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How to Choose Awesome Brand Colors

Branding is a key part of building a successful business. It’s all about the visual elements that make you stand out from the crowd. Done right, it makes you unforgettable.

Color in branding may seem unimportant, frivolous even. But it plays a huge role because it has an emotive, unconscious impact on people, affecting how they feel about your company. In this guide we’ll take you through the ins and outs of choosing branding colors that represent the impression you want to make on the world.

Whether you want to create a new logo or design business cards and other touchable branding, choosing the right colors can make all the difference when it comes to customer appeal.

Paint swatches with shades of purple, yellow, and orange are shown to illustrate choosing the right colors for your brand.

Color Psychology Impact

Choosing brand colors doesn’t have to be intimidating. Knowing the basics of color theory and color psychology narrows down your choices significantly.

Color psychology looks at how each shade inspires different emotions. While there hasn’t been a whole lot of scientific research into this subject, the cultural impact and automatic associations people have can’t be denied.

Here is an alphabetical list of the most common colors and their typically perceived meanings. It shouldn’t be taken as a definitive guide, but an indication of general impact in contemporary Western society:

  • Gray: neutral, mature, balanced, professional, formal.
  • Green: peaceful, calm, health, nature, finance.
  • Black: classic, sophistication, power.
  • Blue: trustworthy, professional, secure, intelligence, calm.
  • Brown: rugged, earthy, old-fashioned, comforting.
  • Orange: sunny, confident, friendly, playful, happy, adventurous.
  • Pink: feminine, playful, youthful, romantic.
  • Purple: creativity, luxury, royalty, bold, engaging.
  • White: clean, health, purity, minimalism.
  • Yellow: joy, happiness, optimistic.

It is important to note that other cultures may have very different reactions to certain colors. For example, white is more typically associated with mourning in countries like China and Korea. What’s more, meanings associated with certain colors can change over time. In the early 20th century for example, blue was considered to be a more feminine color, while pink was seen as masculine. Nevertheless, this basic color psychology is a great starting point, broadly speaking.

The infographic shows traditional meanings associated with 11 different colors, illustrated as a set of watercolor paints.

Combining Colors Effectively

While color psychology deals with emotional impact, color theory deals with how colors look in action. Knowing what colors do and don’t go together is important, because clashing colors are an eye-sore which puts people off.

The Color Wheel

Formulated by Isaac Newton in the late 17th Century, this represents a circle of colors arranged in a logical sequence. Newton discovered this structure when looking at a beam of light through a glass prism in a darkened room. He studied how the light split into specific colors. This forms the basis of how we use color to this day.

The Color Wheel is divided into three categories:

  1. Primary: red, yellow and blue. All other colors are derived from mixing combinations of these three.
  2. Secondary: green, orange, and purple. Created by mixing two primary colors.
  3. Tertiary: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. Created by mixing primary and secondary colors.
Three color wheels are shown defining primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors used in brand logos.

Temperature, Tints, Shades and Tones

‘Cool and Warm’ can be seen by drawing a line in the centre of the Color Wheel. Cool colors are blues, greens, and purples. They have a calming effect. Warm colors are reds, yellows, and oranges. They’re bright and energetic.

‘Tint’ refers to making a color lighter, by adding white. By adding white to red, you’ll get pink. In contrast, ‘Shade’ makes a color darker, by adding black. ‘Tone’ is achieved when you add grey to a color, causing muted, less intense variations.

Color Schemes

Now let’s look at how colors are applied harmoniously. Or in other words, how primary, secondary, and tertiary colors can be combined, matched, and contrasted in a way that is pleasing to the eye. This is known as ‘Color Schemes’.

These are the most common Color Schemes that achieve harmony:

  • Analogous: colors that sit close to each other on the Color Wheel. Usually three colors beside each other, such as greens and yellows.
  • Triadic: three colors from three evenly spaced sections of the color wheel. For example, combining red, blue, and yellow, like the Burger King logo.
  • Monochromatic: one color, in various tints, shades, and tones.
  • Complementary: colors situated directly across from each other on the Color Wheel. Used together they stand out effectively, like purple and yellow.

Here are some examples of how brands have used color to make a strong impression:

Asics logo, Nature's Way logo, Metallica logo, MTV logo,

These two websites help you figure out which colors go well together: Colourlovers.com and Brandpalettes.com.

Creating Brand Color Personality

What is one of the main things successful brands have in common? You can recognize them from color alone. This highlights just how important colors are when it comes to branding.

First, to get started, do some foundation brainstorming:

  1. Jot down a few adjectives that you would want associated with your business. For example — Affordable, Bold, Classic, Luxurious, Quirky.
  2. Is your business more formal or fun? This will also greatly affect your communications i.e. Tone of Voice.
  3. How do you want your customers/ clients to feel about your company? Safe and at ease? Or more excited and engaged?

Logo Colors Mood Board

This is a collection of images that reflect the essence or mood of your brand. Pinterest makes it super easy, there are endless images there which you can easily arrange into different collections.

Add whatever inspires you, then narrow it down based on how you want customers to feel about your brand. Often it’s not about the actual picture, but about how it makes you feel because of the Color Scheme.

A collage of photographs including natural elements such as grass and fruit illustrates how to make a mood board.

Competitor Research

Checking out how your main competitors do things is an important learning exercise. And when it comes to their branding colors, you won’t exactly stand out if you choose the same Color Scheme as them. That’s where you want to make sure you’re unique.

Power of Simplicity

You may have noticed that when it comes to color combinations, famous brands keep their brand colors simple. In fact, 95% of world’s leading brands only use one or two colors, while only 5% use three or more.

In some cases many colors can work, but for most brands you don’t want your Color Scheme to come across as too busy. It’s the same thing with good design, clean, strong simplicity wins the day

Let’s take a look at three mega brands we see everyday:

Facebook

The Facebook logo is shown next to a color swatch with shades of blue.

Notice the blue is a cool, calming color palette, conveying a feeling of trustworthiness and professionalism. It makes sense that a social media site that people use and share personal information with on a daily basis would want to promote these feelings. For this reason, many other social media sites, corporations, and banks also use blue in their logos (like Barclays, IBM, PayPal, Skype and Twitter).

Coca-Cola

A can of Coca-Cola is shown next to a color swatch with shades of red.

The vibrant red monochrome of Coca-Cola’s branding is unmistakable. Not only does it strongly stand out among other soft drinks in the grocery store, it promotes a feeling of excitement, liveliness, and youthfulness.

Starbucks

A Starbucks cup is shown next to a color swatch with shades of green.

This coffee chain’s deep green logo with its mermaid (or siren) is recognized the world over, despite the fact that it doesn’t even feature words. The green promotes a feeling of nature, which is in keeping with how the brand wants to be seen as promoting environmentally sustainable stores and ethical sourcing.

Wrap Up

We’ve looked at the powerful, emotive impact that colors bring to your brand. You now have a good understanding of the Color Wheel, how to choose an effective Color Scheme, and how some of the top brands make a lasting impression. You also now have the know-how to move forward with choosing your unique brand personality.

The next step is to put what you’ve learned into action. Try our free Logo Maker tool to give your brand a stronger, more impressive look for the new 2020 decade. From there you can widen your market reach with touchable branding to make every meeting count — easily design and order affordable, high-quality Business Cards.

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