8 tips for choosing and using brand colors

Dunkin’ Donuts. Macy’s. Twitter. Whenever you hear these brand names, their colors instantly come to mind, too. That’s because these brands have successfully anchored their identity to brand colors, a series of hues that both speak to their core business and help them stand out among competitors.

You, too, can create a lasting impression on your customers with brand colors. This guide will help you understand what each color means according to color psychology and provide helpful steps to guide your color selection process.

Why are brand colors important?

  • They help customers remember you. McDonalds’ red and yellow, IKEA’s blue and yellow, Starbucks’ green. Whether you notice it or not, these colors are designed to connect your memory to every element of the brand across all mediums.
  • They help you stand out. If you’re looking to rise head and shoulders above your competition, a unique and memorable color is an excellent way to do that.
  • They help tie your company to core brand values. As you’ll read below, every color has the power to move your customers to react — and act — in a certain way.

What colors symbolize

Colors carry so much more meaning beyond looking pretty. According to color psychology, colors can be a powerful force to help customers and clients associate particular virtues with your brand. Here’s what color psychology has to say about the symbolism of these 11 colors:

Red

This vibrant shade is associated with energy, desire, and excitement. Red is believed to elicit strong responses and inspire people to act, both out of anger and out of passion. In fact, it’s one of the only colors believed to have contradictory effects on the observer, eliciting both positive and negative emotions.

In branding, red is often used to signify importance, attract attention, and command respect in a crowded marketplace. It’s also commonly used by food and drink companies, as red is believed to stimulate appetite, and in healthcare, as red is associated with blood and the heart.

Yellow

Cheerful and sunny, yellow radiates positivity and contributes to an inviting atmosphere. Its brightness is an excellent way to attract attention, which is why you’ll see it used in warning signs and caution tape, but too-bright, “highlighter yellow” shades are typically considered grating and should be avoided in branding.

When selecting brand colors, yellow may be a good choice for a brand focused on safety, like a construction company. Yellow can also be a great option to communicate cheer, friendliness, and happiness, which may help to establish a positive emotional connection with customers.

Orange

Inspired by sunlight, this mix between red and yellow can lean in one of two directions, depending on its shade. Redder oranges can elicit red’s properties, while more yellow oranges evoke emotions related to that color. This attention-grabbing, happy color is typically utilized by brands to communicate warmth, enthusiasm, and excitement. It’s also associated with its eponymous citrus fruit, representing freshness.

Brands tap into orange to indicate approachability and friendliness. It’s also used to indicate affordability and good value, particularly in food marketing.

Green

Flourishing, vibrant plants and leaves come to mind when green is used, indicating nature, freshness, health, and vitality. Beyond the obvious connection of green to natural health food, another obvious green — money — comes to mind as well. As a result, green is prevalent among natural and organic brands, financial companies, and agricultural brands.

Shade matters when it comes to green. Lighter, yellow-ish shades can imply growth and change, while darker, pine-inspired shades suggest established stalwarts.

Blue

Blue is heavily associated with stability and trustworthiness, two qualities any brand would want to convey. It’s also the most popular color among men and women. No wonder it’s the most popular color choice for logos!

However, depending on the shade you choose, blue can carry additional meaning. Here, we’ll break it down into two major categories:

  • Light blue is symbolic of tranquility, like a soothing blue sky. This color can also invoke openness. Brands use light blue to convey calmness and an inviting presence.
  • Dark blue reflects integrity, power, and maturity. Brands tap into dark blue to convey long-term reliability. 

Purple

The color of royalty, purple has been associated with the upper class for thousands of years, with roots tracing back to a law in ancient Rome that only allowed emperors to wear purple. Today, shades of purple are often used to convey sophistication, wealth, and quality. This lush color is also typically associated with creativity and wisdom.

Over the last century, brands have used purple to appeal to women, as more women than men prefer the color. Cosmetic brands, packaging for personal care items geared toward women, and even women’s causes have used purple in their branding for this reason. That doesn’t mean its potential is limited to femininity: Purple is appropriate whenever luxury and quality needs to be conveyed.

Pink

Similar to purple, brands have long associated pink with marketing to women. However, unlike purple, pink can infer romantic intent and elicit sentimental attachment. It can also make people feel calmer: Color psychology has long associated pink with soothing effects.

When it comes to branding, pink has been pigeonholed as a “girly” color, and it’s certainly dominant in children’s brands that are geared toward girls. However, just like the wide range of shades of blue, pink can carry different meanings depending on the precise shade used. Darker pinks like magenta can represent fun and confidence, while lighter pink invokes gentler, more romantic sentiments.

Brown

Just like green, brown hues invoke the earth and are therefore deeply connected to a rugged, natural feeling. They are also strongly associated with old-fashioned, antique, or long-standing brands, which are all values connected to dependability and reliability.

When brands incorporate brown into their color palette, they’re hoping to create an association between their company and these tried-and-true values that contribute to longevity and success. Naturally, because of its association with the earth, brown is generally present in the branding for organic products. Brown can also invoke quality and can help contribute to a premium look and feel.

Black

Black may be the “official” color of mourning (in America and Europe, at least), but it represents far more than death and funerals. This color — or more accurately, the absorption of all other colors — represents sophistication, prestige, formality, and luxury.

