Countless brands rely on specific colors to create iconic visuals for their customers. The golden arches of McDonald’s, the robin’s egg blue of Tiffany & Co. and the simplistic white of Apple electronics are all significant components of these carefully cultivated brands. But making sure these colors appear in the same way across materials and mediums is no easy task. It’s difficult, but a critical part of any branding strategy.
Why Is Color Important for Branding?
Branding relies on customer perceptions, and one of the most significant components of perception is color. After all, colors can make us feel hungry, anxious, calm or impulsive. They can make us see a brand as trustworthy, eco-friendly, adventurous and much more.
Consider the ambiance that the right brand tone can instill. If you enter a fast-food restaurant, you don’t expect muted, calming colors — you expect bright, vibrant, energizing colors synonymous with the brand. If you were at a bank, those same colors might be unnerving, and you’d prefer calming, trustworthy tones that reflect the company’s goals. Some brands, like Tiffany, have even gone so far as to trademark their color, preventing other brands from capitalizing on its use.
At the end of the day, color is critical.
Uses of Color in Branding
Choosing colors for brand management is usually done through either natural or cultural association:
- Natural association occurs when we associate natural colors with biological attributes. For instance, we might see bright green and associate it with leaves, health and eco-friendly materials.
- Psychological or cultural association refers to the meanings we attach to colors based on our culture. For example, purple is often considered a regal, fancy color, likely due to the fact that creating purple dye historically required hard-to-find materials only available to the rich. Note that these associations can vary by culture. Yellow can represent everything from cheeriness and jealousy to mourning, courage and even pornography — so research is important in international marketing campaigns.
Leaning into these associations can help you enhance brand effectiveness.
What colors work well together, and how do you choose the right combinations to match different hues? You may be surprised to learn that there is actually a science behind color matching and which colors work best together. Knowing how to match colors can aid with a variety of industrial and design applications. Explore our color matching guide to learn more.
Color Matching and Color Theory
Color theory provides an organizational structure for mixing and matching colors accurately. Essentially, color theory is a set of guidelines that use accumulated observations of human perception and psychology to identify color combinations that evoke different observer responses.
When you use color matching, you’re able to combine hues that create a pleasing aesthetic for viewers. Some critical elements for effective matching include an eye-catching contrast and the right vibrancy to evoke emotion. You’ll want to pay attention to how different selections across the color wheel can create the desired emotional and psychological response from your audience.
The color wheel includes three primary colors foundational to other hues — red, blue and yellow. These three colors will always harmonize and are classic colors that work with many different designs. Eye-catching and bold, they create a vibrant visual effect. Two primary colors together will look bold yet sophisticated, and all three together can look cheerful and energetic.
Many fears impact people’s lives. Chromophobia — also known as chromatophobia — is a fear of colors. The meaning of chromophobia derives from the Greek words “chromos” (color) and “ phobos” (fear).
Phobias of specific colors have individual names:
- Cyanophobia: Fear of blue
- Xanthophobia: Fear of yellow
- Prasinophobia: Fear of green
- Chrysophobia: Fear of orange
- Rhodophobia: Fear of pink
- Kastanophobia: Fear of brown
- Leukophobia: Fear of white
- Melanophobia: Fear of black
Causes of Chromatophobia
One prominent cause of chromophobia is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events during childhood or adolescence can train a victim’s mind to associate a neutral stimulus with the event. With chromophobia, the mind associates the traumatic event with a particular color, which then causes a reaction when the person sees that hue.
Other causes of chromatophobia include conditioning. Some people feel an intense fear toward a color because they witness a traumatic event without experiencing it themselves. Cultural conditioning labels certain colors as unfavorable, and this can lead people to fear those hues. People with phobias do not respond to logic, as they suffer from a conditioned behavior not based on fact.
Color is a dominant presence in our daily lives. From the clothes we wear to the food we eat, we are constantly viewing and evaluating color. But how does light affect the colors we see? If you’ve ever noticed that your color perception changes with different light sources, then you’ve experienced a vexing phenomenon known as metamerism.
What Is Metamerism?
Metamerism occurs when two colors match under one type of lighting but not another. This peculiarity has to do with the relationship between light and color.
