Logo colours: What’s best for your brand?

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Choosing the right logo colours can highlight your business’ strengths and help you attract the right customers. And, as you might guess, the wrong combination can have the reverse effect.

Everyone has heard of colour psychology, which tells us that colours impact our emotions and behaviours. Yellow is cheerful (because the sun is bright and yellow!) and green is calming (like laying in the grass and looking up at a bunch of leaves is peaceful). But do these logo colour “rules” really mean anything in business and branding?

 

Researchers Lauren Labrecque and George Milne looked into that question and found that some colours have a measurable impact on consumers and others don’t. So yes, the colour yellow can help make your brand look youthful and approachable. On the other hand, a green logo doesn’t inherently make customers think your brand is peaceful. Using this research-based approach, we’ve compiled this definitive list of what logo colours actually tell your potential clients.

Complete guide to logo colours

Read on to discover what colours symbolise in your logo designs, the history behind logo colour meanings, and how to stand out from the competition. 

Which logo colours mean what?

Red logos

Red is the universal sign of excitement, passion and anger. It draws attention and makes you stand out from the crowd. Is your brand loud, playful, youthful, or modern? Think red. More mature, classic, or serious? Red may not be for you.

Red is the first colour that babies can see (besides black and white). Scientists theorise that humans evolved the ability to see red better than other colours because it allowed us to more easily identify fruits growing on trees. It developed a strong evolutionary meaning as well when they’re emotional (either with anger or passion), human faces turn red. Thus today we associate that colour with heightened emotion, including love, sex, anger and passion. And while not exactly an emotion, red has also been shown to stimulate appetite (which is why you see it in many food and restaurant logos).

Whether used alone or as an accent colour, red is a powerful choice for a logo colour.

​​See more red logos >>

 

Orange logos

Orange is an invigorating, playful colour. Go orange to stand out from the crowd. It’s used less often than red, but still packs an energetic punch. Be cautious when using orange if your brand is trying to appear luxurious or serious, as orange does not invoke those traits to consumers.

A combination of yellow and red, orange takes on traits of both of those primary colours.

Orange was one of the more recent colour words added to the English language (in fact in old English it was known as “yellow-red;” the word orange was adopted from French when the orange fruit was imported from the Mediterranean).

Orange is associated with change (think autumn leaves or orange skies at sunrise/sunset) and is often used by brands who like to think of themselves as a little bit different.

See more orange logos >>

 

Yellow logos

Logos in yellow reflect accessible, sunshiney friendliness. This is a colour that exudes cheer, and your brand will radiate an affordable, youthful energy. On the other hand, most consumers do not associate yellow with maturity or luxury brands, so think twice if that’s how you want your business to be seen.

Yellow is a primary colour in subtractive colour systems and was one of the first paint colours humans were able to mix. It has many cultural associations (gold, fields of wheat and corn, sunlight, etc), and is one of those colours that’s very diverse. A soft, bright yellow is light and fresh, where a deep gold holds more weight and history.

See more yellow logos >>

Green logos

The ultimate in versatility, research shows that green isn’t linked with many brand personality traits, but it has strong cultural associations. Typically, green represents the natural world, which is why eco-friendly, vegan, and natural wellness brands often have green logos. But you can also use green for just about any type of business!

Since plants are green (and they come back to life after a long winter), many people say green is the colour of growth or new life, but also greed and poison. But historically and in different cultures, green has been a colour of death. In fact, a popular green dye created in the 18th century included arsenic, and it literally killed people. Some have argued that it may be partially responsible for the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose walls were covered in green-dyed wallpaper.

In the US, green is associated with money because dollars are green, but this association doesn’t hold across other cultures. What does all this mean? Green can work for just about any brand. Build meaning through hue, shade, logo shape and your font choice.

See more green logos >>

 

Blue logos

Blue symbolises trustworthiness and maturity. You should use it for your brand if you want to be taken seriously. One thing to keep in mind, though, is as the classic king of colours, blue appears in over half of all logos. And because blue can also evoke calmness (imagine the serenity of still waters), if you use blue for your brand, you’ll need to find a way to avoid fading to the background!

Ironically, considering its popularity today and the fact that it’s a primary colour, it’s one of the newer colours to be named by humans: ancient people (Greek, Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew) didn’t have a name for the colour blue. It’s one of the last colour words to appear in virtually every language.

All that being said, choose blue for your brand if you want to exude classic confidence or ensure trust in your brand. Be wary of blue if you are in the food service it supposedly suppresses appetite. If you love blue and want to be more playful, just make sure you choose a lighter blue that is more on the teal side of the colour wheel.

See more blue logos >>

Purple logos

​​Purple is where the rainbow gets luxurious. Use purple to appear simultaneously cutting-edge and wise.

