December 20, 2018

A beginner’s guide to choosing your brand colours

From colour psychology, to tints, tone and colour schemes, we demystify the jargon so you can get on with the fun part – branding your business.

Why is your brand’s colour scheme so important?

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.” Read more on how to create a colour palette for your brand.

Start with some inspiration

Just as your brand values shape your tone of voice, they should also be the foundation for your 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 inspiration net even further.

Consider colour psychology

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. It’s also known as “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 colours and their associations:

Yellow

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.

  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Green

Green is evocative of growth and nature – a link Tropicana has used to its advantage in its logo.

  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Blue

Blue has the benefit of projecting calmness, making it a sign of stability – useful if you’re a business such as PayPal, Visa or Samsung and want to convey reliability.

  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Black

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.

  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Red

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.

  • Credit @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit @melanie.johnsson

Orange

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.

  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Purple

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.

  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson

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 palette. This is where the colour wheel, along with colour theory, really come into play.

Colour terminology explained

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:

Colour wheel

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.

Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Hue

One of the 12 single colours found on the colour wheel.

Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Tint, shade or tone

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.

  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson
  • Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Creating a colour scheme

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:

Monochromatic

A palette comprising just one hue, with different tones or shades. Think Oreo’s different shades of blue.

Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Analogous

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.

Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Complementary

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.

Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Compound

Also known as ‘split-complementary,’ this palette takes two adjacent colours on the wheel, and matches them with a colour on the opposite side.

Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Triad

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.

Credit: @melanie.johnsson

Choosing and testing your palette

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 palette, test out a few of your favorite 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 palette carefully using these guidelines, you can use your brand’s colours with complete confidence. Next stop: getting creative with your logo, Business Card and website.  

Ready to go further? Head to our beginners’ guide to branding for more tips.

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