We perceive color based on the way an object reflects light, and that perception is based on the light source. When you compare the reflectance of incandescent light to daylight, for example, you’ll find that incandescent light has a higher level of energy in the red area of the spectrum. This means an object viewed under incandescent light will appear redder than it will in daylight. Daylight has more energy on the opposite, blue end of the spectrum.
Reflectance information about a specific color is known as that color’s “fingerprint.” When two colors look identical under one light source, but different under another, they are known as a metameric pair.
Additive and subtractive color models describe how color is created. They are not competing theories — rather, these models are the two most common and practical ways to create the perception of color. The basis behind these color models lies in breaking the visible light spectrum into its most dominant regions — red, green and blue. In doing so, additive and subtractive color mixing allows the human eye to create a whole spectrum of colors.
The difference between additive vs. subtractive color is in the ways color is created. Let’s discover how these color models differ, which color models are used for what purposes and how to measure additive and subtractive color.
What Is Additive Color (RGB)?
Also known as the RGB color model, additive color is the process of adding one set of wavelengths to another to create a new color — thus the term additive. The visible light spectrum’s primary colors — red, green and blue — are mixed in different combinations and at varying levels of intensity to produce secondary colors.
By adding all the different wavelengths of natural light, the eye sees white light rather than each color. When no light is present, the eye perceives black.
What Is the RGB Color Model Used For?
Today, the additive color model is primarily used to visualize, represent and display images in electronic systems, such as TVs, computer monitors and mobile phones. Because these are light-emissive devices, they start as black and add red, green and blue light to produce the spectrum of colors. When you create a design on your computer or tablet, you use the RGB color model.
Between the history of color and associations with certain shades in different cultures, color meanings and usage are fascinating to learn about. Here are 10 fun facts about colors.
1. Blue Was Once Seen as a Low-Class Color
In Ancient Rome, royalty wore white, red and black. Those in lower society wore blue. Because the color blue was associated with the working class and barbarians, it was not mainstream. Blue became more acceptable when it became the color of the Virgin Mary’s cloak in the 12th century.
2. Queen Victoria Started the White Wedding Gown Tradition
In 1840, red was the popular color of bridal gowns. Queen Victoria didn’t follow this tradition, wearing a white gown to her wedding instead. Within a few years, white wedding dresses were regarded as the best color for brides.
3. Some Languages Describe Colors and Shades Differently
Tribal African tongues and other languages describe blue and green as different shades of the same color. The Russian language specifies light and dark blue as different colors, not different shades of the same color. Many ancient languages didn’t have a word for blue.
4. Purple Was the Color of Royalty Because It Was Expensive to Obtain
Until 1856, the color purple came from snail mucus. The snails used were almost extinct, and 20,000 were required to get one ounce of purple dye. Since purple was a rare and expensive color, it was only worn by royalty. For commoners, wearing purple was a crime punishable by death.
5. Red Is the First Color a Baby Sees
Infants start to recognize the color red at two weeks old because red has the longest wavelength, which is easy to process. Babies can see the full spectrum of colors at five months.
Every day you are surrounded by colors — they may inspire, motivate or remind you of something else you experienced. Because color plays such an important role in how most people experience the world, it also looms large in the human psyche. Different colors affect mood in significant ways. As a result, you can use specific colors to communicate ideas and even influence behavior.
How Colors Affect Your Mood
People associate different colors with various emotions and concepts. Color meaning and psychology are closely linked, with certain colors shown to impact mood. Exposure to specific wavelengths of light can even produce physiological responses, impacting heart rate and alertness.
Ideas about a color’s meaning in life vary from person to person. However, themes crop up around specific colors. When you understand what a color means, you can use it to create a desired atmosphere or encourage specific responses in an audience. In Western countries, colors on the visible light spectrum are typically associated with the following ideas and emotions:
- Red: Energy, passion, determination
- Orange: Ambition, youthfulness, extroversion
- Yellow: Optimism, happiness, excitement
- Green: Growth, peace, nature
- Blue: Relaxation, trust, loyalty
- Purple: Prosperity, imagination, focus
- Grey: Strength, stability, longevity
- Brown: Comfort, reliability, seriousness
- White: Purity, cleanliness, harmony
- Black: Power, sophistication, mystery