Purple probably gets its luxurious associations because historically purple dye was very expensive, thus the colour was only worn by the very wealthy. One interesting thing about purple, though, is while it’s associated with luxury and wealth, it’s not seen as an overly serious colour. Got a playful, expensive project? Purple is perfect. Sell professional business attire? You’re going to be fighting an uphill battle with a purple brand.

See more purple logos >>

 

Pink logos

In modern, Western society, pink is one of the most versatile colours. From soft millennial pink to neon magenta, pink can give a brand a modern, youthful, luxurious look.

Pink is an unusual colour. All 6 colours listed above are either primary or secondary colours in subtractive colour systems. In theory, pink is just light red. But we don’t have an equivalent English word for light blue or light yellow. It’s also a relatively modern colour word it only entered the English language in the 17th century when it represented luxury. So in the long history of colour, pink is still very young and hip.

See more pink logos >>

Brown logos

Being the colour of soil and tree bark, brown is the epitome of earth tones. This and the fact that it is less vibrant than other colours, it tends to come across as rugged and serious. Brown is also the least common logo colour, so if you choose it you’ll be sure to stand out from the competition.

Brown is also a deep, rich colour (that’s made by mixing all other colours together). It can be great to give a brand a subdued, earthy feel and is great for outdoorsy companies or those selling naturally brown products like chocolate. It also represents aging (in the form of faded book pages), so is often used by types of logos wanting a vintage, hand-made feel.

See more brown logos >>

 

Black logos

Black is the new black. Want to look slick, modern and luxurious? Time to go black. Rather look economical and affordable? Stay away from the dark side.

Black isn’t a colour in the same way that orange and purple are. Humans see those colours because they’re a specific wavelength of light that we can identify and differentiate. Black, on the other hand, is the absence of light. For something as old as light itself, black still feels modern. Its simplicity is almost jarring, giving all-black logos a feeling of mystery and exclusiveness that can be capitalised on by luxury brands.

See more black logos >>

Grey logos

Not quite dark, not quite light. Grey is the middle ground of mature, classic and serious. Go darker to add mystery. Go lighter to be more accessible.

Like with black, there is a stark simplicity to grey. Because it’s softer, however, it takes a more muted, serious vibe, giving grey logos a classic feel.

See more grey logos >>

 

White logos

White is the absence of colour. On its own, it tends to come across as clean and weightless, like the essence of light itself. It is useful for brands that want to come across as careful and methodical, spotless in their delivery. It can also be aspirational, representative of a kind of unattainable purity.

While most logos will have a white version, this will inevitably be paired with another colour (as a background) and that colour will dominate. When used as an accent or added to another colour to make it lighter white is youthful and economical. But it can work for almost any brand.

See more white logos >>

Where do logo colour meanings come from?

Logo colour meanings come from the collision of science, art and culture. How your customers respond to colours and colour combinations is influenced by 3 things: aesthetics, learned cultural associations and evolutionary programming.

Aesthetics

Just like musical notes, some logo colour combinations harmonise well, some create tension that gains notice, while others clash and turn the customer off. Basic colour theory explains that consumers will tune out bland, too-similar colour palettes, and will become overwhelmed by chaotic, conflicting colour arrangements.

Learned associations

Over time, we’ve all learned to associate certain colours with certain feelings – think of brides wearing white on their wedding day as a symbol of purity, or mourners dressing in black to embody a somber occasion. Many of these associations, however, are purely cultural brides in India wear rich, multi-hued saris, and in South Africa, red is the colour of mourning.

Programmed associations

Researchers suspect that at least some of our colour associations are the result of evolution. For example, red is a universal sign of heightened, passionate emotions, which makes both people and animals stop and take notice.

How to choose a logo colour?

Before picking your logo colour scheme, think about the message you most wish your business to convey. What virtues do you want to highlight? Speed, bold innovation, efficiency, compassion, intuitiveness?

Logo color meaning: retro rainbow logo design

By Replika_ via 99designs by Vista.

Brand personality traits that appeal to your target customer are an important consideration when choosing logo colours. Consumers consciously or subconsciously choose products that align with their personal identities. Colours help consumers to categorise products and services, identify which are for them, and in turn make purchasing decisions between similar products.

Once you know what you want your brand identity to represent, go through the list of colours above and identify which might help you convey the right message.

How to combine logo colours?

While you might get away with focusing solely on brand personality traits to come up with a single logo colour, combining colours is where you have to take into account visual harmony. After all, your brand might be earthy and luxurious, but brown and purple are two colours that just don’t go well together visually. At the same time, there are techniques to help you leverage tried and true aesthetic principles to combine colours effectively.

