How to choose your brand color palette

23 February 2020
Why is your brand’s color scheme so important?

From color psychology, to tints, tone and color schemes, we demystify the jargon so you can get on with the fun part – branding your business.

Why is your brand’s color scheme so important?

When building a brand, your color palette is one of your most crucial considerations. Along with your tone of voice, fonts and brand values, it helps people understand who you are and why you’re here – which, in turn, attracts the right customers to your brand.

Start with some inspiration

Just as your brand values shape your tone of voice, they should also be the foundation for your color palette. Start by creating a mood board of any colors and images you feel align closely with your brand identity. You can find inspiration anywhere – from packaging and fashion to nature and interiors.

Consider color psychology

As you do your research, you’ll notice whether you’re drawn to warm or cool colors. The connotations and moods evoked by the hues you’ve chosen should also reflect your brand values and personality.

Color theory is the idea that any hue can be linked to a mood or value. It’s also known as “color psychology.” Some of these links are instinctive, whereas others are a little more subtle. Whichever you choose, they can all have a big impact on how your brand is perceived.

Here’s a rundown of some common colors and their associations:

This sunny hue is on the warm side of the color wheel and is associated with positivity. Think of the golden arches on the side of a Happy Meal.

Green is evocative of growth and nature – a link Tropicana has used to its advantage in its logo.

Blue has the benefit of projecting calmness, making it a sign of stability – useful if you’re a business such as PayPal, Visa or Samsung and want to convey reliability.

While black is a risky color, thanks to its associations with all things morbid, it also denotes sophistication. This link has been harnessed by numerous high-end brands, including Prada, Chanel and Gucci.

Fiery hues denote excitement, passion and energy. Red Bull, and their association with high-adrenaline sports, are a great example of a brand that has aligned color connotations seamlessly with their values.

A mixture of red and yellow, orange is an invigorating, warm color that inspires creativity (think of the classic covers of your favorite Penguin books). Strangely, it can also create feelings of hunger or thirst, as it’s a common color in fruits and other food.

Deeper, vibrant shades of purple generate associations with luxury, richness and quality. This indulgent hue has been used most famously by Cadbury’s chocolate, but also by premium card makers, Hallmark.

Once you’ve identified a dominant color that projects the right image for your brand, you can decide which accent colors will best complement it to make up your complete palette. This is where the color wheel, along with color theory, really come into play.

Color terminology explained

If you’re not a designer, color terminology can be like reading another language. Here are the definitions of some common color terms you might come across when building your palette:

Color wheel
A visual that demonstrates the relationship between the 12 primary (red, blue, yellow), secondary (purple, green and orange) and tertiary colors. This is a great tool for finding contrasting and complementary colors.

One of the 12 single colors found on the color wheel.

Tint, shade or tone
The different ways of transforming hues into a variety of colors. A tint is a hue mixed with white, while a shade is a hue mixed with black. A tone mixes a hue with black and white.

Creating a color scheme
Once you’ve got to grips with the terminology around color and with the color wheel, you can start using your knowledge to build out schemes. A color scheme is simply the way colors are combined or arranged:

A palette comprising just one hue, with different tones or shades. Think Oreo’s different shades of blue.

A palette made from colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel. These combinations tend to be particularly harmonious, as seen in agricultural firm John Deere’s palette of greens and yellow.

A color scheme comprising colors that are opposite each other on the wheel. If used on top of each other – for example, by applying red text to a green background – they will clash. But when used side-by-side they can help you create stand-out. Think 7-Up’s logo.

Also known as ‘split-complementary,’ this palette takes two adjacent colors on the wheel, and matches them with a color on the opposite side.

A palette built from three colors taken from evenly-spaced parts of the wheel. Burger King’s red, blue and yellow is a classic example.

Choosing and testing your palette

Once you’ve got to grips with the color wheel and scheme options, it’s time for the fun part – playing around with different palettes based on your dominant colors.

If you’re finding it hard to choose a definitive final palette, test out a few of your favorite combinations. You might find you haven’t picked colors with enough impact (for example, if you’ve chosen a monochromatic palette), or ones which don’t look the same when they appear in print and online.

It’s also worth researching how your colors compare to those of your competitors – too similar to competing brands, and you risk getting lost in the crowd – and what your colors mean in a global context. For example, in France and Germany yellow denotes envy, whereas in the UK green is a traditionally envious color.

The colors you choose can have a huge impact on the visibility of your business. Red Bull’s palette, intact since its launch in 1987, is so integral to the brand that seeing silver, red, yellow and blue together instantly brings the energy drink to mind.

If you choose your palette carefully using these guidelines, you can use your brand’s colors with complete confidence.


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