Colour Theory & Colour Psychology

Color theory was originally formulated in terms of three “primary” or “primitive” colors—red, yellow and blue (RYB)—because these colors were believed capable of mixing all other colors. This color mixing behavior had long been known to printers, dyers and painters, but these trades preferred pure pigments to primary color mixtures, because the mixtures were too dull (unsaturated).

Johannes Itten -1888 –  1967, was a Swiss expressionist painter, designer, teacher, writer and theorist associated with the Bauhaus school. Together with German-American painter Lyonel Feininger and German sculptor Gerhard Marcks, under the direction of German architect Walter Gropius, Itten was part of the core of the Weimar Bauhaus.

From 1919 to 1922, Itten taught at the Bauhaus, developing the innovative “preliminary course” which was to teach students the basics of material characteristics, composition, and color. In 1920 Itten invited Paul Klee and Georg Muche to join him at the Bauhaus. He also published a book, The Art of Color, which describes these ideas as a furthering of Adolf Hölzel’s color wheel. Itten’s so called “color sphere” went on to include 12 colors.

Warm vs. cool colors

The distinction between ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ colors has been important since at least the late 18th century.[1] It is generally not remarked in modern color science or colorimetry in reference to painting, but is still used in design practices today.

Warm colors are often said to be hues from red through yellow, browns and tans included; cool colors are often said to be the hues from blue green through blue violet, most grays included. There is historical disagreement about the colors that anchor the polarity, but 19th-century sources put the peak contrast between red orange and greenish blue.

Color theory has described perceptual and psychological effects to this contrast. Warm colors are said to advance or appear more active in a painting, while cool colors tend to recede; used in interior design or fashion, warm colors are said to arouse or stimulate the viewer, while cool colors calm and relax. Most of these effects, to the extent they are real, can be attributed to the higher saturation and lighter value of warm pigments in contrast to cool pigments. Thus, brown is a dark, unsaturated warm color that few people think of as visually active or psychologically arousing.

Achromatic colors

Any color that lacks strong chromatic content is said to be unsaturated, achromatic, near neutral, or neutral. Near neutrals include browns, tans, pastels and darker colors. Near neutrals can be of any hue or lightness. Pure achromatic, or neutral colors include black, white and all grays.

Near neutrals are obtained by mixing pure colors with white, black or grey, or by mixing two complementary colors. In color theory, neutral colors are easily modified by adjacent more saturated colors and they appear to take on the hue complementary to the saturated color; e.g.: next to a bright red couch, a gray wall will appear distinctly greenish.

Black and white have long been known to combine well with almost any other colors; black decreases the apparent saturation or brightness of colors paired with it, and white shows off all hues to equal effect.

Color psychology is the study of hues as a determinant of human behavior. Color influences perceptions that are not obvious, such as the taste of food. Colors can also work as placebos by having the color of pills be certain colors to influence how a person feels after taking them. For example, red or orange pills are generally used as stimulants.Color can indeed influence a person, however it is important to remember that these effects differ between people. Factors such as gender, age, and culture can influence how an individual perceives color. For example, males reported that red colored outfits made women seem more attractive, while women answered that the color of a male’s outfit did not affect his attractiveness.

Influence of color on perception

Perceptions not obviously related to color, such as the palatability of food, may in fact be partially determined by color. Not only the color of the food itself but also that of everything in the eater’s field of vision can affect this.

Placebo effect

The color of placebo pills is reported to be a factor in their effectiveness, with “hot-colored” pills working better as stimulants and “cool-colored” pills working better as depressants. This relationship is believed to be a consequence of the patient’s expectations and not a direct effect of the color itself.[2] Consequently, these effects appear to be culture-dependent.

Uses in marketing

Since color is an important factor in the visual appearance of products as well as in brand recognition, color psychology has become important to marketing. Recent work in marketing has shown that color can be used to communicate brand personality.

Marketers must be aware of the application of color in different media (e.g. print vs. web), as well as the varying meanings and emotions that a particular audience can assign to color.

Research on the effects of color on product preference and marketing shows that product color could affect consumer preference and hence purchasing culture. Most results show that it is not a specific color that attracts all audiences, but that certain colors are deemed appropriate for certain products.Color is a very influential source of information when people are making a purchasing decision. Customers generally make an initial judgment on a product within 90 seconds of interaction with that product and about 62%-90% of that judgment is based on color. People often see the logo of a brand or company as a representation of that company.

Specific color meaning

Different colors are perceived to mean different things. For example, tones of red lead to feelings of arousal while blue tones are often associated with feelings of relaxation. Both of these emotions are pleasant, so therefore, the colors themselves procure positive feelings in advertisements. The chart below gives perceived meanings of different colors in the United States.

Functional (F): fulfills a need or solves a problem

Sensory-Social (S): conveys attitudes, status, or social approval.

Red Yellow Green Blue Pink Violet/Purple Brown Black White
Lust (S)[23] Jealousy (S)[23] Good Taste (F)[23] Masculine (S)[23] Sophistication (S)[21] Authority (S)[23] Ruggedness (S)[21] Grief (S)[23] Happiness (S)[23]
Negative Issues (F)[24] Competence (S)[21] Envy (S)[23] Competence (S)[21] Sincerity (S)[21] Sophistication (S)[21] Sophistication (S)[21] Sincerity (S)[21]
Excitement (S)[21] Happiness (S)[23] High quality (F)[23] Power (S)[23] Expensive (F)[23] Purity (S)[23]
Love (S)[23] Corporate (F)[23] Fear (S)[23]

Combining colors

Although some companies use a single color to represent their brand such as Target Corporation, many other companies use a combination of colors in their logo, such as McDonald’s, and can be perceived in different ways than those colors independently.

Attracting attention

Color is used as a means to attract consumer attention to a product that then influences buying behavior. Consumers use color to identify for known brands or search for new alternatives. Variety seekers look for non-typical colors when selecting new brands. And attractive color packaging receives more consumer attention than unattractive color packaging, which can then influence buying behavior.

If a company is changing the look of a product, but keeping the product the same, they consider keeping the same color scheme since people use color to identify and search for brands.[30] This can be seen in Crayola crayons, where the logo has changed many times since 1934, but the basic package colors, gold and green, have been kept throughout.


Many cultural differences exist on perceived color personality, meaning, and preference. When deciding on brand and product logos, companies should take into account their target consumer, since cultural differences exist. A study looked at color preference in British and Chinese participants.[35] Each participant was presented with a total of 20 color swatches one at a time and had to rate the color on 10 different emotions. Results showed that British participants and Chinese participants differed on the like-dislike scale the most. Chinese participants tended to like colors that they self rated as clean, fresh, and modern, whereas British participants showed no such pattern. When evaluating purchasing intent, color preference affects buying behavior, where liked colors are more likely to be bought than disliked colors.[30] This implies that companies should consider choosing their target consumer first and then make product colors based on the target’s color preferences.


Branding Personalities.

The Psychology of Color in Marketing and Branding


When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?


Prob the simplest explanation of Colour Psychology.

Source –

W3Schools colour charts.

HTML Pastel colour charts.

A very Looong but good article. Colour Meanings –



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