Did you know brand colours can increase brand recognition by up to 80%? In fact, 85% say colour was the main reason they bought a particular product. That’s no surprise. Colours have the power to draw our attention, evoke emotion and make information stick. But choosing the ideal brand colours is not just a matter of personal taste or aesthetics. It requires a deep understanding of your brand and its market.
In this article, I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to creating an effective brand colour palette.
Whether you’re a small business or a start-up, this guide will help you choose brand colours that truly reflect your brand, connect with your audience and stand out from the competition.
But first, let’s clarify what brand colours actually are.
What Are Brand Colours?
Brand colours are a set of carefully chosen colours that represent your brand ideally. Typically, a brand colour palette includes one or two primary colours and several secondary colours.
The primary colours are dominant and are often used in your logo and other visual elements, while the secondary colours make good accents, backgrounds and the like.
Why Are Brand Colours So Important?
Never underestimate the importance of colour to your brand. Your brand colours play a crucial role in shaping your overall brand identity and creating a consistent brand image across all platforms.
Consistency is key, here. The repeated use of your brand colours creates a brand experience that is always instantly recognisable.
This means that your colours can become synonymous with your brand and leave a lasting impression on your audience.
Furthermore, brand colours can evoke feelings and create an emotional connection with customers. By conveying the essence of your brand, colours can reinforce your brand message. For example, a sustainable brand might use natural colours.
The right colour choice should inspire trust and excitement and go hand in hand with your brand’s values and personality.
So choose your brand colours wisely. Consider factors such as your brand strategy, colour psychology or accessibility. This way you can make sure your colours appeal to a wide audience and convey the desired message.
10 Steps for Crafting Your Perfect Brand Colour Palette
1. Define Your Brand
Before you start looking at colour swatches, you need to get to grips with your brand and its market.
In particular, this means developing a deep understanding of your business drivers, your audience and your competition. Based on these insights, you can then create a distinctive identity for your brand.
Your Brand’s Internal Drivers
Start by exploring your internal factors: Your values, what makes your brand unique and its vision. This is the foundation of your brand and will help you make the right decisions moving ahead.
Your Brand’s Audience
Next, you should focus on your target audience. Who is your audience? What are their needs, behaviours and problems? By knowing your audience, you can choose colours that appeal to them and evoke the right emotions.
Your Brand’s Competition
Now it’s time to take a look at your competition. Research other brands in your industry and see how they look. What colours do they use? What works well and what doesn’t?
Think about how you can make your business stand out. What makes your business so special? And can your brand colours communicate that?
Develop Your Brand Identity
Once you’ve researched your internal factors, identified your target audience and studied your competition, it’s time to take all this information and create your unique brand personality. What do you want your brand to sound like? How do you want it to be perceived?
Only then, with this solid foundation, should you begin brand design, including the selection of brand colours.
By taking the time to define your brand in advance, you can make an informed colour choice that accurately represents your brand, stands out and resonates with your audience.
For example, if your brand is playful and energetic, you should use bright, bold colours. If your brand is more sophisticated and elegant, muted colours might be more appropriate.
2. Strike a Balance Between Standing Out and Representing Your Industry
When choosing your brand colours, find the right balance between standing out and fitting into your industry. You want to make sure, that customers find you when shopping in a certain category. But you also want to make a distinctive impression.
Take a wellness brand, for example. A calming green might work well to convey a sense of nature and tranquillity. But when competitors are also using green, it’s time to think outside the box. Maybe a natural sand tone could set you apart from the competition and leave a unique impression.
3. Consider the Effects of Colour Psychology
However, it’s not just about fitting in or standing out. Understanding colour psychology is important to make an emotional connection with your audience.
Different colours can evoke different emotions and associations, which can have a significant impact on how your brand is perceived.
Let’s take a closer look at some colours:
Yellow is generally associated with optimism and happiness. Brands such as McDonald’s, Snapchat and Best Buy use yellow in their branding to convey a sense of joy.
Red can evoke feelings of excitement and passion. Brands like Netflix, Lululemon and Nintendo recognise this strength and incorporate red into their branding.
Blue is a colour associated with trust and reliability. Brands like Facebook, IBM and American Express know this and use blue to convey a sense of security.
Green is a symbol of growth and nature. Brands like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Animal Planet use green to embody the concepts of freshness and connection to the natural world.
Once you understand the psychology of colour, you can choose brand colours that evoke certain emotional responses in your target audience.
