Color Theories to Back-up Your Design
  by:  |  Apr 13, 2011

Last updated on January 12th, 2022 at 01:18 am

There is more to color than what initially meets the eye; it is how people react to it. Color is an essential factor of any design and we should know how to make the most out of it. In truth, once we know what colors represent to whom and what a particular color works with what, we can take advantage of this single design element to make people actually respond.

Colors and Their Meaning

To help further discuss how to use colors, let me just enumerate insights on how the general public relates and perceives color. Here are the basic colors and how most people generally relate to them. Do take note, however, that these may change depending on the color’s saturation and intensity.

Warm Colors

These are the colors that we often associate with fire and energy. These colors tend to elevate forward in space and attract a lot of attention. In this regard, it is helpful to note that it can overwhelm your content if not utilized properly.

Red– this color is often associated with fiery passion or anger, and/or an overwhelming sense of danger or excitement. Along with orange, red is a very appetizing color, thus its use in countless advertisements of food. In the east, especially in China, people regard red as a lucky color. As a color that one can associate with power, energy and speed, it can be best used for sports items and for parts of the design that needs to evoke action from the audience.

Pink– when white is added to red. Red’s usually strong character is subdued and from being fiery and powerful becomes associated with gentleness and femininity. It is even used to signify tenderness and love.

Orange– A mixture of red and yellow, is almost as fiery as red and as joyful as yellow. It is associated with autumn, summer and citrus fruits (thus the color’s name) and can stimulate appetite quite well. Orange usually represents happiness, enthusiasm, encouragement, and energy. It may also mean creativity and affordability.


Yellow-the color of sunshine. It is associated with joy, intellect, optimism, liveliness and energy. It is also associated with food. Among warm colors, yellow (in its pure, bright form) grabs most attention. That is why most road signs and taxi-cabs are painted yellow and black. Also, due to its liveliness, you can use this color in promoting products that target children and youth. However, this color can become unstable and too bright at times and cause people to become overwhelmed. It is said that babies cry more in yellow rooms as much as older ones would have the tendency to want to get out more often.

Cool Colors

If warm colors advance in space, cool colors do the opposite; they recede and rarely overpower other elements in the design. These colors are often associated with the sea and the sky and often are used to indicate stability and serenity.

Green– the color of nature. You can always use it in promoting environmental products and fresh, healthy food. This color symbolizes hope, growth, fertility and youth. Many people also associate this color with money and worldliness, as people would go “green” in envy.


Blue– the color of the sky and the sea. It symbolizes tranquility, truth and trust, security and unity. If warm colors can boost appetite, blue have the tendency to suppress it since almost no food comes naturally in blue. This color also has a very calming effect and is usually used as a background color to countless print and online designs.


Purple– A mixture of energetic red and stable blue, it is often related to mystery and wealth. This color can be used to signify power, ambition, creativity, wisdom, romance and magic.



As the name suggests, they neutralize other colors, both warm and cool, which could be overpowering on their own. They are subtle in nature and often give a sense of space, thus highlighting other elements with stronger qualities. Neutrals go best with anything, and could be used in almost any design.

White– The color of peace, purity and simplicity. Lends a sense of space to your design since any color (except perhaps for yellow) would be highlighted. It also signify cleanliness thus its usage in hospitals and many health-related products.


Brown– Can be associated with stability and reliability. Being the color of the earth, can signify feelings that are of rustic and sentimental nature. It can also signify reliability, safety, endurance and as sense of home. Different tones of brown or near browns make perfect backgrounds since they can help other colors stand out.


Black– This color is often related to evil, mystery, fear and death. It might be because no one can actually see in the “black” of the night where many things cannot be explained, thus the fear of the unknown. But undoubtedly, this color lends all sort of design the sense of elegance, formality, prestige and power. It is often used in high end beauty products and clothing lines, and of course for products that targets the male audience. It can also be used as a background to give depth. In this case, there will be a need to make the text much lighter for readability.

Color Combinations and Schemes

Now that we have a background to what colors our targeted market would likely associate our products with, let’s take a short course on color combinations.


Achromatic– technically, this is a scheme that does not have color, other than black and white and all tones in between.

achromatic color scheme


Monochromatic– this is a color scheme that uses just one color and its different tints and shades.



Complementary– these are colors that sit 180 degrees from each other on the color wheel, that’s exactly right across from each other. It does not necessarily compliment (check the spelling) but the colors complement or complete each other. It is rather hard to use since many people do not appreciate the combination.



Split Complementary– One color across from two other colors that are equally spaced from each other.



Double Complementary– 2 pairs of equally spaced colors that sit right across each other



Analogous– a relationship wherein colors are adjacent from each other.



Triad– three colors that are equally spaced from each other.



Color Scheme Generators


Color Scheme Designer

You could have decided on what colors to use in your logo, but deciding what colors would go with it in your print materials could prove to be another problem.

If all else fails, use a color scheme generator to make your tasks easier. Color scheme generators help users find the colors that work with an initial color of your choosing. Even professional designers dry out of ideas eery now and when they do, they get some help. Check what the professionals use in generating color combinations that work quite well for them and their clients.

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