What’s your favorite color? We’ve all got one, even if we think ourselves impartial to the rainbow of options out there (fact: the human eye can discriminate some 7 million different color variations). People are naturally drawn to certain hues because colors are very good at evoking an emotional response—be it positive or negative. So how can we use colors to our advantage and ensure that our designs make the desired impression? Here we’ll explore just that by examining how to choose the best colors for logos.
The importance of color in design
Very simply, color is important in design because it stimulates our brain. We generally gain the bulk of our information about an environment through sight, and colors give meaning to whatever it is we’re looking at. As any traffic light or stop sign demonstrates, colors can dramatically influence how we understand and engage with the world around us.
From a branding and design perspective, color is crucial. Customer engagement analytics company KISSmetrics found that 85 percent of consumers identify color as their primary reason for buying (or not buying) a particular item or offering. And so here is where a logo, small as it might seem, can be very persuasive.
Color psychology and how it impacts people’s perception of businesses
Color psychology is the study of colors as a determinant of human behaviour. The psychological impact of colors is somewhat subjective, as there are numerous factors impacting our interpretation of them, such as previous associations, personal preference, context and culture.
The color white, for example, symbolizes purity and peace in Western cultures, while in some Eastern cultures it represents bad luck and mourning. Colors also embody conflicting messages, perhaps none more so than red, which can be perceived as both loving and aggressive.
Any color used in a logo will deliver a message. Ideally, this message will reflect a brand’s personality and purpose, while also resonating with its target audience. Understanding the meanings behind colors and the emotional responses they can cause will help here, so we’ve rounded up a few of the major players.
This powerful, energizing color is one of the most attention-grabbing hues. Red stands for love, passion and romance, but also danger, fear, blood, war and strength. It’s emotionally intense and shown to increase our respiration rate and blood pressure.
Yellow is happy, fun, optimistic and uniquely luminous – catching our eye more than any other color on the spectrum. It’s an energy booster with the potential to lift spirits, but can also trigger self-criticism, fear and anxiety.
This trusty and reliable hue is a worldwide crowd-pleaser. Often associated with wisdom and stability, blue slows our metabolism and produces a calming effect. It’s a color that rarely occurs in flora and fauna, so can be perceived as a little cold and standoffish.
A combination of red’s energy and yellow’s cheer, orange is associated with warmth, joy, creativity, success, motivation, general wellness and a zest for life. It’s shown to stimulate our appetites, making it a hot favorite for food brands.
Green is all about balance and harmony. It’s perceived more positively than most other colors and represents nature, health, life, rest and peace. It’s also a sign of growth, be that in a literal sense, like plants, or more figuratively, like your bank balance.
Possessing both the fiery power of red and dependability of blue, purple is soothing yet mysterious; dignified, yet magical; and often associated with luxury, pride and ambition. It can make us feel empowered, but also frustrated and sad.
Red’s sweeter sidekick is affectionate, playful, cute, caring, romantic and feminine. Pink represents compassion, inner peace, friendship and unconditional love, but can also have weak, immature and naïve qualities.
While not the brightest crayon in the box, brown is a strong representative of security, support and protection. It’s a safe-and-serious alternative to the more forceful black, but can feel a little dull and reserved.
No prizes for guessing that gold represents wealth, prosperity and abundance. This close cousin of yellow and brown also signifies love, courage, passion, magic and wisdom, but go easy with it – too much can appear egotistical and extravagant.
Black is a mysterious operator. It symbolizes power, strength, authority and sophistication, and creates a sense of elegance and formality (they don’t call the fanciest dress code ‘black tie’ for nothing). Black can increase confidence, but also might also evoke feelings of sadness and gloom.
This color symbolizes a great many things including purity, innocence, cleanliness, peace, light, renewal, fresh ideas and blank slates. White is shown to aid mental clarity and oozes simplicity, but can also create a sense of loneliness and isolation.
Design tip: Try the Black and White Band Name Logo and White with Green Banner Agriculture Logo templates.
How many colors should a logo have?
