behavior. A prospect will buy your product when he/she is convinced emotionally. As a marketer, you have to evoke their emotions to meet your targets. Make eye-popping designs to grab customers’ attention. Once all eyes are on you, you can easily mold their thought process/behavior.
So, what’s color psychology? Color psychology studies human behavior in response to colors. It determines how color affects the decisions of your customer. Their evaluation of colors involves your choice of color. While color preference is subjective, Colors create emotions, trigger memories, cause sensation. Customers have different reactions because it depends on upbringing, gender, place, values, and other factors.
For example, In some cultures, wearing a white dress for a wedding signifies happiness and purity. That’s why some women wear it for their wedding. But in another culture, white is associated with grief. While designing, you have you research your target audience to know what colors they follow.
Your color selection is the difference between your brand’s beliefs from the crowd or blends into it. By strategizing your colors, you can show the audience what you want them to see. You can also help them perceive it just the way you want. Understanding of color psychology can be useful in portraying your brand the way you want. Choose colors that can enhance your brand image. Wrong color selection can put your company’s reputation down.
As a marketer/designer, color can move the customer’s thoughts and behavior toward your brand. Their response allows you to come with a sound color palette. Let’s say you want to be identified by your logo. But you are not being noticed? How can you keep your brand alive in the readers’ minds? Is your color building customer relationships?
Color and marketing research
While designing marketing collaterals (brochure, flyers, posters, social media ads, website design, etc.), use colors that reinforce your brand values. The colors you choose should match your product/service. For example, if your company sells coffee, you should use colors linked with it, such as red, yellow, brown, black, or green.
Customers connect faster to the product’s color. When your products are out for sale, be sure of your packaging. An attractive package color wins million hearts. So, how much product packaging design matters to you?
While customers are in the store, they see what is outside. The study reveals that it takes 8 seconds to decide the product. In this short span, you catch the eyes of the passing customers with colors. Eye-striking colors indicate your brand values and shape their perspective.
How to choose your brand color?
Eighty-five percent of customers believe color motivates product selection. While 92 percent accept that it’s a persuasive tool. Here’s how you can make your color worth remembering –
Learn the effect of colors
A lot of times, get wasted in finding the right colors. The meaning of colors in fingertips keeps you lingering. Before exploring the possible color palette, here’s a quick guide to start –
- White: White is opposite to black. But unlike black, it can work well with any other color. Often the color is associated with purity, cleanliness, and virtue. For example, color is very prominent in the healthcare industry. You can also use it to show goodness.
- Black: It’s okay to be dramatic and sophisticated like black. It is perfect for severe and luxurious brands. On the positive side, it’s commonly associated with power, elegance, and formality. Its negative side is associated with evil, death, and mystery. You can see people wearing black when they are mourning.
Black, as text color, is commonly used in edgier designs. Based on its combination, it can be modern or traditional. In design, black is a standard color for typography. Because it’s neutral, it’s classy.
- Grey: Grey is a timeless color. It’s an excellent choice for technology-driven and contemporary brands. In color psychology, it represents a perfect balance. You derive its meaning from shade between white and black. However, there’s also a negative side to it. The color highlights depression and loss. Often, people see it as a dull color. You can use it as font color, header, and graphics.
- Red: Do you have too many things to express? Red is a fiery color. It promotes passion, romance, anger, danger, etc. You can also use it to show fire, violence, and warfare. It works great for restaurants, food logos, and old brands.
While red triggers anger, it’s also the color of importance. Think of the red carpet where celebrities walk during award shows. There are times when red creates an emergency.
Red is perceived differently in various cultures. For instance, it means prosperity and happiness. People see it as a lucky color. In other eastern cultures, rituals are red. The color promotes ideologies in some cultures. Ever since the disease AIDs has emerged, red is common for campaigns. In the design arena, red is a powerful accent color. You can get an overwhelming response if you add more red in your design. Be fierce with red.
- Orange: Orange says it all. If you want to keep your customers charged, use orange. As it’s energetic and youthful, you can use it to attract young minds. The color sets the tone of transition/movement in your design. You can use orange to express the seasons like autumn. It induces creativity and power without seeking attention.
- Yellow: Among warm colors, yellow is the brightest. You can use it to associate happiness, deceit, and cowardice. It also spread hope. When soldiers return home, their families use yellow flags to honor them. It guards but not as strong as red. Yellow has different meanings in different countries. The color shows grief in Egypt, courage in Japan, merchants in India.
These days, soft yellows are gender-neutral colors for babies. Light yellows also give a more soothing light than bright yellow. Dark yellow/gold yellow are for antique. If you want to give your audience a sense of permanence, go yellow.
- Green: Go green because it’s down-to-earth color. The color brings along credibility and loyalty. If there’s a growth or new beginnings, use this color to signify renewal and abundance. In design, green can have a balancing effect.
Brighter greens are more energizing and vibrant, while olive greens are more of the natural space. If you want to affluence, use dark green.
- Blue: Blue is a blissful color. You can play with it because it creates a sense of safety. When you paint website buttons blue, you provide security to your customers. Blue is also the color of sadness. In another context, it’s calm and responsive. The lighter shade is refreshing and friendly. You can count on dark shade. Blue also has a spiritual meaning attached to it.
When it comes to design, dark blue (navy blue) is for corporate sites. The color increases customer loyalty.
