How to choose your brand colours


This “how to choose your brand colours” short course, gives you the tips and tricks to choose the correct brand colours to represent your business.

Colours are subjective to the eye of the beholder. What may seem like a great colour to you can translate in different ways to another person. For this reason, it’s important to understand a bit of theory behind colour and the type of emotions these can evoke. This will help you choose your brand colours.

Helping to choose your brand colours. A bit of colour theory to help.

There are three key ingredients to understanding the overall use of colour for your brands new visual language. The colour wheel, colour harmony, and the context of how colours are used. Colour is relative to the environment within which it is used. So if you’re intending on using it for screen or for print, or both, you need to understand how the colour will be used and where it will be absorbing light.

The colour wheel

It’s really useful to take a look at the colour wheel to get an idea of contrasting and complementary colours. Colours can be defined in 3 categories as follows:

  • Primary colours: red, yellow and blue
  • Secondary colours: green, orange and purple
  • Tertiary colours: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green

Colour harmony and brand colours

It’s important to choose a colour palette for your new brand that works in harmony, being careful to create a visual experience that is both calm and engaging for your target audience. It’s useful at this point to take a look at a colour wheel showing analogous and complementary colours.

Analogous colours are any three colours which are side by side on a 12-part colour wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange.

Complementary colours are any two colours which are directly opposite each other, such as red and green and red-purple and yellow-green.

Colour context

Your brand colours will be seen in different environments, such as on screen or in print so it’s handy to understand the difference between print and digital colour formats.

Colour for digital use is composed of three different colours, commonly referred to as R (red) G (green) B (blue). Colour for print use is composed of four different ink colours, commonly referred to as C (Cyan) M (Magenta) Y (yellow) K (Key, black). You can match the two colours closely, but an RGB colour matching the equivalent CMYK colour tones will not always translate well for print and vice versa.

Source and further reading: color meanings

Your values, your brand colours

Your brand values will match very closely to how you display your visual language. For example, like Apple you may focus on the simplicity of your product or service or be looking to break through into a new way of thinking which makes you courageous. In this case, you will need to display your visual language accordingly, choosing colours to reflect simplicity and boldness such as whites, subtle greay and darker greys – think Apple.

Are we youthful? Caring? Eco friendly? Sporty? Professional? Soothing? Playful or savvy? Colours can play an important role in helping to communicate the visual language around a brand personality. Let’s take a look at what some colours convey.

Red can be used in different ways. In a positive sense, it conveys energy, courage, vigour, passion and romance. Used in another way it may convey danger, anger, strength and power.

Case study: Coca Cola
We all know that Coca Cola is an iconic “red” brand – probably one of the most famous in the world. It uses an unashamedly bright “coke red” in its logo and splashes red throughout marketing materials, including the website.

Source: usbrandcolours

Not surprising when you look firstly at their values. Leadership, collaboration, collective genius, integrity, accountability and passion. The famous Coca Cola “coke red”, conveys energy, power, courage and passion. They harmonise their colour palette by intermixing with complementary colours, such as white, soft grey and black.

Pink: T-Mobile
Pink is a playful and positive colour associated with happiness, youth, energy, sensuality, hope and femininity.
A good example of this being used well is T-Mobile. T-Mobile uses a complimentary colour palette of pink and grey, which acts as a great balance between energy and calmness.

Source: brandpalettes

Take a look at their culture & benefits page and you really get a sense of why this colour palette works so well for them. They are very much pro diversity, passion, purpose and embracing the individual. The “You get what you put in” attitude is alluring, making it a really great career choice for those who start as a junior but want to work hard and earn the same pay as a more senior level role.


Purple is an interesting colour that evokes mixed emotions so choose wisely. It can be seen as luxurious, decadent, honourable, courageous, pompous, sacred, indicative of faith and representative of mourning.

A good example of a brand using purple well is Cadbury. For Cadbury, “Spanish Violet” represents luxury and trust, with it maintaining an honourable brand status in the world of chocolate. They use “University of California Gold” to add luxury to their famous purple colour.

Source: Cadbury’s

Cadbury’s philosophy is going back to its philanthropic roots with kindness and generosity used within marketing campaigns and the use of key value words such as premium, indulgent and quality.

Blue can be used in many ways depending on the shade of blue used. Darker blue is often used to show security, conservative values, trust, loyalty, reliability, tradition and corporate thinking. This shade is often popular with banks and tech companies. Lighter blue can convey peace and serenity, often used in charity brands.

Blue: Intel
A good example of a brand using blue is technology company Intel. Their values are quality, risk taking, inclusivity, discipline, customer and results orientation. Being blue helps them to convey trust and reliability. They pair their Intel blue with black and soft grey on their website.

Source: Intel

Black is used by brands to look classy, credible or edgy. Paired with the right colour combo, such as white or yellow, it can make for a stunning backdrop for your brand mantel piece. Black can also be associated power, self-control, independence and death.

Unsurprisingly, Nike uses words like inspiring, positive, powerful, urgent, motivational and encouraging in their brand values and general tone of voice. The simplicity of their powerful swoosh tick in plain black placed on a white background conveys strength, energy, motivation and edge.

Source: Nike colour-codes

Yellow often represents the colour of happiness, energy, attention, and intellect. This colour produces a warming effect, stimulates mental activity, and generates muscle energy. Dull yellow signifies decay, sickness, betrayal, egoism, and madness. The human eye processes yellow immediately, which is why it is used for cautionary purposes.

A combination of cheerful yellow and fire-y red, orange conveys efficiency, affordable pricing, and dependence. Often, it is associated with happiness, tropical weather, attraction, determination, and creativity. Orange stimulates the appetite and its hue can convey a sense of healthiness as well as the fall season. People also associate orange with strength.

Green symbolises health, nature, productivity, and relaxation. It is commonly associated with health products, the environmentally conscious, and is used by financial companies to depict wealth. Green is said to be the most calming shade to the human eye.

Colour calculator
The 7 step guide to understanding colour theory

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