The importance of colour theory

What Is Colour Theory

Colours are everywhere. They’re used in advertising, entertainment, and decorations, and all invoke a certain feeling in the viewer, capturing their imagination and drawing their attention. Colours can allow anyone to create different types of feelings depending on the particular colours they utilise. Colour theory allows us to understand how to make use of these colours in order to create different effects and create the desired emotions.

So tell me, what is colour theory?

In Colour Theory there are a couple of core concepts that you must understand before beginning to think about designing something; the concept behind the colour wheel and also the kind of feeling each colour represents and gives off to the viewer.

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The colour wheel is simple; it shows what colours contrast each other and what colours that are nearby will create colour harmony. Colour harmony is when two, or sometimes more, colours combine to create a very aesthetically pleasing effect, so much so they can be described to be harmonious with each other. A perfect example of this is the combinations of yellow and purple, which can work in a variety of tones. The colour wheel easily shows the opposite colours, also called “complementary colours”, which are directly opposite to each other and can sometimes be used together to create a high contrast image. 

Colours which are not on the colour wheel such as Black, White, Brown, Ivory and Cream are known as neutral colours. These colours generally work well as a backdrop for other colours and are commonly used as wall colours in houses.

Colour theory is a broad subject, but at its most basic it can be understood as two colour groups which are split in half on the colour wheel that evoke particular feelings. There are warm and engaging colours, and also those that are cool and relaxing. The warm colours are Red, Yellow and Orange and are present on the left side of the typical colour wheel diagram, the cool colours are Green, Purple and Blue, and are present on the right side of a typical colour wheel diagram, as seen here.

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Split Complementary colours are another element of colour theory that is crucial in the effective use of different colours together. A Split complementary is when the use of a primary colour like red, blue, or yellow, is used with 2 other “analogous” colours, which are separate from the primary colour. Analogous colours mean that they are close to each other on the colour wheel, being different tones of the same colour or a separate colour that is neighbouring each other. These 3 colours combine to creates a strong visual contrast effect, without being too vibrant due to not being direct compliments (opposites) of each other.

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It’s vital to know how colours interact with each other; if combined in certain ways they have different effects on each other, for instance, a red dot on an orange background will appear inconsiderable and barely noticeable whereas that same red dot on a green background will become embellished, bold, and more fierce, this is due to them being complementary colours, which we discussed previously. These colour schemes are necessary to know as they can be utilised to create a considerably aesthetically interesting image for use in art, decoration, marketing, or anything you want. Colour compliments, in particular, are used frequently in pop art, however, it is also often used in visual design and computer graphics.

The reason you want to be aware of colours and their properties is due to the fact that it can have a major impact on your brand image, and people’s connotations to your brand itself. Debatably the most significant part of your brand image is the colour palette that you choose for your business’ identity, as colours are usually the first thing a person notices, especially on a brand’s logo, and unfortunately quite often are books judged by their covers.

An example of an incorrect use of brand colours is: a baby accessories business using an aggressive colour like red in their branding. Or a heavy metal band that uses baby blue while promoting. Ideally, you will be using colour theory to create a special aesthetic that doesn’t confuse the message of the colours with the product you’re branding, utilising complementary colours or split complementary colours in order to create a warm, or cool themed brand that is relevant to the business type. 

The logo is a key part of a brand and will be utilising the brand’s main colours in its core design. This will be heavily affected by the colours chosen for a brand and will drive the public’s perspective depending on the contents of the logo and the colours used. To learn more about the importance of incorporating logos into a brand and adapting them with colours, check out our article “Why is a logo so important?

Having a small number of colours that work perfectly together is very important to any brand of a business, these can be complementary but most often are split complementary colours, with the addition of a tone of black preset colour, as well as sometimes containing white in the palette. If you’re a business promoting children’s clothes or toys it may be a smart idea to use warm and exciting colours like yellow and orange, yellow being a very hyperactive and bright colour that likes to have fun while orange is attention-grabbing but not overbearing and aggressive like red.

A more serious and corporate colour scheme like black and white or dark shades of blue may be used for professional brands such as law firms or banks, blue giving off a “trusting” connotation. To read more about colours in use for branding and how they maintain a consistent and effective colour scheme, check out our article on “What are brand guidelines”.

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How can it be used?

Apple is a very good example of colour in branding done right. Apple products mostly feature a white and grey colour scheme, which represents purity, professionalism and practicality. The apple logo itself is mostly grey and because of that, it allows apple to have a very formal, professional and desirable looking brand. People who see it want to be a part of it because it presents itself as the provider for essential personal and professional equipment. The utilisation of white gives off the impression the consumer that the products produced are clean, and built to a very good standard. 

Each colour has it’s own subconscious psychological effects that it gives off to the viewer, such as warm and cool colours emphasising those feelings onto the viewer themselves. These can also transfer to subconscious emotions that can sway how the viewer perceives the image itself. This subconscious colour emotion scheme can be used in art and entertainment, but mainly for marketing purposes. Whether its a food business or a law enforcement agency, the colours that they use in their branding impact the consumer with certain emotional connotations. Colours are a powerful medium utilised by every company in their core branding. 

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Here is a graphic to show some of the different colour connotations that they have to the consumer. You may notice these colours being used in the businesses that relate to the emotion that they give off. These are only some examples of the effects that colours can have on mood and connotations that they give off

In essence, using colour theory in branding is about sending a message without saying anything. That is the general idea of what you should be trying to accomplish while designing your brand image. You want to let people know what kind of business you are and who your target demographic is, just by the colour design of your brand, and the use of colour theory will help you do just that.

Here at Painting Pixels, we can produce a full branding package that will work well with your whole company image, fonts, styles, layout, logo, and colour range – assets that work in perfect sync with your logo, website, printed leaflets, business cards and more. Check out our Graphic Design page to see our professional designs for yourself. And be sure to check out our YouTube Channel for more interesting and entertaining content.