Color Theory & Meaning As It Relates To Your Branding


What Exactly is Color Theory?

Color theory is a complex subject in design and it’s one of the few things that can spark a certain emotion in one person and the complete opposite in another. Certain colors in a design can mean something in one culture and another in a different culture. Color can sway thinking, soothe your eyes, raise blood pressure, and even make you hungry or suppress your appetite.

Colors play an important part of branding and with today’s society brands are everywhere trying to get the consumer’s attention. Color is the number one influential part of any design and picking a color or color scheme for you and your brand can make a significant impact on your company.

So is color theory important to you and your brand? You betcha.

Warm Colors


Warm color palettes include red, orange and yellow and any variations of them. These colors are often associated with passion and high energy.

Cool Colors


Cool color palettes include purple, blue and green and are slightly subdued from the warm colors. These colors are often associated with nature and calm.

Breaking it Down Further

Primary Colors

Red, Yellow, Blue

In traditional color theory, colors can’t be mixed to create these colors, and all colors come from these three colors.

Secondary Colors

Green, Orange, Purple

These colors are made by mixing primary colors.

Tertiary Colors

Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green

These colors are made by mixing primary and secondary colors.


The attribute of a color by virtue of which it is discernible as red, green, etc., and which is dependent on its dominant wavelength, and independent of intensity or lightness.


This refers to the intensity of color in an image.


Value is defined as the relative lightness or darkness of a color. It’s an important tool for the designer/artist, in the way that it defines form and creates spatial illusions.

Color Meaning


Security, Trust-Worthy, Stability, Loyalty, Wisdom, Confidence, Trust, Friendliness, Preservation, Courage, Science.


Blue is a common color and is most often used as the main color in larger corporations (IBM, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Intel, ATT, GM, Ford) because it conveys all of the above characteristics.

The color blue also puts people at ease and can be a calming and soothing color.


Wealth, Money, Calming, Trees, Ambition, Endurance, Healing, Calm, Generosity, Natural, Completion, Renewal, and Protection


The color green is thought of as nature, life, renewal, growth and energy, as well as money, finances and ambition.

Green can be soothing and can help ease anxiety and depression. (Think Starbucks, Spotify, H&R Block, Whole Foods, Hulu)


Energy, Power, Vigor, Leadership, Courage, Passion, Activity, Joy


The color red is intense, passionate, angry and impulsive. It can raise blood pressure and means danger. Red also means power and courage and can be a tricky color in different cultures. In China, brides wear red to symbolize good luck, but in Russia, it can be associated with communism.

Red also triggers hunger and attracts attention (CNN, Netflix, Disney, Coca Cola, Target). Combined with yellow, it can signify happiness in some brands such as McDonald’s, Burger King, In N Out Burger.


Royalty, Nobility, Luxury, Creativity, Wisdom, Dignity, Magic


The color purple can be associated with wealth and royalty because it is a rare color in nature and was an expensive color to create.

Purple can also be calming and soothing. Dark purple means masculine and power, while lighter purples are more feminine and softer (Hallmark, Cadbury, SyFy).


Optimism, Childish, Freshness, Law, Education, Arrogance


Yellow stands for happiness and hope. It can help activate your memory and build confidence.

Different shades of yellow mean different things. For instance, bright yellow can mean attention, which is why cabs, schools buses, and even road signs are yellow. Yellow is also used at marketing towards children’s products.


Cheerful, Happiness, Passion, Pleasure, Enthusiasm, Fascination, Creativity, Fun


Orange is similar to yellow and red in meaning, but being that it’s a combination of both, it’s milder.


Romantic, Feminine, Love, Beauty

pinkPink is seen as the color of love and femininity. It’s used primarily towards the marketing of little girls. It can also be used to show weakness in large amounts.


Powerful, Mysterious, Elegance, Sophistication, Functionality, Fear


Black is very often associated with grief. It can be powerful and authoritative while also formal and elegant. Black is both a negative and a positive, depending on what it’s used for.


Earthiness, Natural, Simplicity, Durability, Rustic, Stable


Brown is the color of the earth and can mean home and security. Brown is often used for marketing items that are organic or homey feeling.


Fresh, Soft, Noble, Pure, Clean


White is used to show purity and innocence and can mean faith and good. White is a very bright color and can strain the viewer. It’s also used in hospitals and labs to show cleanliness.


Elite, Affluence, Elegance, Idealistic, Quality


Gold means wealth and riches and can be seen as glamorous if it’s used in a way that represents the metal. Gold is the traditional 50th wedding anniversary gift.


Cold, Maturity, Balance, Calm, Scientific


Silver is similar to gold, but can be distinguished and represents tech and industrial.

The Color Wheel


In design, there are six main color themes in which to pick colors. On a color wheel, these often show the relationship between primary colors, secondary colors, tertiary colors, etc.


Analogous: any group of colors related to or near each other on the color wheel

Monochromatic: derived from a single base hue and extended using shades, tones and tints

Triad: Colors used from this scheme will be in equal distance between each other. Triad colors tend to be vibrant

Complimentary: Pairs of colors that when combined cancel each other out and create the strongest contrast of colors

Compound: Similar to complementary colors, but using colors that are opposites

Shades: One color using varying shades of the main color

About Randi Sparkman

Randi puts her graphic design gifts to work, helping clients create logos, branded lead magnets, presentations, and social media updates. She is a photographer and designer, news designer, and avid leaf lover. She can usually be found in her office working while listening to Toto and Weird Al.

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