Deciding on brand colors is one of the most important things we can do when establishing ourselves as a company. These colors are one of the building blocks to our brand– they determine how people view us, how they feel about us, and how they recognize us. Interestingly enough, human beings attach emotions to different colors, and the colors in branding largely affects how they perceive our company as a whole. 

Color 101

Before we can get started talking about color for branding, we should do a quick rundown on the basics of color. We can start with the basic color wheel. This is a basic tool developed to help us select colors that look harmonious with each other. The color wheel is typically based on 12 colors. These colors are separated into three sections:

  1. Primary: red, yellow, blue
  2. Secondary: green, orange, purple
  3. Tertiary: red-orange, violet-red, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, and orange- yellow

Secondary colors are created by mixing primary colors together, and tertiary colors are created by mixing primary and secondary colors together. Notice you don’t see black or white in the color wheel- this gets into the physics of light wavelengths, but we won’t get too deep into this today. Basically, white and black don’t have specific wavelengths like the rest of the colors do. White has all wavelengths of visible light present, whereas black is the absence of all light. 

Color Psychology

There are many things that make up an individual’s perception of color, including emotional and traditional correlations. Oftentimes our emotional correlations have to do with where colors exist in the world- for example, green often exists in nature, with plants and trees. We often correlate nature with the feelings of serenity, growth, and health. Therefore, we often associate the color green with these feelings without even realizing it. Below are the well-known (positive) perceptions of primary, secondary, and neutral colors:

GREEN: nature- serenity, growth, health

  • Tropicana, Starbucks, Whole Foods, John Deere

BLUE: water- tranquil, cool, dependable, flowing 

  • Finance (Chase, Visa, American Express), Tech (IBM, Dell, hP, Intell)

RED: energy- adventure, passion, strong

  • Cocacola, Canon, YouTube, RedBull

ORANGE: warm- positive, creative, playful

  • Nickelodeon, Fanta, Home Depot, Timberland

YELLOW: sunshine- happiness, optimism, bold

  • McDonalds (i’m lovin it,) Snapchat, Walmart, In-n-Out, Sonic

VIOLET: royalty- luxurious, romantic, thoughtful, sentimental

  • Hallmark, Cadbury, Crown Royal

BLACK: classic- luxury, elegance, sophistication

  • Gucci, Chanel, Prada

WHITE: clean- crisp, pure, advanced

  • Apple, Mercedes, Jaguar

We also have traditional correlations to color, like gender. This is changing as society’s idea of gender changes, but you can still see gendered color correlations in branding today. The best example of this is the color:

PINK: often associated with femininity.

  • Barbie, Victoria’s Secret, and Cosmopolitan Magazine.
  • The color pink shows up in non- gendered brands like T-mobile, Lyft, and Dunkin Donuts.

A Real- Life Example

Let’s use a real- life example: Starbucks. Iconic for its green mermaid logo, the color green is typically connected to nature– the feeling of being balanced, natural, healthy, and from the earth. These feelings encourage customers to bring their laptops, sit in a cozy corner, and work while sipping their cup o’ joe.

How might our perception of Starbucks change if the brand had chosen red as its primary color? Red is often associated with assertiveness, adventure, passion and strength. These feelings seem to coordinate more with a fitness center or travel agency, inspiring clients to step out of their comfort zone. 

Color Pairing

This is where color gets really fun. Once you’ve chosen the main color for your brand, choose 1-2 accent colors that compliment it. The classic pairings of colors are a monochromatic, complimentary, or analogous color scheme. Check out the image below to see these color schemes on the color wheel! 

Here are those color schemes in action…


Colorway vs. Color Story

Let’s touch on some design vocabulary when it comes to color. The terms “colorway” and “color story” are often used in design, particularly in fashion. The term “colorway” is used to describe one or multiple colors in which a design is available. For example, the crowd- favorite Align Leggings by Lululemon come in a large variety of colors- these colors are all part of the Align Legging colorway

A “color story” is similar, except that it is a series of colors used together for multiple different items in a collection. You might see the Align leggings in a beautiful teal color, which is also featured in a sports bra and a tank top. You may see the same items in a black, and a light pink. The overall color palette used in a collection is called the “color story,” and in this case it would consist of teal, black, and light pink. 

Now, let’s apply this vocabulary to branding. Your primary logo may be in a red color, but you may also like it in blue and white. The logo can be featured in a colorway that includes red, blue, and white, but the logo itself stays the same. Creating a “color story” for your brand is important, as it can include a wider variety of colors used in all branding and marketing. These are all of the colors you may ever use to advertise your company, so you’ll want to make sure they compliment each other. 


HEX/ HTML Codes 

If you ever work with a designer, a printer, or an artist, it is important to know the exact codes of your colors. These could be RGB (red, green, blue) percentages, but we prefer HEX codes. These codes are important, because you can give them to your printer, and they will be able to get your colors exactly perfect. These are easy to find in most design programs like Adobe Photoshop or Indesign by using the color selector. If you don’t use these kinds of programs, there are many free websites where you can upload your image, select the color, and it will tell you the HTML code. 

Brand Boards

Brand Boards are arguably one of the most important things to create when you are branding a company. These are typically one sheet, and they include the basic branding for your company– primary and secondary logos/ icons, color story with hex codes, font selection, and (optional) inspiration. A brand board is a fabulous go-to tool when selecting a new web designer or working with a creative professional, because you can give them your brand board and they automatically have the basic information about your branding. Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming blogs about branding– there will be more info about brand boards and how to create them!

Hopefully this was a helpful crash course in color, and how to use it within your branding! Perhaps you will start to see branding in the world around you a bit differently than you did before. If you have any questions, feel free to comment them down below!