Although these associations are often universal, personal experience and cultural background can influence them. This brings us to the next topic.
4. Consider the Cultural Context of Colours
Colours can have very different meanings in different cultures and contexts. Be mindful of these differences to avoid unintended associations or misunderstandings.
For example, in Western cultures, red is often linked with danger, but in China, it’s considered lucky and used during New Year celebrations. In Indian culture, red is associated with purity and is used during wedding ceremonies.
Similarly, white is commonly used in weddings in Western cultures, but in Japan, it’s traditionally worn at funerals and associated with mourning and death. In African cultures, white can represent spirituality and purity, while red can symbolise power and vitality.
David McCandless’s infographic provides a great visual representation of these cultural differences.
5. Choose Your Primary Brand Colour(s)
When choosing the perfect primary colour(s) for your brand, you should consider all the factors discussed so far:
- Your brand’s unique personality and values
- Your target audience
- Your competition
- The norms of your industry
- The psychological impact of colour
- Colour perception in different cultures
By considering all these factors, you can identify one or more primary colours that strike the right balance.
Your primary colours are the core of your brand’s visual identity, reflected in your logo, website and other marketing materials.
Therefore, it is important that you choose a colour that accurately represents your brand and is visually appealing and memorable.
Once you have chosen your primary colour, you can look for secondary colours that complement it well.
6. Choose Your Secondary Brand Colours
Your secondary, or complementary, brand colours should not only reinforce your primary colour but also add depth and dimension to your brand’s visual identity.
Combined, all colours should create a coherent and visually appealing brand colour palette.
Let’s look at some tips that can help you find a harmonious colour combination.
How Many Colours Does a Brand Need?
A brand colour palette rarely consists of a single colour alone. The secret to a harmonious colour palette is combining colours.
There are no rules for how many colours you should use. As a rough guide, though, your brand needs at least the following colours:
- One or more neutral light colours (e.g. for backgrounds)
- One or more neutral dark colours (e.g. for text)
- Primary colour(s) for brand recognition
- Accent colour(s) to attract attention (e.g. for buttons on your website)
A Good Ratio for Brand Colours
I am often asked this question: How should you balance the proportions of your brand colours?
A great colour palette alone is not enough. If you use all colours in equal proportions, you risk making your branding look like a kids’ birthday party.
The trick? Try using your colours in uneven proportions.
Illustrator Greg Gunn once gave a good rule of thumb: use your brand colours in roughly the following proportions:
- 60 % primary colour
- 30 % secondary colour
- 10% accent colour
Even though most brands don’t have exactly three colours, this is a good starting point.
Note, however, it also depends to some extent on your individual brand personality.
Refer to the Colour Wheel
To achieve harmonious colour combinations, you can choose colours that complement each other on the colour wheel.
Let’s take a look at some colour harmonies:
Complementary colour scheme: Colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel
Split complementary colour scheme: A colour and the two colours adjacent to its complementary colour on the colour wheel.
Triadic colour scheme: Three colours that equally spaced on the colour wheel
Tetradic colour scheme: Two complementary pairs of colours
Analogous colour scheme: a combination of three to five colours adjacent to each other on the colour wheel
Experiment With Tints, Tones, and Shades of Colours
By adding white, grey or black to your chosen colours, you can create more depth and sophistication.
- Tints are created when white is added to a hue, resulting in a lighter version of the original colour.
- Tones are created by adding grey to a hue, resulting in a muted and softened version of the original colour.
- Shades are created by adding black to a hue, resulting in a darker version of the original colour.
Specify Your Neutral Colours
Don’t make the mistake of neglecting neutral colours and focusing only on the more vibrant colours. Neutral colours play an important role in communication. For example, your brand needs colours for text and for backgrounds, too.
Typical neutral colours are close to white or black and can contain a small amount of colour to be on-brand.
When used well, neutral colours can add a sense of balance and elegance to your branding.
Specify Your Functional Colours
Your brand colours can also serve a functional purpose beyond evoking emotion and brand recognition.
You can consider assigning specific functions to different brand colours. For example, a news website could use a colour-coded system to distinguish between different topics.
This not only adds visual interest but also helps readers navigate to the content that interests them.
Think about the main functions of your brand and whether colours could support these. Perhaps you could colour-code different price levels for a product or use a colour to highlight call-to-actions on your website.
