From brand colour psychology to tints, tone and logo colour schemes, we demystify the colour jargon so you can get on with the fun part – branding your business.
When building a brand, your colour palette is one of your most crucial considerations. Along with your tone of voice, fonts and brand values, it helps people understand who you are and why you’re here – which, in turn, attracts the right customers to your brand.
“Choosing the right colours for your brand is like putting the right clothes on in the morning,” says MOO’s Head of Design, Anna Ebubedike. “It all says something about what you stand for and represent.”
Nailing your brand colour palette will help determine the look and feel of your company website, business cards, flyers and any other marketing material – keeping your brand consistent and in time, recognisable.
Just as your brand values shape your tone of voice, they should also be the foundation for your brand colour palette. Start by creating a mood board of any colours and images you feel align closely with your brand identity. You can find inspiration anywhere – from packaging and fashion to nature and interiors.
You can follow artists you admire on Instagram, or use Pinterest to create dedicated boards by colour. Pinterest is a great resource for pooling content, and by sharing boards with colleagues, you can widen your colour inspiration net even further.
As you do your research, you’ll notice whether you’re drawn to warm or cool colours. The connotations and moods evoked by the hues you’ve chosen should also reflect your brand values and personality.
Colour theory is the idea that any hue can be linked to a mood or value. When applied to branding, it’s also known as ‘brand colour psychology’. Some of these links are instinctive, whereas others are a little more subtle. Whichever you choose, they can all have a big impact on how your brand is perceived.
Here’s a rundown of some common colour schemes and their associations:
This sunny hue is on the warm side of the colour wheel and is associated with positivity. Think of the golden arches on the side of a Happy Meal – a simple red and yellow colour palette has worked wonders for McDonald’s.
Green is evocative of growth and nature – a link Tropicana has used to its advantage in its logo. From vibrant lime green to rich forest colours and khaki, a green colour palette can be nice and varied.
Blue has the benefit of projecting calmness, making it a sign of stability. If you’re a tech or finance business similar to PayPal, Visa or Samsung, a blue colour palette is the way forward to convey reliability.
While black is a risky colour, thanks to its associations with all things morbid, it also denotes sophistication. This link has been harnessed by numerous high-end brands, including Prada, Chanel and Gucci.
Fiery hues denote excitement, passion and energy. Red Bull, and their association with high-adrenaline sports, are a great example of a brand that has aligned colour connotations seamlessly with their values.
A mixture of red and yellow, orange is an invigorating, warm colour that inspires creativity (think of the classic covers of your favourite Penguin books). Strangely, it can also create feelings of hunger or thirst, as it’s a common colour in fruits and other food.
Deeper, vibrant shades of purple generate associations with luxury, richness and quality. This indulgent hue has been used most famously by Cadbury’s chocolate, but also by premium card makers, Hallmark.
Once you’ve identified a dominant colour that projects the right image for your brand, you can decide which accent colours will best complement it to make up your complete brand colour palette. This is where the colour wheel, along with colour theory, really come into play.
If you’re not a designer, colour terminology can be like reading another language. Here are the definitions of some common colour terms you might come across when building your palette:
A visual that demonstrates the relationship between the 12 primary (red, blue, yellow), secondary (purple, green and orange) and tertiary colours. This is a great tool for finding contrasting and complementary colours.
One of the 12 single colours found on the colour wheel.
The different ways of transforming hues into a variety of colours. A tint is a hue mixed with white, while a shade is a hue mixed with black. A tone mixes a hue with black and white.
Once you’ve got to grips with the terminology around colour and with the colour wheel, you can start using your knowledge to build out schemes. A colour scheme is simply the way colours are combined or arranged. Want more inspiration? Check out these eye-catching colour combinations.
A palette comprising just one hue, with different tones or shades. Think Oreo’s different shades of blue.
A palette made from colours that appear next to each other on the colour wheel. These combinations tend to be particularly harmonious, as seen in agricultural firm John Deere’s palette of greens and yellow.
A colour scheme comprising colours that are opposite each other on the wheel. If used on top of each other – for example, by applying red text to a green background – they will clash. But when used side-by-side they can help you create stand-out. Think 7-Up’s logo.
Also known as ‘split-complementary,’ this palette takes two adjacent colours on the wheel, and matches them with a colour on the opposite side.
A palette built from three colours taken from evenly-spaced parts of the wheel. Burger King’s red, blue and yellow is a classic example.
Once you’ve got to grips with the colour wheel and scheme options, it’s time for the fun part – playing around with different palettes based on your dominant colours.
If you’re finding it hard to choose a definitive final brand colour palette, test out a few of your favourite combinations. You might find you haven’t picked colours with enough impact (for example, if you’ve chosen a monochromatic palette), or ones which don’t look the same when they appear in print and online.
It’s also worth researching how your colours compare to those of your competitors – too similar to competing brands, and you risk getting lost in the crowd – and what your colours mean in a global context. For example, in France and Germany yellow denotes envy, whereas in the UK green is a traditionally envious colour.
The colours you choose can have a huge impact on the visibility of your business. Red Bull’s palette, intact since its launch in 1987, is so integral to the brand that seeing silver, red, yellow and blue together instantly brings the energy drink to mind.
If you choose your brand colour palette carefully using these guidelines, you can use your colours with complete confidence. Next stop: getting creative with your logo colour schemes, business card and website.
Ready to go further? Head to our beginners’ guide to branding for more tips.