The colour wheel a circular representation of how colours are paired based on their light frequencies in nature is an essential starting point for working with colours. It provides a scientific method for combining colours based on their proximity to one another on the wheel. Some common colour wheel pairings include:

  • Analogous: A harmonious selection of colours that are next to one another.
  • Complementary: A contrasting colour selection of colours that are opposite one another.
  • Triadic: A selection of three colours that are opposite from one another based on an equilateral triangle.

Once you start looking around at logos with multiple colours, you’ll notice many take advantage of these colour wheel pairing techniques.

Read more about colour theory here >>

Up until this point, we’ve mostly been talking about primary hues, which is to say the purest form of a colour. For example, we know that even one of these colours, such as green, can come in thousands of variations just look at a forest! These variations come as a result of mixing hues with tints and shades. A tint is a lighter version of the base hue mixed with white, and a shade is a darker version mixed with black.

Essentially, this is where the colour wheel becomes three-dimensional. If you imagine the wheel as a sphere with the innermost core being pure black and the outermost rim being white, the hue would grow from light to dark depending on how deep you go.

Muted rainbow logo design for babies apparel

Changing the intensity of the hue can make multiple colours work together. Logo design by elizien.creative via 99designs by Vista.

Tints and shades can subtly change both the aesthetic and emotional impact of a colour. For example, pastels (or light-tinted hues) will naturally come across as soft and cheery whereas darker shades will come across as more serious.

This is in addition to the general associations that already come with the base hue. In terms of colour combinations, softening or darkening the hues can help you manage combinations that might not ordinarily work in their purest form. For example, rainbow logos can be difficult to pull off due to their many colours, but softening the hues can make them more manageable.

Lastly, remember that you don’t have to combine logo colours in equal portions. You can select a single dominant colour and make use of an accent colour to be used in small doses. This can be helpful when you don’t want to limit yourself to one colour but also don’t want to commit to multiple. Because an accent is used sparingly, it is recommended to choose a contrasting, bolder colour as an accent is supposed to pop.

For more inspiration, check out our list of logo colour combinations >>

How culture impacts logo colour meanings?

If your brand is international in scope as so many today are you should be aware of the symbolic meanings your logo colours can have when viewed in other cultures. A common example is the way white is viewed in most Western cultures as symbolic of purity while in some Eastern cultures as symbolic of death. A little foresight and cultural sensitivity can go a long way toward making effective colour choices and getting your logo colour meanings right.

Color infographic wheel

via information is beautiful

The infographic provided here can be a great place to start in cross-referencing the colour associations across various regions to be sure you’re not setting off any unintended emotional triggers. These are quick, one-word generalisations, however, and if you know that your logo will be featured prominently in particular regions, you will need to research more thoroughly the cultural psychology behind colour. It can be helpful to understand the underlying context, such as traditions (like our wedding dress example), cuisine, and myths.

If you know for certain that your logo will appear in a wide variety of cultures, it can be a good idea to maintain a neutral tone rather than going with a loaded colour choice. Additionally, a neutral base colour can give you the foundation for a versatile logo, in which the logo colour can change depending on the context. For example, Freshinnet’s logo here uses a black base logo, and this is converted to different colours as necessary.

Brewery logo design in multiple colours

By Freshinnet via 99designs by Vista.

How to choose logo colours that stand out from the competition?

The key to an effective logo is brand recognition. So if you want to stand out, it’s a good idea to choose a colour palette that differs dramatically from those of your largest competitors.

Often, a colour might seem like the most obvious choice for your brand. But that probably also means it’s an obvious choice for businesses like yours. This is why some logo colours end up being typical in a given industry for example, a Google search of “cafe logos” turns up mostly brown logos. While a colour might seem to fit your brand, if it makes you look like everyone else, its message will be lost in the noise.

Café logo design with a bluish green umbrella illustration

By PETAR 123 via 99designs by Vista.

This is why choosing a logo colour isn’t just about expressing who your company is, but what makes your company unique. The underlying issue with the “cafe logos” example is that the colour choice is a result of superficial brand traits (coffee is brown, so brown logo it is) that are likely going to be shared across competitors. Instead, because colour is such a primal, visceral means of visual communication, it should relate something more meaningful to your audience. For example, the design above uses a light blue colour paired with an umbrella to evoke both the name of the cafe (“paraguas” means umbrella) and the idea of sharing a cup of coffee with someone on a rainy day.

What colour will your logo be?

Choosing the colour of your logo is not as simple as liking green and wanting a dark forest logo. Consider how you want your brand’s personality to be perceived and what colours can help you share that with your customers. It’s also worth considering what your competitors are doing. Can you benefit from being an exciting, fun company in a more traditional field? Sometimes zagging is far better than following everyone else’s zigging.

Want more logo design tips? Check out our article on how to design a logo.

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Author: Johnny Levanier