How to choose the right colors for your brand

Whether you’ve decided to branch out from a company and start your own business, or are launching a game-changing new startup, understanding the impact of color on consumer behavior will help your brand become a success.

Research shows that up to 85% of consumers believe color is the biggest motivator when choosing a particular product, while 92% acknowledge visual appearance as the most persuasive marketing factor overall.

Good thing there’s a method to the color madness, so in this article, we’re going to help you decide how to choose the right colors for your brand.

Table of contents: How to choose the right colors for your brand

Why brand colors are important

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They say first impressions count. This is especially true when it comes to your brand since your brand color is likely to be the first thing customers see. Colors elicit emotions and feelings, plus they convey certain information. This enables customers to form an initial impression without even knowing what your product is about. Put simply, brand colors are powerful in helping customers decide whether or not they want to engage.

How customers respond to color

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We all know red is associated with danger and green is associated with nature, but both have additional meanings and associations.

Color psychology is the study of how colors affect perceptions and behaviors. It allows us to understand color and use it to our advantage, especially when it comes to marketing and branding.

According to a study, 62‐90% of a product assessment is based on colors alone, so it’s important to get your brand palette right.

Examples of well-known brands

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Brands with great color schemes didn’t come across them by accident.

Think about the brands you come into contact with every day and how color plays a role in their visual identity. Coca-Cola is red. Cadbury is purple. Apple is white. Brands like Google play use multiple colors and drive along any highway to glimpse those golden arches.

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Coke’s recognizable red came about for practical reasons. According to the brand, "from the mid-1990s, we began painting our barrels red so that tax agents could distinguish them from alcohol during transport”. At that time, alcohol was taxed but soft drinks were not.

But it was a good move for other reasons too since we now know red can be a trigger for impulse buys.

Image via Logos Download

Rumour has it Cadbury’s regal purple, aka Pantone 2865c, was chosen as a tribute to Queen Victoria. More than 100 years old, Cadbury first attempted to trademark the color back in 2004, however, this started a chocolate war with Nestle, who argued it wasn’t distinctive enough to own. In 2008, Cadbury secured its trademark, proving iconic colors are worth fighting for.

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Steve Jobs chose white for two reasons. Passionate about design, Jobs knew white is the color of purity, and so was in line with his vision of beautifully-designed products. The second reason was because of the competition. At that time, the dominant shade used by computer manufacturers was gray.

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Interesting story: Google chose red, blue, and yellow because they are the primary colors, but they added green to show they don’t always follow the rules. This childlike palette makes technology seem less intimidating—appropriate for a company that prides itself on making things really easy to use.

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There’s a science behind McDonald’s key colors. Red is stimulating, increasing the heart rate, and as a result, your appetite. Yellow is associated with being happy, plus it’s the most visible color to spot from a distance.

As the examples show, none of those colors were chosen by accident. These companies have done an incredible job building brands that can be recognized by color alone. So let’s get into how you can select the right color to make your brand both memorable and recognizable.

STEP 1: Understand what colors mean

A lot of research has gone into color theory. You can definitely get lost down the rabbit hole finding the story behind each color, however, here’s a quick summary to give you an idea:

Red is associated with danger, excitement, and energy. It’s also known for being the color of love and passion.

Pink is feminine, it’s sentimental and romantic. Different shades, like hot pink, can be youthful and bold.

Orange, like it’s namesake, is fresh and full of vitality. It’s also creative, adventurous, and associated with being cost-effective.

Yellow is optimistic. It’s a color associated with being playful and happy.

Green is natural, often used to demonstrate sustainability. But it can also align with prestige and wealth.

Blue is trustworthy and reliable. It’s calming or often associated with depression.

Purple is royalty and majesty. It can be spiritual and mysterious.

Brown is down-to-earth and honest, often used for organic wholesome products.

White is pure. It conveys simplicity and innocence, often with a minimalistic feel.

Black is both sophisticated and elegant. It can be formal and luxurious, but also sorrowful.

Multicolor is united or open to anything. It’s great for capturing the spirit of diversity.

Of course, within this spectrum, there is a raft of additional colors. Different hues, such as baby blue or navy, also contribute to the color story. We’ll touch on this later in the article but for now, you should have a rough idea of what colors are best suited to your brand.

STEP 2: Identify your brand essence

Richard Branson identified his brand when he chose Virgin’s vibrant red color. It encouraged his own customers to be bold and confident, mirroring his own distinct business methods. So what colors best mirror yours?

