Which colour palette is right for my brand? Colour has an important role to play in design and in everyday life. It can draw you to an image, provoke emotions, and communicate something without saying a single word. Which colours go well together and which don’t? Why do we use some colours and not others for which projects? What sensations do colours convey? What do they communicate?
Artists and designers have been using this theory for centuries and we can all learn from it. It can help us to choose shades for a design or to match the clothes we are going to wear today. All you need is a guide to look at colours in a whole new way.
Let’s start with the basics. Remember when you learned about primary and secondary colours at school? If so, you already know a bit of colour theory.
Let’s remember what the primary colours are:
By mixing these together, we obtain the secondary colours:
- Yellow + Magenta = Orange
- Cian + Yellow = Green
- Magenta + Cian = Purple
If we mix these secondary colours with their neighbours, the primary colours, we will obtain more colours. Orange-red, lime green…
As a result, all these colours form the chromatic circle or colour wheel. But I will talk about this later. Now let’s talk about the properties of colour: hue, saturation and brightness.
- Hue: of the three, it is the easiest to understand. It is basically a synonym for colour.
- Saturation: refers to the intensity, i.e. whether the colour is more subtle or stronger.
- Brightness: indicates whether the colour is dark or light in a range from white to black.
The combination of these with the different colours gives us many options. For example, from a deep opaque red to a pastel pink. But how do we mix these to create colour palettes that look professional? There are formulas based on something called colour harmony that can help. Let’s go back to the colour wheel.
The chromatic circle or colour wheel is a valuable tool for graphic designers. By studying it, we can get a basis for creating a good colour palette that gives us harmony. Let’s take a look at the formulas it offers us:
Monochromatic: The simplest colour would be monochromatic, as only one colour is used. If we take one of the colours in the circle and apply our knowledge of saturation and brightness to create variations in tone, we will obtain a monochromatic range.
Complementary: These are the opposites on the colour wheel, such as blue with orange or the classic green with red. To prevent the palette from being too simple, you can add lighter, darker or less saturated tones.
Devided complementary: For this formula, we use the colours that are on either side of the complementary colour. This gives you the same level of contrast, but more tonal options and therefore a more interesting palette.
Analogous: By following colours adjacent to each other such as reds with oranges or blues with greens, we create an analogue colour palette.
Tetradic: This is obtained with a rectangle in the circle, so it uses not one, but two pairs of complementary colours. This palette works best if you leave one colour as dominant and the other three as auxiliaries.
Triad: is obtained by forming a triangle on the colour circle using the colours at each corner. These combinations tend to be striking, particularly with the primary and secondary colours.
Colour modes or colour formats are representations of the visible colour spectrum, the one perceived by our eye. Among the best known colour modes we can find RGB, CMYK, Hexadecimal, Pantone, Greyscale or HSB.
I just wanted to mention them so that you know about their existence, but it is a large topic and would require a post just for that.
What does each colour convey to us?
To begin with, I would like to make it clear that these are general points. What colours transmit to us is very subjective. Our history, traditional usage or culture will vary our perception or what colours can convey to us. But in general terms, this is what we perceive colours to be:
- Conveys: violence, dynamism and incites to action.
- Represents: love, adventure, fire, passion, blood, danger and importance.
- Conveys: fun, euphoria and hunger.
- Represents: creativity, autumn, fire, energy and vitality.
- Conveys: energy, power and good humour.
- Represents: sunshine, hope, happiness and intelligence.
- Conveys: fortune, calm and repose.
- Represents: abundance, freshness, youth, ecology, nature and hope.
- Conveys: calm, confidence and freedom.
- Represents: dreams, sky, space, water, air, travel, peace, wisdom and happiness.
- Conveys: royalty, fantasy and imagination.
- Represents: nobility, fortune and spirituality.
- Conveys: warmth, possession and masculinity.
- Represents: earth, wood, firmness and comfort.
- Conveys: shyness and femininity.
- Represents: softness, gentleness, affection and intimacy.
- Conveys: silence, mystery and elegance.
- Represents: power, death, night, distinction and quality.
- Conveys: concentration and neutrality.
- Represents: sadness, modernity and prosperity.
- Conveys: virtue, peace and infinity.
- Represents: purity, perfection and innocence.
The chromatic circle and colour theory are an essential tool for the graphic designer. It helps us to enhance or emphasise the values of a brand and communicate its purpose properly. The psychology of colour helps us to understand how our mind perceives colours and what it transmits to us and will play a decisive role when choosing a corporate colour for a brand. There is a large subjective component, but it does serve as a chromatic basis to focus a project.
Hi, I’m Roberto Vidiella.
I am the founder and Creative Director of VIDI. I am passionate about graphic design, and through this blog, I try to deepen my knowledge and share what I have learned during my career. If you leave me a comment, you help me to keep learning and improving, and also because I’m really excited about it!