- Purple: Purple defines royalty or authority. Variations of purple have different meanings: Light purples are kind, floral, and romantic. The dark shades are dignified. The negative implications of purple are decadence, conceit, and self-importance. Purple is also the symbol of the generational divide. If you want to show differences of opinion, purple is the way to go.
- Pink: Color psychology suggests that pink is associated with love and kindness. Generally, people are quick to judge when they see pink. They call it feminine.
Now, it’s time to pick the right color. Choose the colors that don’t give your customers the benefit of the doubt.
What makes your business stand out?
Recognize your brand. Clarity of your business objectives and how you want to showcase — them will help hone the best colors.
Think of your brand in the following ways:
- Brand goals: Are they well-informed?
- Target audience: Are you making them feel confident?
- Personality traits: What’s inspiring them about your brand?
What works for them works for you. You can narrow down your color palette based on customers’ like/dislikes.
Compare your competitors: To make your brand color stand out, learn what your competitors are up to. When the customers see your product on the shelf, you don’t want them to overlook it.
Instead, think out of the box. Avoid getting lost in the crowd by creating a mood board of the competitors.
Create your color palette: Every color has its shade. How will you draw a difference before placing it in the palette? Take a look at the color breakdown –
- Hues: Hues refers to variations of the primary colors – red, yellow, and blue. These are independent colors that you can mix equally.
- Shade: When you add black to a hue to decrease darkness. Another way to look at it by adding grey to the hue.
- Tint: Color tint is opposite to shade. You add a white color to the hue. It lights up the design.
- Saturation: Use saturation to show the intensity of your matter. Full saturated color is the correct version. At the other end, a hue with 0% saturation is a medium grey. The more saturated a color is, the more it looks bright. When you desaturate a color, it becomes duller. The degree of saturation also determines the next color.
- Temperature: It’s the warmth or coolness of a color. Warm colors are red, orange, and yellow, while cool colors are green, blue, and violet—the temperature changes between warm and cold.
Color code: You have a system to show information using colors. Whether your design is in print or online, you want your marketing materials to be perfect. Dive in to understand the types of color schemes. Choosing the right color system will deliver a message in the desired manner –
- CMYK color: It stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black in different quantities. The colors are in the subtractive because it gets darker as you blend them. If you don’t want to keep your design for a computer screen view, choose CMYK mode. If you need to recreate your arrangement with ink or paint, the CMYK color mode will give you more accurate results. CMYK can be involved in the following cases:
- Business cards
- Signs & storefronts
- Vehicle wraps
- T-shirts, hats and other branded clothing
- Promotional swag (pens, mugs, etc.)
- Product packaging
- Restaurant menus
- RCB color: The RGB mode combines the primary colors – red, green, and blue in different combinations to create multiple colors. The method offers a vast range of colors, and the best example is digital devices – websites, applications, videos, and more. Read on to find the pros and cons:
- Wide range of colors
- More data-centric
- Explore more colors
- Not of the market standard
- Less used for printing
- Images are less used
- Only relies on a computer screen
Because it’s in a digital space, you can control saturation, hue, and shade. Use RGB If the end design destination is a digital screen such as computers, smartphones, tablets, TVs, cameras, etc. Here are some ways you can involve RGB:
- Web and app design
- Online logos
- Online ads
- Social media
- Images for posts
- Profile pictures
- Profile backgrounds
- Visual content
- Digital graphics
- Photographs for website, social media, or apps
- PMS color: If your assignment has multiple business cards, letterheads, labels, and various envelopes, all carefully thought out and designed. You churn out these tasks daily; you probably are aware of PMS. PMS (Pantone Matching System (PMS) is just like a cake premix. There’s no flexibility, but it’s a great choice if you’re looking for consistency. If you own a paint/fabric unit, use it for standardized ink colors. PMS has its pros and cons you must know:
- Light designs
- Limited colors
- Ideal for monochromatic designs
- Useful for consistency
- Best choice for specific colors such as orange, grey, and navy blue
- Access rare colors, such as metallic and neon hues
- Tool for color branding
The disadvantages of PMS printing include:
- Not applicable for multiple colors
- Not ideal for printing color photographs
- Select your color palette: From color interpretation to types and codes, you’ve demystified the color jargon. Branding is the next exciting step for landing. Define your brand story and pick colors to represent it. The color palette is an essential building block of the brand. Along with your tone, typography, and values, the use of color increases visibility. You help people understand your presence and identity – which, in turn, brings the right prospects to your brand.
- Scan your audience: knowledge of the audience’s culture is an integral part of the research. You find out your niche customers. You can explore unique territories by adopting the culture of the clients. Invest time into learning about color interpretation and how you can impact it. Dive deeper. Research builds authenticity and reliability. Superficial analysis can potentially lose business for your clients.
- Get some color inspiration: Start with a mood board – place colors and images you feel describes your brand identity. Find intriguing elements on social media. You can also feed creativity by flipping/scrolling through magazines or website decor. Follow designers everywhere. There’s a lot you can learn from them.
- Follow the trend: Color Trend gives you the direction you need while designing. You become aware of emerging colors or shared preferences. Trends shapes perspective and customer behavior. As customers continuously evolve, so is their thoughts/beliefs/emotions. Sometimes their simplicity can be a matter of movement.
Are you waiting for a long time to get noticed? Is your color palette telling your brand story? Maybe, you chose the wrong colors. Switch to the right ones.