Color can make or break your brand, but with so many colors to choose from, how do you choose the right ones? Choosing the right color palette is a tricky part of the branding process, but there a few questions that can guide you in this endeavor.

Who is your audience?

Our experiences, cultural backgrounds, and personal preferences affect how we perceive colors. Each of your audiences will have a different reaction to your color palette.

Before you start choosing colors, it is essential that you understand your target demographic. What gender and age are they? What industries do they work in? What products do they use? What brands do they like? 

Gender plays an important role in how we perceive color. Studies on color perception and preferences have concluded that men tend to prefer bolder colors and shades (colors with black added) while women prefer softer colors and tints (colors with white added). As this infographic by KISSmetrics shows, 57% of men consider to blue to be their favorite color, while only 35% of women chose blue. In contrast, 23% of women chose purple as their favorite color, and 0% of men did. Also, women can more easily distinguish changes between hues. Therefore, a subtle color palette may be more effective on a female audience.

Cultural backgrounds also affect color associations. If your brand is going to be one that is international, then you need to learn about the different cultural connotations of the colors you choose.

For example, Pepsi changed the color of its vending machines in Southeast Asia to light blue in the 1950s, which had disastrous results due to light blue representing death and mourning in that region. As a result, Pepsi lost much of its market share to Coca-Cola. If you’ll be marketing to other countries, it’s important to do your research and be careful not to offend international audiences.

What is the personality of your brand?

Studies have shown that a customer’s intent to purchase a product is greatly influenced by how they perceive the brand through its colors. Therefore, your color palette should accurately reflect the voice of your brand in order to attract the right customers.

While specific emotional reactions to colors are dependent on the individual, certain colors do have general associations, which is why they’re consistently used by certain industries. For example, green is often used in eco-friendly brands while pink is used for feminine brands.

What’s most important is that your color palette supports the brand image you want to portray. For example, a fun, bold brand would be best suited by bright, loud colors while a more calm brand might be better suited by soothing pastels.

What do your competitors look like?

Take a look at your competitors. What types of colors are used in your industry? You don’t want to stray too far away from the colors already associated with your type of business because it will confuse your potential customers. If your business is a bank, the standard colors associated with those brands are blue, red, and green. If you choose a neon pink and yellow color palette, you will definitely stand out, but the associations may not be positive. You may come across as unprofessional or untrustworthy if your brand doesn’t fit within the conventional color palette for that industry.

While you usually want to stick within the expected colors for your brand, you still can make your brand distinct and unique. One way to do that is through an unexpected and interesting accent color.

TIP: Print out logos and advertising materials from big brands in your industry. Then print out your brand’s color scheme and compare. Do your colors fit into the same color scheme or do they clash?

How do you choose multiple colors?

In order to choose colors that will be harmonious together, we need to understand how colors interact with each other. So let’s take a brief look at color theory 101.

The Color Wheel

The color wheel is a tool used to illustrate the relationships of colors to each other.

Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors on the color wheel
Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors on the color wheel

The color wheel is made up of three primary colors (red, yellow and blue), which are colors that cannot be formed by any other color. All other colors on the wheel are derived from mixing these three colors together.

When you mix two primary colors together, the resulting color is a secondary color. These three colors are orange (yellow and red), green (yellow and blue), and purple (red and blue).

When a primary and secondary color are mixed together, the resulting colors are tertiary colors.

Monochromatic Color Scheme

Monochromatic colors are all the tints and shades of a single color.

Monochromatic color palette
Example of a monochromatic color scheme

Monochromatic color schemes are cohesive and pleasing to the eye, and they work well in conjunction with white, black and gray. However, they can be very limiting and less dynamic than other color schemes due to only one color being used.

Analogous Color Scheme

Analogous colors are colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel.

Analogous color scheme
Example of an analogous color scheme

Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and are very pleasing to the eye, and they offer more variety than monochromatic color schemes. These colors are more impactful when used in differing amounts, so be sure to choose one dominant with a second supporting color.

Complementary Color Scheme

Complementary colors are pairs of colors that cancel each other out, which means that they create black when mixed together. On the color wheel, complementary colors exist directly opposite of each other. These three pairs are purple and yellow, orange and blue, and red and green.

Complementary color scheme
Example of a complementary color scheme

These opposing colors create maximum contrast, which can result in a vibrant and dynamic color scheme. However, this color scheme must be managed well so it is not jarring. For example, placing red text on a green background is difficult to read.

Triadic Color Scheme

Triadic colors are three colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel.

Triadic color scheme
Example of a triadic color scheme

This color scheme can be vibrant, even when using pale colors. The colors should be carefully balanced, with one color dominating and the other two used in smaller amounts.

Tetradic Color Scheme

Tetradic colors are made up of two complementary pairs.

Tetradic color scheme
Example of a tetradic color scheme

Balancing this color scheme is a challenge, but when done effectively, it offers a rich variety of color. Avoid using all four colors equally and instead, choose one color to be primarily used.

How do you use the colors you’ve chosen?

For any color palette, you will want to choose at least two colors minimum. One color should serve as the primary color, with another as an accent color.

Design professionals tend to use at least three colors: one primary, one secondary, and one accent. A color ratio of 60-30-10 is a standard often used by designers, so this is a great point to build off from.

While you can choose as few as two colors, you should not exceed five colors. Keep your brand colors simple and targeted.

TIP: Print out pieces of paper in the colors of your color scheme. Cut them into different sized pieces to figure out which colors should be dominant in your scheme. Try out multiple options!

Now choose a great color palette!

Color influences how we feel about a brand because it is our first sensory interaction with it. Therefore, your color choices need to be strategic. By combining the basic principles of color theory with careful consideration of your brand’s audience and personality, you can make better choices when selecting your brand’s color palette. Remember to keep it simple and consistent!