When you think pastel colors, the first things that probably come to mind are:
But there’s so much more to these soft, muted colors. And if you reserve pastels strictly for buttercream and nurseries, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to lend a unique, delicate feel to your designs.
But how, exactly, do you use pastel colors in your designs in a modern, sophisticated way? What message do pastels send to your audience? And what are some of the best pastel shades to use in your designs? These are all the questions we will investigate in the article below.
What are pastel colors?
Before we jump into how to use pastels effectively, let’s talk about what, exactly, pastel colors are.
Pastels (which are also known as “tints”) are pale tones of colors made by mixing a significant amount of white into the original shade (so, for example, a pastel yellow would be a paler shade of yellow). Technically, you can make any color a pastel by adding white—and the more white you add into the original shade, the paler the pastel will be.
Pastel colors have a softer look than their bright, more saturated counterparts and are typically described using adjectives like “soft,” “washed out,” “pale,” “muted,” and “light.”
What pastels say to your audience
Color is an extremely powerful thing; if you know how to use it, you can leverage color to inspire specific feelings, emotions, and associations with your audience.
We’re talking about color psychology and, just like any other shades, if you understand the feelings, emotions, and associations pastel colors naturally inspire in your audience, you can use them to your advantage—and create designs that help you send a very specific message to your audience.
So, what is the color psychology behind pastel colors? What do pastels actually say to your audience? Pastels are:
- Peaceful and calming. Because pastels are less saturated than typical colors, they have a softer look that’s easier on the eyes. This can inspire a calming, soothing, peaceful vibe with your audience.
- Romantic. The softness of pastel shades can also inspire feelings of romance—especially when paired with other romantic imagery.
- Reminiscent of spring. When people see pastels, one of the first things they think of is spring (spring flowers do come in pastel shades, after all!). And what do people associate with spring? Feelings of happiness and the hope of new beginnings.
- Baby-centric. You can’t talk pastels without talking about babies. Pale blue, pink, and yellow are the go-to color for nurseries around the world. So if you use those colors in your designs, a lot of people will immediately think baby.
Pastels in action
So, now you know what pastel colors are and what kind of message they send to your audience. Now all that’s left to do is look at these soft, pale shades in action.
Pastel pink combinations
The pale pink of Lee’s Tee’s Pink Chai Tea’s packaging has a calming, soothing feel—which is perfect, considering the tea inside is also calming and soothing. This color palette is simple, letting the pastel pink and the contrasting black lettering take center stage.
This product photo for the Herbivore Botanicals’ Emerald Deep Moisture Glow Oil uses various shades of pastel pinks to softly complement the product’s otherwise neutral packaging design.
The pale pinks and grays of this bakery’s logo design have a certain sweetness to them—which makes them the perfect choice for a business entirely centered on confections.
Pairing pastels with brighter shades—like skincare company fresh has done here with the vibrant and pale pink hues on their packaging—can create an edgier look that keeps pastels from feeling too safe or sweet.
The pastel pink on Herbivore Botanicals’ Pink Clay soap packaging perfectly offset the brighter coral hue of the soap itself. Pairing pastels of more saturated versions of the same color is a great way to add depth to an otherwise simple color palette.
The packaging for this Tocca fragrance is based around a pastel mint green. But because the mint has a darker undertone—and it’s paired with other modern neutrals—the overall feel of the design is more sleek and sophisticated.
By definition, pastels are pale, but some pastels are brighter than others. The mint color in this logo design is definitely a pastel, but it is definitely more saturated than paler tones, which lends a vibrant energy to the design.
The more white you mix into a shade, the paler the pastel. This packaging from hair brand amika uses multiple shades of green—ranging from deeply saturated to extremely pale—to add a layer of depth to an otherwise monochromatic palette.
The pastel in Hang Steady’s branding is true mint. Not only does this color choice pair well with neutrals, but it also appeals to both men and women, which makes the branding feel more inclusive and universal.
Nothing says “babies” quite like pastels. While the mint green is clearly the star of the show in this packaging, there are also added touches of pastel pink and yellow. In most circumstances, the trifecta of pastels would feel over the top, but because the product is targeted towards babies, it works.
Want to add a hint of mint to your designs? Get started with these Canva templates: Mint Green Clean Minimalist Annual Report, Mint Green Simple Massage Therapist Business Card, and Mint Minimalist Beauty Skincare Instagram Post
Pastel blue combinations
The pastel blues of this packaging design are offset by brighter pops of blue and pink, which makes for an overall vibrant and energetic design.
There are a few different pastels at work here (including peach and yellow), but the pale blues in the logo are the most prominent, and the most attention-grabbing.
The different shades of pale blues and grays come together for a soothing palette that would be right at home in any baby’s nursery.
Pastel blue is paired with brighter pops of gold, yellow, and white in Cuppa Cake Tea’s Blueberry Bundt packaging design, which creates an upbeat, cheerful palette that jumps off the shelves.