Sometimes it helps to just experiment with different colour combinations and get inspired. Luckily, there are lots of online tools that can help you with the creative process:
- Pinterest: A good platform to search for colour palettes, illustrations, and photography as colour references.
- Adobe Color: Provides ready-made colour palettes and allows you to create your own using the colour wheel. You can also upload reference images to extract colours and export the results in various formats.
- Coolors: A playful and interactive tool to generate colour combinations with unique and unconventional results.
- Colour Hunt: Discover a curated collection of beautiful colour palettes shared by designers worldwide.
- Dribbble or Behance: Browse through other designs and let them inspire you.
- Canva Color Palette Generator: Generate colour palettes from uploaded images or get inspired by pre-made palettes. Canva also offers design tools that allow you to apply your colour scheme to different projects.
- Material palette generator: Developed by Google, this tool allows you to create and customise colour schemes according to the Material Design guidelines.
- Pantone Color Finder: Extensive colour library from Pantone for inspiration and precise colour matching.
- Chat GPT (OpenAI): Get some suggestions from Chat GPT, it works surprisingly well.
7. Test your colours
Once you have chosen your brand colours, test them in different contexts.
How do the colours look on different backgrounds? Do they work well with your logo and brand typography? Do they support your brand voice?
Make sure that the colours chosen are accessible to all users, including people with visual impairments. Consider using colour contrast checkers to ensure your colours have sufficient contrast and text, for example, is easy to read.
Test Your Colours in Different Applications
Make sure the colours work in different applications, such as print and digital formats. This way you can be sure that your colours look good and represent your brand effectively wherever they appear.
Remember, consistent use of brand colours is key to building recognition and a cohesive brand experience.
Create mock-ups and prototypes
To get a feel for how your brand colours will appear in the real world, you can use mock-ups, for example.
But don’t forget to try out printing techniques when needed to see how your colours will come across.
8. Consider Future Growth
When choosing your brand colours, think about their scalability as your business expands. Will the colours still fit when the brand enters new markets or launches new products and services?
It’s okay not to know everything in advance, but taking the time to think these details through can pay off in the long run.
9. Use Your Brand Colours Consistently
I have already mentioned this a few times in the article: Consistency is key to creating a recognisable brand.
By using your colour palette consistently across all touchpoints, you create a visual connection between your brand and your audience. This strengthens your brand recognition and builds trust and loyalty.
It’s worth noting that colours can appear differently on different mediums, such as on a computer screen versus in print. To ensure consistency across all mediums, create a brand style guide specifying different colour codes such as Hex, RGB, CMYK, and Pantone.
Consistent brand colours convey professionalism and reliability. So be absolutely sure to stick to your brand colour palette.
10. Review and Refine
Finally, you should take the time to regularly review your brand colours and refine them if necessary.
As your business grows and evolves, it may be necessary to adjust your brand colours to reflect these changes.
But it’s important to do this carefully and consider the impact on your existing brand identity and recognition.
Example: Mailchimp’s Brand Colours
Let’s take a closer look at Mailchimp’s excellent use of brand colours. Mailchimp’s brand identity features a mix of vibrant and bold colours, including yellow, orange, blue and pink.
Choosing the perfect brand colours is more than just a matter of your personal preferences or aesthetics. It is a strategic decision that requires careful consideration.
To choose the right brand colours, you need to define your brand, understand your target audience, consider the competition, the industry and the cultural context, and even look into colour psychology.
By considering all these factors, you can create a visual identity that is consistent, recognisable and compelling.
The brand colours you choose will not only attract attention but will also make an emotional connection with your audience and reinforce your brand message.
By following the steps outlined in this article, you can select brand colours that authentically represent your brand and resonate well with your people.
Use your brand colours to create a cohesive and memorable brand image that builds trust and promotes customer loyalty.
To sum it up, selecting the perfect brand colours is more than just a matter of personal preference or aesthetics—it’s a strategic decision that demands careful thought.
You need to define your brand, understand your audience, consider your competition, industry norms and cultural contexts, and even delve into the realm of colour psychology.
By taking all these factors into account, you can create a visual identity that is consistent, recognizable, and powerful.
Your chosen colours will not only catch the eye but also forge emotional connections that amplify your brand’s message.
By following the steps outlined in this article, you’ll be able to select brand colours that authentically represent your brand and deeply resonate with your audience. This will result in a cohesive and memorable brand image that builds trust and fosters loyalty over time. So go ahead and embrace the power of colours!
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like my guides on choosing the right brand typography and developing a strong brand name.