Color meaning and symbolism: How to use the power of color

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Color holds power. It can impact our moods, emotions, and behaviors. It can also be a source of information. While an individual’s response to color can stem from personal experience, the science of color along with color psychology supports the idea there’s far more to it.

Countless studies have been conducted on the relationship between color, particularly in the areas of marketing and branding.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Color influences 85% of shoppers' purchase decisions.
  • About 62‐90% of the product assessment is based on colors alone.
  • Colors increase brand awareness by 80%.

At a basic level, colors influence how consumers view the ‘personality’ of the brand in question, so it’s important you get it right. In the following article, we’ll show you how to use the power of color in your branding by breaking down color meaning so you can choose the colors that are right for your product or business.

Table of contents: Color meaning and symbolism: How to use the power of color in your branding

Brand color and logos

A brand’s logo and visual identity will comprise a number of visual cues, such as shapes, symbols, numbers, and words. But the number one visual component that people remember most is color.

When it comes to branding, the power of color is both emotional and practical. On an emotional level, color can affect how consumers feel when they look at a brand, while on a practical level it can help a brand stand out in the crowd.

Whether you're a designer or a business owner, it's helpful to know color meanings and symbolism so you can make informed decisions. If you choose a color meaning 'tranquility' for your extreme sports brand, you might be sending the wrong message.

So let’s take a look at how to choose the right color for your brand.

Branding palette: Warm, Cool and Neutral

Before we get into specific colors, let’s look at the three categories that define color: Warm, cool, and neutral, with each group conveying a different feeling.

  • Warm colors

This includes red, yellow and orange, and variations like pink. These colors evoke warmth due to their brightness and link to the sun. In general, they convey optimism, enthusiasm, and passion.

  • Cool colors

These include green, blue, purple, and their variations like violet. These colors are considered cool as they are colors commonly found in nature and are known for their calming effect. These colors are calming, relaxing, and subdued.

  • Neutral colors

These include brown, black and white, as well as variations like gray. They’re often paired with warm or cool colors but are sophisticated on their own. They can be powerful and pure and are sometimes referred to as the earth tones.

Now you understand the color categories, let’s get into specific colors.

1. Red

Red is considered to be a color of intense emotions, ranging from anger, sacrifice, danger, and heat, through to passion, and sexuality. Used in branding, it can deliver an impactful punch with the ability to increase desire. Not surprising when it’s the color of fire and blood, as well as being associated with love. It is a bold, energetic, and lively color that can symbolize strength, confidence, and power.

Tips for use: In many Asian countries such as India and China, red is regarded as the color of happiness, wellbeing, and good fortune, so always consider the context.

Kombi sells warm winter clothing suitable for the Canadian climate. Its brand identity uses red to evoke that feeling of warmth and heat as well as drawing on the colors on the Canadian flag.

This visual identity of the Swedish Democratic Youth League uses red as it is strongly tied to political affiliations, specifically, the Democratic Party that uses red derived from its traditional symbol of a red rose.

Uniform designed this brand identity of Norwegian restaurant Ingierstrand and while it uses red, the color and its meanings are softened by texture, transparency, and cream contrast.

To stand out from the crowd, try templates Red Sushi Logo or Red and White Youth Photo Volunteer Flyer.

2. Pink

Pink is regarded widely in the western world as the color of femininity. Because of this, it is used to bring awareness to breast cancer and women’s products. However, like all colors, pink is quite diverse and the level of intensity can impact its meaning. Pale pink is often aimed at little girls, dusty pink is more sentimental or romantic, while hot pink indicates youthfulness.

Tips for use: Identify the mood and feeling you want to muster, and choose your pink accordingly. Don’t shy away from using pink for genderless brands (like T-Mobile does) as you may be targeting personality or gen-Y rather than gender.

Sam Lane specifically chose light, rosy pink for photographer Eleanor Finch’s business cards in order to target a primarily female audience. However, the black imagery and simple type keep this modern without being ‘girly.’

Here, Lane used bright hot pink for the British Independent Film Festival poster. Wishing to capture attention, he combined it with tongue-in-cheek text for fun, energetic and youthful appeal.

Pale pink underlies this colorful visual identity for architect Georgia Gamborgi. Although the pink is sweet and romantic, it serves as a memorable canvas that is youthful and vibrant.

3. Orange

Blending the warmth of red and the optimism of yellow, orange communicates activity and energy. And of course, it’s hard not to associate it with its namesake, immediately making it feel fresh and healthy.

Orange has different tones and shades, each with different meanings and effects. For example, light pastel peach tones are seen as sweet, conversational, and affable, whereas more intense, vibrant oranges are seen as representative of vitality, energy, and encouragement.

Tips for use: Because orange is associated with fun and vibrancy is well suited to youthful, energetic brands and best avoided for luxury, traditional or serious brands.

Feeding the Self is an organization that teaches African youths to be self-sustainable with veggie and herb gardens. Here, orange conveys youthfulness, as well as the fresh and healthy feeling associated with gardens.

This visual identity for film production company Adventure uses big bold orange with big bold typography to convey a vibrant sense of adventure and youthfulness.