First up, identify what your brand is about, as having a clear idea—what your brand’s goals are and how you want your target audience to feel—will help hone the best colors to choose for your brand.

Think about your brand in the following ways:

Brand goals: Do you want customers to be happy, to get rich, be more informed?

Target audience: Do you want them to feel positive, confident, or intelligent?

Personality traits: Is your brand fun, serious, or inspirational?

The way you want to be perceived by customers can help further narrow down your color scheme. So while your product might be organic—a color typically associated with brown—your brand essence might be about celebrating the goodness, in which case you may choose to go with optimistic yellow. Even better, you could feature both brown and yellow to be part of your brand color palette (we’ll get to that later).

STEP 3: Look at competitor brand colors

Brand colors should stand out or at least be instantly recognizable. Since your product often appears among competitors—either online or on the shelf—you don’t want to look the same. We often see sunscreens in a sea of yellow or tech companies in a sea of blue. When every product looks the same, it’s easy to be overlooked.

Instead, think about other things your brand or product does, apart from the obvious. A sunscreen might protect from the sun but if it’s made sustainably, green could be an option. To avoid getting lost in the mix, create a mood board of your competitors to determine how you can separate yourself from the pack.

STEP 4: Create a brand color palette

Let’s face it, there are many shades of blue, so let’s look at the colors in context, both as an individual brand color and within a palette.

Types of color

Color Hues

This refers to variations of the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. As you'll probably recall, these three colors can create any other color, depending on how they’re mixed.

Color Shade

This is when black is added to a color, and the amount of shade refers to the amount of black added.

Color Tint

This is the white version of shade, adding white to make the color lighter.

Color Saturation or tone

This is when you change a color’s appearance by adding both black and white.

Color Codes

There are three color codes you need to be aware of to ensure your brand colors can be accurately replicated, no matter where they appear. You don’t need to understand these codes completely but you do need to know what your brand colors are in each format, appearing as a series of numbers for each color.

CMYK and PMS: CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black) while PMS stands for Pantone Matching System. These are used for printing, either off-set digitally.

RGB and HEX: RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue while HEX stands for Hexadecimal Numeral System. These are predominantly found on screens for things like websites and emails.

Brand Palette

Most brands have more than one color. While the logo might be blue, the website might include yellow or green as well. This is called a brand palette, and important to have those colors work together in harmony.

Selecting a color palette is tricky but you don’t need a designer to do it. A great starting point is Canva’s color palette generator, which can help you define the colors you like as well as making sure they work well together. Another plus is that the generator provides the color codes you’ll need.

Try out the color palette generator here.

Where your brand colors should appear

Once you’ve done the research, found your color, and created a palette of supporting colors, it’s time to put them into action. Across all your touchpoints, make sure your selected colors have the desired effect and will work in a variety of ways.

Here are some places where your brand colors can appear:

  • Logo
  • Website and emails
  • Social media
  • Advertising
  • Instore
  • Stationery
  • Staff uniforms
  • Events

Before you commit, test out your colors in one or two formats, like social media or by printing business cards.

Want business cards printed without leaving your desk? With Canva, it’s easy. Click here to see how.

Creating brand Guidelines

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One thing all brands should have is brand guidelines. Brand guidelines are a book of rules as to how your brand should appear, and this is important for consistency. Building and maintaining a strong brand identity will help you to be recognizable and remembered.

A key component of brand guidelines keeping a record of your brand colors. It should show these in all formats. For print or fabrics, be sure to include CMYK and PMS colors, as well as digital colors in both RGB and HEX.

Some additional things you can also include in your brand guidelines include:

  1. A brand overview. The history, mission statement, and personality of your brand.
  2. Tone of Voice. The way you speak to customers or messages you want to communicate.
  3. Logo treatment. The size it should appear or where it should appear on a page or email.
  4. Color palette. PMS, CMYK, RGB, and HEX.
  5. Typography or font. For use in emails, print, or websites.
  6. Image styles. Such as the photos you use on social media.
  7. Design styles. For things like office stationery such a business cards or letterheads.

It’s a great exercise to see how your brand looks as a whole, how the colors come together, and that your brand looks the same across the board.


So there we have it, a guide to choosing the right colors for your brand.

To recap, remember to:

  • Embrace color theory to understand what colors mean
  • Identify what your brand is about so you can align with relevant colors
  • Consider your competitors so you don’t look the same
  • Create and test a color palette across all brand touchpoints
  • Create brand guidelines so your brand always looks the same.

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