A cardinal rule of logo design is that a logo should look good in black and white, so using a single color, or two or three contrasting colors, will allow you to abide by this nicely. Successful logos tend to be simple—and it’s worth noting that a whopping ninety-five per cent of brands use only one or two colors in their logo
How to choose a color combination for your logo
When deciding which colors to include in a logo, you’ll want to refer to your trusty color wheel. Certain color pairings are more harmonious than others, so here are the traditional six combinations to guide you in mixing and matching hues:
Monochromatic color schemes for your logo
Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single color and can be extended using its tints, shades and tones. Many of the world’s most recognizable brands have taken a monochromatic approach to their logo design.
Analogous color schemes for your logo
For a logo that goes easy on the eye, analogous colors are a good option. These hues nestle next to each other on the color wheel and don’t try to overpower or outshine one another, making for a calming, often beautiful combo.
Complementary color schemes for your logo
Complementary or ‘opposite’ colors are located exactly opposite one another on the color wheel. Together they have a very powerful effect, so it’s best to choose one hero color and use the other for accents and highlights (a 7:3 ratio works well).
Design tip: The combination of red and green can be problematic for people who are color blind so for clarity’s sake, steer clear of this duo.
Split-complementary color schemes for your logo
A split-complementary color scheme is made up of one hero color and one or two other shades selected from the colors adjacent to its opposite. The result isn’t as striking as that of two complementary colors, but still makes for a memorable mark.
Triadic color schemes for your logo
Combining every fourth colour in the colour wheel (orange, purple and green, for example) forms a triadic colour scheme, which will give you a high-contrast, very versatile color palette to play with.
Tetradic (double-complementary) color schemes for your logo
Tetradic color schemes are made up of four colors that are evenly distributed on the color wheel. They usually work best if one color is the hero, but both ebay and Google have shown us this isn’t always so.
10 of the best color combinations to use for logos
- Yellow and red
This bold combination is incredibly eye-catching and radiates a happy, energetic vibe. It’s a coupling that often signifies food (hey there, McDonald’s, Chupa Chups, Pizza Hut and Lays chips), but not always. Shell and DHL are also colored by this vibrant union.
- Purple and white
Purple on its lonesome can appear gloomy, so cheering it up with white makes all the difference. Cadbury, Wonka and Yahoo all went for this pairing, which conjures feelings of creativity and wonder.
- Blue and yellow
Combining the most striking and mellow colors on the spectrum makes for an upbeat, approachable logo that says ‘I’m serious but still friendly’ – as Ikea, Walmart and Visa will attest.
- Black and yellow
Many brands have found a powerful pairing in black and yellow (check out Caterpillar Inc. and the Batman franchise). This combo makes for a sturdy presence, and using either color as the hero will ensure the other pops.
- Blue and white
Want a logo that means business? Blue and white are quick to garner trust from an audience, as the professional likes of LinkedIn, The United Nations and Konica Minolta have shown us. They’re also a tech company favourite, à la Facebook, Skype and Twitter
- Black and white
The ultimate in high-contrast, a black and white pairing almost ensures a bold and sophisticated look. It’s the combination used by many style-makers, including Vogue, Gucci and Chanel, and is dependably consistent across print and digital mediums.
- Green and cream
The alliance of green and white’s close relative, cream, creates a calm and soothing effect. It’s little wonder that companies like all-natural cosmetics brand Sukin have used this pairing to represent their pure and eco-conscious philosophy.
- Pink and white
Soft and sweet combination pink and white can be perfect for brands with a playful and loving persona, or those that are targeting young girls and women (take your cue from the rosy examples set by Cosmopolitan magazine and Barbie).
- Orange and blue
Orange and blue are complementary and make for a confident coupling that’s both exciting and trustworthy. Sports teams love this combination (the New York Mets and New York Knicks, for starters) and Nickelodeon has used this kid-and-parent-pleasing pairing for its Nick Jr logo.
- Red and white
If Coca-Cola and Target have taught us anything it’s that red and white logos go the distance – quite literally, as they’re usually highly visible. White takes some of the fury out of red so these two colors have an agreeable (but still passionate) marriage.