Full Orange created, ironically, a visual identity for Ampersand Agency that is full orange (with some blue and brown thrown in). Orange expresses the creativity and energy of the agency.

4. Yellow

Being the color of sunshine, yellow puts a smile on the dial. It is the most visible color from a distance (which is why it’s used for street signs) and communicates cheerfulness, friendliness, joy, and energy. It can also be associated with mental clarity and intellect. However, yellow is also a cautionary color used in life vests, police cordoning tape, and hazardous areas.

Tips for use: Some shades of yellow can look cheap—although this may suit your brand image. So yellow is a great example of when to research consumer reaction to color appropriateness and make sure it is the right color for your product.

This stationery is for the illusionist group The Citrus Brothers. The yellow, like the illusionists, is cheerful, entertaining and smile-inducing.

This concept of visual identity promotes Aachen as a center for electric vehicles and uses yellow, which is traditionally associated with electricity and also communicates energy.

Yellow and back can be a risky choice, but Impero’s goldish-yellow branding combined with simple typography is contemporary and understated. Overall, it is friendly and playful.

Yellow is a color that embodies many ideas depending on the shade and application. Try the templates Grayscale Photo and Yellow Business Magazine Cover and Yellow Surgeon Creative Book Cover.

5. Green

Named after the Anglo-Saxon word grene meaning “grass” and “grow” but today it has two common associations that are paradoxical. One being nature and the environment, and the other being finance and wealth. When it comes to nature, green represents plant life and growth and is consequently used to convey being ‘green’ in the environmental, sustainable, organic, natural sense of the word. And of course, green is, as the saying goes, ‘the color of money’ (US money, that is) and therefore associated with wealth and stability.

Tips for use: Pick your shade of green carefully as brighter, lighter greens indicate growth, vitality, and renewal; while darker, richer greens represent prestige, wealth, and abundance.

This business card for Albahaca Restaurant looks good enough to eat. With a vibrant green image of the restaurant’s namesake herb, the brand is fresh, healthy, and full of vitality.

This branding by Kokoro & Moi gets the green light. Promoting a street food festival, the fluorescent green communicates both the neon lights of Asia’s night markets as well as the fresh and experimental food being served up.

Green is used to great effect for Filmfaktisk’s branding identity. An earthy, pine green tint has been applied to various images adding a sense of prestige, richness, and depth.

Keep things fresh with these green-themed templates such as the Green Olive Modern Contemporary Wedding Invitation and Green and Cream Trash Can Icons Recycling Poster.

6. Blue

Blue is a color that has long been associated with royalty, art, military, business, and nature, making it a color with a lot of applications. It is a favorite color for companies that wish to convey reliability, trustworthiness, and communication (think Facebook, Twitter, and Samsung) and for expressing the authority of organizations like the police. It is also appreciated for its calming and harmonious qualities being associated with the sea and sky. On the flip side, it's also used to express sadness or depression, or as we say, feeling ‘blue’.

Tips for use: Blue runs the gamut from corporate and dependable, to calming and tranquil, to feeling down in the dumps. So choose your shade wisely.

Siegfried is a life coaching company that is all about communication and leadership. Blue conveys Siegfried’s professionalism, dependability, and strength while the vibrancy of the blue is contemporary.

The brand identity for Wo Hing General Store draws on a rich visual language that combines vibrant blue with light blue. It pays homage to the bright lights of Asia while portraying a calmer space and atmosphere.

White Studio designed a new visual identity system for the city of Porto. They used the blue from the city’s colored and patterned tiles and used it to communicate stories of the city.

Known for being the ‘favorite’ color, try our favorite templates like the Blue and White Fist Cancer Advocacy and Cause T-Shirt or the Blue Flower Plant Show Flyer.

7. Purple – royalty, majesty, spiritual, mysterious

Purple is considered a low arousal color. It is traditionally associated with royalty, majesty, or nobility as well as having a spiritual or mysterious quality. Darker shades often represent luxury or opulence while lighter lavender shades are quite feminine, sentimental, and even nostalgic.

Tips for use: Purple is best used for targeting a female audience as research suggests women list purple as a top-tier color while it doesn’t even rank for men. Overall, purple is not a common color for branding and in fact, Cadbury is the only purple brand in the Forbes list of the 100 most valuable brands from 2014.

Purple may not be for everyone but these business cards for Intu demonstrate that combined with grey it works very well and becomes, perhaps, more gender-neutral.

The business card for Louisville interior design company Bella Casa pays homage to the city’s Victorian homes and French influence. This feminine, nostalgic and sentimental attributes are visually communicated through the choice of purple.

Add a touch of elegance to your events with these purple-themed templates, Purple Floral Wedding Ideas Invitation and Purple Photo Tea Party Invitation

To let purple reign, try regal templates such as the Purple Science Education Presentation and Purple Space Opera Education Presentation.

8. Brown

Brown gets a lot of use in this era of organic and natural food, beauty, and products. Nature-inspired it represents a feeling of wholesomeness, orderliness, and being grounded. It is simple, strong, durable, and honest and may express that your brand has better things to care about than superfluous color when really, there are so many beautiful shades of brown to elevate any product.

