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Understanding Color Psychology

Color has an innate ability to communicate without words. Whether you realize it or not, certain colors are guaranteed to evoke emotions within you at a mere glance. Your color choices hold power, and they can make or break a design. Therefore, it is helpful to understand color psychology and how different hues influence behavior and perceptions. Soon you will begin to see that color psychology is used in everything from logo design and advertising, to interior design, and even TV and movie scenes!

Some colors have different meanings across cultures. For example, in Western cultures, white is considered pure and clean, which is why brides wear the color on their wedding day. However, in many Asian cultures, white is worn to funerals where it represents death and mourning. While these specific instances are useful to know, many colors are universally known for different moods and emotions. Those general guidelines make up the color psychology theories that follow. Understand that these color translations are generalities, not rules. Therefore, individuals may have different emotions related to specific colors that contradict widely accepted color theory.

Warm Colors & Cool Colors

Generally speaking, you can rely on warm and cool color psychology to lay the groundwork for a broader understanding of individual colors. Warm colors (red, orange, yellow) elicit feelings of energy, passion, positivity, and “warmth.” Cool colors (green, blue, purple), on the other hand, generate a sense of calm, relaxation, or even sadness. 

Color Symbolism

Note: the color explanations that follow are a brief exploration into the vibrant hues within the rainbow. Tertiary colors, such as teal or coral, carry characteristics of the colors used to make them and may develop a personality all their own. As you mix hues with white, black, and gray, their meanings and corresponding emotions will change. For example, as white is mixed with red to create a pastel pink, its meaning shifts. Additionally, the context and surroundings of where the color is displayed and an individual’s personal experiences will affect the perception of each color.

Primary and Secondary Color Meanings


Red represents passion and love, but also anger and danger. It is a vibrant, eye-catching color, which is why it is often used for caution.


Orange is a mix of passionate red and cheerful yellow, so it is an enthusiastic color that brings feelings of excitement and warmth. Because it is the color of pumpkins and changing leaves, it is commonly linked to the cozy feelings of autumn.


Yellow is a happy color. It is the springtime sunshine after winter, so it represents joy and optimism. Because it is an eye-catching hue, it can also be used as a color of caution.


Green is common in nature, and therefore, it is regarded as a soothing color. Green symbolizes growth, wealth, health, and freshness.


Blue, also common in nature, is calming and represents peace and tranquility. As with the sea and sky, blue is akin to open spaces and freedom. While the color is relaxing, it also conveys a sense of authority and trust.


Purple is not easily found in nature, so purple dye was reserved only for the wealthy throughout history. Therefore, the color is associated with royalty and luxury. In modern times, it also represents mystery and creativity.

Neutral Color Meanings


Black can have many meanings, dependent upon context and individual perception. From sophistication and class to depressing and pessimistic, it is a polarized color.


White is clean and fresh, and it often represents purity and innocence. On the flip side, white can also feel sterile and cold.


Gray is a neutral color, meant to be impartial to feelings. However, its meaning changes when paired with other colors or mixed into varying shades and tints.


Brown is another color commonly found in nature, and it is known to bring forth feelings of warmth and comfort. Depending on its shade, brown can feel dull, rugged, or wholesome.


Gold, due to its prominence throughout history as a sign of wealth, signifies affluence, luxury, and achievement. Because of its illuminating characteristics, gold also expresses glitz and glamour.


Silver, with its cool gray undertones, is sleek, modern, and high-tech. The metallic color can be used to convey sophistication and elegance.