Colour Symbolism

Whether you are printing posters, flyers or leaflets, when you are trying to attract attention, colour is an important part of the process. Just like words and images, it’s a powerful communicator, setting the mood for what you are trying to say and sending a number of subtle messages in the process. Choosing the right colour for your target market can make a big difference to your chances of success.

Colour symbolism and significance

Colour symbolism and significance 

When individuals pick up a leaflet or notice a poster as they walk by, it is usually the colour they notice first and the colour will make them decide whether or not to take a closer look. These are the messages that popular colours convey:

  • Red – attention grabbing, energetic and active. Red also evokes romance and love; this colour can also signal danger or seem aggressive.
  • Blue – professional, calm trustworthy and formal; this colour risks being overlooked but is good for being taken seriously.
  • Green – neutral, peaceful and reassuring; green also suggests environmental awareness and responsibility.
  • Yellow – bright and sunny; this is a poor colour for text, but a good one for backgrounds, contrasting more strongly than white with blue and black.
  • Black – used for text; black is authoritative and serious; used for a background, it suggests something alternative and youth-orientated.
  • Orange – energetic and a little bit quirky; orange can also convey warmth and friendliness.
  • Pink – soft and feminine; pink is often used for products aimed for little girls. It’s a soothing colour associated with love.
  • Purple – associated with quality, authenticity and luxury; purple is a fantastic choice for high-end marketing.

Cultural differences

Although the colour associations described above may seem obvious and intuitive, there’s actually a great deal of variation in the way colours are interpreted in different cultures.

For instance, we tend to perceive white with just a hint of blue as being whiter, and associate it with purity, whereas in South America it’s white with a hint of red that creates this impression. This means that if you are printing something targeted at residents of a particular country or distinctive cultural group, it’s worth carrying out a little research rather than relying on the previous guide.

Combining colours 

Combining colours is like combining fonts, unless you have a big space to work with, using more than three makes the space seem overcrowded and can distract from your message. Often, just two active colours against a light background; for example, white or yellow, is the best option.

Combined colours tend to send more specific cultural messages; for instance, red, white and blue conjure up the concept of patriotism, whilst pink and white is often associated with sweets or cakes. While you should therefore think carefully about the connotations of your choice, it also gives you some great marketing options.

Colour and paper type 

Some colours can make quite a different impression depending on the type of paper used, due to the way they catch the light. A good printing agency will understand this; so if you are not sure about your choice, ask to see colour samples on various paper types before making a final decision. Your printer may also be able to make helpful recommendations.

Take a look at our Colour Guide for helpful printing prep, or our article Colour: How To Use It To Your Advantage for a comprehensive guide to Pantone. 

Written by Joanne Serellis

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