Tips: Use caution with brown as it can remind people of dirt. On the other hand, it’s also great to cover up dirt if the product you’re branding has anything to do with soil, dirt, or mud.

This visual identity for Clay draws on a brown color palette and uncoated material texture – and fittingly so given it’s a museum of ceramic arts and crafts. The brown communicates the earthiness and honesty of the base materials.

This concept visual identity Everybody Loves Fish & Chips unites various tones of brown and uncoated paper to convey a sense of wholesome, natural, organic food.

Maurizio Pagnozzi designed the visual identity for fashion shop XXY using both light brown and a darker, wood-grained brown that represents the brand as being simple, durable and honest.

Here are examples of templates using the color brown in wonderful ways. Brown with Coffee Beans Photo Coffee Flyer and Cream and Brown Photo Yard/Garage Sale Flyer

9. White

White represents simplicity, purity, innocence, and perfection. And if you had to identify one brand that has used white to convey its brand message to perfection it would have to be Apple – white represents the simplicity of the products in both their form and function. White also comes with a starkness or sterility about it, which is often used by designers to convey a minimalist aesthetic and clean, modern quality.

Tips for use: It’s difficult to inject personality into your brand when using white, so make sure your brand is about simplicity, purity, and transparency.

Designer Thomas Wightman created this identity system to portray his personal design style. Nearly all white, with a black + symbol for his first initial, the branding is simple, straightforward and minimalist.

Lucas Leo Catalano has created a holistic visual identity for Orto Botanico, once the botanical gardens of the Vatican. White, overlaid on organic and natural colors and textures, communicates the purity and perfection of nature.

The Håndvaerk brand promotes refined simplicity, clean lines, and understated luxury. This is all communicated through white-on-white, which is pure, honest and transparent.

Make a bold statement with these minimalist book cover templates Black and White Minimalist Typography Book Cover and White and Light Gray Graphic Design Book Cover.

10. Black

Black is to be taken seriously. It represents power, luxury, sophistication, and exclusivity on one hand; and death, evil, and mystery on the other. From formality to mourning to power, black is bold, classic, and not to be fooled with. While color is more likely to increase brand recognition there’s no reason black—when used appropriately—can’t be just as distinctive, memorable, and communicative of a brand’s attributes.

Tips for use: Contrast a bright color against black; use gold foil for a touch of luxe, or combine it with white for a bold and simple statement. Think about texture and how matte or glossy black might change the message of your brand.

Matte black with glossy black type is sophisticated and distinctive in this visual identity for A Design Film Festival. It’s classic and bold and the textures and shine are eye-catching.

This visual identity for All For Show represents luxury and exclusivity with a black palette punctuated with gold foil. Transparent imagery adds depth and layers.

SWG_Studio revitalized their corporate branding with predominantly black stationery with geometric interlocking lines and shapes. The overall look is formal, professional and serious.

For a classic look, try the templates, School Dance Show Poster and Monochrome Asian History Poster.

11. Multicolor – variety

Of course, what about mixing multiple colors in one logo, such as Google, the Olympics, and NBC? Diverse color generally indicates variety – be it representative of people, countries, or offerings.

Tips for use: Mo’ colors equals mo’ money when it comes to printing so consider your budget (although this won’t matter if you’re dealing online only). Pay attention to how your choice of colors work together both printed and digitally as the end result may vary with different screens and different printers.

New Images Systems has six employees, so boymeetsgirl assigned each employee one color. They are united by grey and a diagonal line derived from the logotype’s N. Overall, the design conveys the concept of strength in numbers.

Giddy+Up combines a love for Helvetica, Swiss-style posters, and horse racing jockey shirts. This concept design employs multiple colors to represent a variety of jockey shirts.

Kokoro & Moi love producing brightly colored visual identities and Hello Ruby is no exception. It celebrates all the realms of computing through the big image of a small girl. Bold and playful colors express optimism, curiosity, and variety—just some of the many attributes of computing.

For a color burst that unites the world, try the Rainbow True Brave Proud Poster or Global Climate Change Strike Poster.

Color theory summary

Here’s a quick summary of the colors and their meaning.

Red – danger, passion, excitement, energy

Pink – feminine, sentimental, romantic, exciting

Orange – fresh, youthful, creative, adventurous

Yellow – optimistic, cheerful, playful, happy

Green – natural, vitality, prestige, wealth

Blue – communicative, trustworthy, calming, depressed

Purple – royalty, majesty, spiritual, mysterious

Brown – organic, wholesome, simple, honest

White – purity, simplicity, innocence, minimalism

Black – sophisticated, formal, luxurious, sorrowful

Multicolor – United, open, diversity

Next steps and tools

Inspired? Here are some handy Canva tools to help you with your color journey.

Want to know what colors look good together? Canva's Color Wheel makes color combinations easy.

Want a color scheme that perfectly matches your favorite images? With Canva’s color palette generator, you can create color combinations in seconds. Simply upload a photo, and we’ll use the hues in the photo to create your palette.

Looking for colors that are guaranteed to look good together? We've generated thousands of designer-approved palettes for you to use in your next design.

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