One key way to mix pastels? Pair a softer shade with a more vibrant one. The powder blue in SunnyA’s logo design, which is more saturated than the rest of the palette, makes the softer yellow font pop.
You won’t be singing the blues—or, in this case, the pastel blues—with these Canva templates: Pastel Blue with Greyscale Photo Gay Valentine's Card, Blue Babysitting Business Card, Blue Vintage Brand Logo, Pastel Blue Photo Grid Spring Break Sale Facebook Post, and Pastel Blue Vintage Travel Magazine
Pastel purple color combinations
The depth in Herbivore Botanicals Amethyst Exfoliation Body Polish’s main product photo comes from the varying shades of purples, which range from the palest pastel to a deeper, more saturated hue, and a few shades in between.
Usually, pairing pastel blue and pink feels tired, but because the hue in cute and mini’s logo design is more lavender than traditional blue, it feels more fresh and modern.
Darker, dustier pastels, like the purple used in Esthetics by Heather’s logo design, are a great way to embrace pastels.
While the overall look of this illustration says purple, it’s actually the perfect blending of multiple pastels, including pinks, yellows, and mints.
Lavender is known to calm and soothe, making it a favorite in the beauty industry—like this Lace Your Face mask from high-end skincare line DERMOVIA, which uses various shades of pastel purples to communicate the calming experience of using their product.
Want to add a touch of pastel purple to your next design project? Get your purple on with these Canva templates: Lavender Circles Wedding Logo, Purple Landscape Instagram Post, Purple Bordered Tea Party Facebook Event Cover Photo, and Purple Brushes Carwash Flyer.
Pastel peach color combinations
The pale peach of Nora’s ice cream packaging pops against the brighter orange background of this product photo, proving once again that pairing a pastel and a more saturated shade is a great way to add visual interest to a simple color palette.
This branding design embraces just about every peach you can imagine—and with a business name like “peach of cake,” it makes sense. While too many pastels can sometimes feel overwhelming, there’s enough variation in the peach shades to create contrast and add visual interest.
Pairing peach with gold, like in this logo design, creates a sophisticated, feminine look that would work for any female-targeted business.
Pairing peach with darker pastels—like the dark mint and the brighter coral color in this illustration—makes for an unexpected color combination. If you’re looking to use pastels in an out-of-the-box way, this is a great way to do it.
When paired with white, black, and olive green, the pastel peach that’s the cornerstone of Beekman Goat Milk Soap’s color palette has a grown-up feel that feels sophisticated and modern—which is what happens when you balance pastels with more neutral shades.
Capture the pastel peach look in your designs with these Canva templates: Peach Brush Strokes Album Cover, Peach Script Sunglasses Day Social Media Graphic, Peach Cute Illustrated Trinkets Travel Postcard, and Peach Speech Bubble Animals & Pets Logo.
Yellow can be an overwhelming color. But when you take a pale hue and pair it with a palette of neutrals (like in this Honeymoon Mead logo), it feels more understated than overwhelming.
Pastel yellow, coral, and navy aren’t necessarily colors you’d think to put together, but, as this logo design proves, they actually create a subtle (but impactful) color palette.
Soft yellow can work great as a background color. Make sure to pair with brighter pops of color (like the green in this design) to keep things interesting.
Sometimes, simple is best. This logo design uses a gorgeous shade of pastel yellow—and wisely lets the pastel take center stage, using subtle neutrals (like gray and white) to round out the palette.
Because staring at a computer screen is already a strain on the eyes, many consumers don’t want to see overly bright, saturated colors on websites, which makes pastels a great alternative. This web design uses pastel yellow as a background. This is not only easy on the eyes, but makes the darker product packaging pop on screen.
Say hello to yellow (pastel yellow, that is) with these Canva templates: Pale Yellow and Blue Fashion Garage Sale Flyer, Yellow Splat Children and Kids Logo, and Dim Gray and Yellow Cat Animal & Pets Logo
Tips for using pastel colors
Love the look of pastels and want to incorporate them into your own designs? Here are a few tips to help get you started:
- Pay attention to balance. Have you ever heard the saying “too much of a good thing?” Well, that’s definitely true when it comes to pastels. Too many pastels in one color palette can feel too saccharine; balance pastels out with neutrals or bolder pops of color to stop them from feeling overly sweet.
- Avoid pastel color combinations that feel dated. Pairing certain pastels together can feel passe (like baby blue and pink, which screams “Look at me! I’m in a nursery!”). Avoid traditional pastel pairings in favor of unique color combinations to ensure your designs feel fresh and modern.
- Choose pastels that feel in line with your brand. Not all pastels are created equal—and not all pastels are created for all brands. So while pastels would be a great choice for a children’s clothing boutique or a lifestyle blog targeted towards millennial women, they’re not exactly on brand for a rugged outdoor apparel brand. Before you incorporate pastel colors into your palette, make sure they feel in line with your industry, your business, and your overall branding.