The Psychology of Color: What Do Colors “Mean”?

Color choice in design – whether you are painting a bedroom or developing a brand – involves a critical set of decisions that can easily lead your project astray. As in most things, some people have a talent for choosing color – its appropriate use, mixing and matching with other colors, varying hues and shades to create a desired effect – and they can do it intuitively. But for the rest of us, there is help – lots of it – in making color selections based on the security of a more scientific approach, or at least a time-tested one.

Color Choice for Print, Web, Marketing projects
Good color selection for any project is critical to its success.

Please don’t choose a color for your website or print project based on the fact that you like green. It’s great to like green… but it may not be the most effective choice for the brand you are illustrating or effect you are hoping to create. Also, any color on the color wheel has an almost unlimited variation of hue and saturation that can take a warm color into the cool spectrum and a happy color into melancholy! The choice of secondary colors in your palette can also disturb or enhance the effect you are creating and must be selected with all of this in mind. A lot of things to think about – right?

Two great resources to get you thinking about what your color selection might convey: check out Andy Crofford’s infographic at for a beautiful illustration of the color spectrum and how each stop along the way can best be used in design and what it represents.

Another great infographic is from, explaining how color selection affects purchasing among consumers.

Here’s a brief framework of color psychology basics (at least on the positive side – with changes in hue and saturation, these colors can take on societally defined negative connotations as well):

White: clarity, openness, simplicity
Black: power, elegance, mystery
Gray: calm, a conservative approach
Brown: stability, hearth & home
Blue: dependability, security
Purple: wealth, nobility, creativity
Green: balance, rejuvenation, spring
Yellow: happiness, light, energy
Orange: energetic, warm, autumn
Red: passion, aggression, fire

Bear in mind, these are attributes Western society attaches to these colors. Many marketers have found out the hard way that these do not always hold consistent cross-culturally!

A great resource for developing a palette of colors to work with on any project is Adobe Color CC (formerly kuler) – built directly into InDesign and accessed with the Color Theme Tool. You can create various color themes with a simple click on any photo or artwork, add them to your swatches or export them into Creative Cloud Apps.

If your issue is the color paper you are printing on, Neenah Paper has both an app and an online Paper Selector to help.

Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, high impact marketing solutions.