Brands will often use black as an accent color to invoke these qualities without being completely absent of other meaningful and memorable hues. Black may not stand out among other shades, but it can help other colors “pop” and leave a more lasting impression.

Importantly, using black as a brand color is different from creating a black and white version of your logo. The latter is an alternate version utilized for printing on company giveaways and on color backgrounds where the full-color logo isn’t legible.

White

The opposite of black, white is the absence of color. White is associated with cleanliness, purity, and virtue. It can also symbolize simplicity, excellent for brands that offer no-fuss products and services that make life easier. Because of its connection to innocence, it’s often used as a brand color for hospitals, children’s groups, and charitable organizations.

It’s important to note that negative space is not the same thing as using white as a color. Negative space is the use of the white space within a logo to create an element with significant meaning to the brand, like the arrow hidden between the E and the X in the FedEx logo. 

Gray

The phrase “blank slate” is literal when referring to gray. This color is one often associated with neutrality and balance, contributing to a clean and streamlined look. However, when not used correctly, gray can carry a negative connotation — one of absence and loss. 

Because of how neutral it is, gray is often used by brands as a complementary part of their color palette, but not as the main color. It’s considered a “safe” choice, but that can have an adverse effect if it’s the sole color used by a brand. 

8 tips for choosing and using brand colors

When your color options are quite literally every possible hue, it can get a little overwhelming to choose the right combination for your brand. Luckily, with these eight tips, you can narrow down your brand color options and pick a palette that perfectly conveys your message.

1. Decide the message you want to convey

How should someone feel when they see your brand? What should they infer about your business in a single glance? Color is key to driving that conversation and solidifying the (positive) assumption you want someone to make about your company. Using the handy guide above, it’s a little easier to narrow down options to the brand colors that are most closely associated with your company values or offerings.

2. Look up your competitors

If many of your competitors use green, blue, or orange, you may want to consider doing so, too. That’s because such common color themes begin to create associations in the minds of clients, and that’s certainly an important perspective to tap into. For example, many people associate green and brown with organic or natural food: If a new business arrives on that scene with a red logo, there may be some skepticism about what the brand actually stands for.

3. Consider the cultural impact of the color you’re selecting

Not every color means the same thing around the world. For example, black may be the color of mourning in European cultures, but white is the color of mourning in Eastern nations like India and South Korea. Therefore, your use of white may mean something very different to an Asian audience than a European one.

4. Pick your “power trio”

When you pick out your brand colors, select a series of three that work together. One color will be your base, or main, color; a second will serve as an accent color; and the third will be a neutral shade that ties together the base and accent colors. To help you narrow down your choices and evaluate your colors next to one another, consider using a color wheel, which lays out color options in a way that illustrates the relationships between them.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

While this is a good starting point, there is no one hard-and-fast rule for selecting brand colors, although they do need to look like they belong together. Some common variations of this “power trio” include:

  • Complementary: These colors are opposites of one another on the color wheel. This is a common, go-to approach to brand color selection.
  • Monochromatic: This is when your brand colors include a base shade, a lighter version of that color, and a darker version of that color.
  • Triadic: This approach draws three colors from three different sections of the color wheel. These colors are taken from equal sections of the wheel, implying stability.
  • Analogous: This is when your selected colors are next to one another on the color wheel, suggesting a natural and harmonious grouping.

5. Center your design around the base color

Choose wisely: The base color you select will be the main color associated with your brand. This will be the main color that appears across all your collateral, including your sell sheets, website, social media, business cards, and much more beyond just your logo. Proceed as if the main color of your brand will be one of the most memorable things about it: Just look to T-Mobile’s iconic magenta or the bright orange of Nickelodeon for examples of just how memorable a base color can be to a brand.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

6. Use your brand colors consistently

Your brand colors can, and should, make an appearance across all your collateral, including when you design your own business cards and when you build a website with a website maker. This reinforces and unites your brand’s identity across all mediums, helping customers recognize you no matter where and how they encounter your brand.

7. Get input while choosing your brand colors

Solicit feedback from colleagues while selecting your brand colors. Look for a common theme when you get their reactions. If most people like the main color, don’t like a particular accent hue, or feel iffy about the whole combination, their feedback can be indicators of how others are likely to feel when your brand is put out into the world. Flying solo? You can ask a trusted friend, family member, or ex-colleague for their opinion.

8. Create rules for using your brand colors

With a style guide, you can set up guidelines to clearly identify your brand colors and how they should be used. This way, anyone can pick up your brand identity and use it to create social media assets, branded sell sheets, and much more. A style guide also dictates how to properly size your logo and use it across varying mediums.

Selecting the right brand colors with Namecheap

When you make your own logo with Namecheap’s Free Logo Maker, you can select the set of brand colors that best represents your business. Our process takes you through fonts and logo shapes that best reflect your brand goals and personal tastes. During the logo making process, you’ll have the opportunity to select from color palettes according to the mood you want to convey. Namecheap Logo Maker does the rest, creating dozens of options that you can then refine to get the perfect new logo for your business.

Photo by Christina Rumpf on Unsplash

Get started today with the free Logo Maker and with Visual, the Namecheap suite of brand identity and brand design tools. 


Nick Allen

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is a writer, photographer, and content marketer. He’s also the founder of BrainBoost Media, a boutique content and operations studio. With a wide range of interests, he enjoys reading and writing about sports, entrepreneurship, and start-ups.
More articles written by Nick.

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