The psychology of colors

Colors influence people and they are associated with certain feelings and meanings. These associations are defined by both the culture we live in as well as our personal experiences. If you are wondering what this has to do with prepress: not a lot although it can make you understand why a designer used a specific color instead of picking an easier to print one 🙂

Please note that this is an overview on how colors are perceived in the Western world (Europe, USA). Other cultures can perceive colors completely different. The Chinese, for example, use white instead of black during funerals because they associate white with the winter time when nature is dead.

List of colors and the feelings associated with them


Black is not really a color.  Since it absorbs all color, it points to an absence of color.
Black is associated with:

  • sophistication
  • seduction
  • mystery
  • rebellion
  • strength
  • evil
  • death

Black is elegant and simple at the same time. Ideally black gets printed as a dense rich black.

Blue is one of the basic colors.
Blue is associated with:

  • truth
  • reliability
  • dignity
  • power
  • coolness
  • melancholy & heaviness
  • trust
  • belonging

Blue is a calming and safe, universally popular color. It is not the best color for anything associated with food, since there are few natural foods that have the color blue in it.

Gold is not really a color. It refers to the yellowish tint of a shiny gold surface.
Gold is associated with:

  • success, achievement & triumph
  • wealth & abundance or luxury
  • prestige & sophistication
  • quality
  • elegance

To properly print a color that resembles gold, a metalic ink must be used. It is not really possible to emulate a gold tint with standard cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks.

Green is one of the basic colors.
Green is associated with:

  • nature
  • health
  • cheerfulness
  • environment
  • money
  • vegetation
  • freshness
  • cool
  • growth
  • abundance

In the USA green is also associated with money.

Indigo is one of the seven colors of the rainbow.
Indigo is associated with:

  • intuition
  • perception
  • meditation
  • dignity
Opaque Couché is a bit of a special color.
Opaque Couché (Pantone 448C) is perceived as the world’s ugliest hue according to an Australian study. It is associated with:

  • dirt
  • excrements
  • death
Orange is the color between red and yellow.
Orange is associated with:

  • playfulness
  • warmth
  • vibrance
Pink is a pale red color.
Pink is associated with:

  • love
  • beauty
  • softness  & sweetness
  • nurture
  • security
  • childhood
  • femininity

When used in conjunction with violet or black, pink is associated with seduction and eroticism.

Purple is the color between red and blue. It is similar to violet.
Purple is associated with:

  • wealth
  • royalty
  • sophistication
  • intelligence
  • spirituality
  • diginity
Red is one of the basic colors.
Red is associated with:

  • urgency & speed
  • love, sex & passion
  • heat
  • blood
  • excitement
  • strength
  • danger
Silver refers to the metallic gray color that resembles polished silver.
Silver is associated with:

  • prestige
  • cold
  • scientific

Printing silver using regular CMYK inks is not really possible. It can be simulated by printing a light black with possibly a bit of cyan added to create a cool gray tint. By adding some lighter and darker shades, a shiny illusion can be created. Far better results can however be achieved by printing silver as a spot color using a metallic ink.

Turquoise is a greenish-blue color.
Turquoise is associated with:

  • happiness
  • peace & calm
  • emotional stability

This is one of those colors that move in and out of fashion.

White is not a color.
White is associated with:

  • cleanliness
  • lightness & emptiness
  • virginity
  • youth
  • mildness.
Yellow is one of the basic colors.
Yellow is associated with:

  • warmth
  • sunshine
  • cheerfulness & happiness
  • cowardice
  • brightness

In signage yellow and orange are used to indicate caution.

Other sources of information is a site that deals uniquely with the meaning of colors, as does this site.

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