Color Meanings

Basic Overview

If you’ve read a book about art or taken a basic art class, you probably know that red, orange, & yellow are considered warm colors while blue, green, & purple are considered cool. Do you know why? Though we may not think about it much, especially those who live in the city, most of our basic color associations come from nature.

We associate red, orange, & yellow with the sun & fire — both sources of heat. And it’s no surprise, we associate blue, green, & purple with cool things like water & the shade underneath trees.

More specific color associations, often referred to as color meanings, differ by culture & personal experiences. There are some articles out there that say what different cultures associate each color with, but I don’t want to post what could be inaccurate information. I’m from the US so the color meanings I use will be from that perspective.

By the way, I think this should be required reading for all art & design students & teachers. It explains why pink (magenta) sky blue (cyan) are a necessary part of the color wheel.

Now on to the colors.

Color Meanings

Red

Red is associated with a bunch of things, most commonly passion, excitement, fame/importance (red carpet), sex, action, danger, & blood.

The color red is actually a stimulant & been found to raise blood pressure, respiration, & heartbeat. The brighter or more intense the shade of red, the more energy will be “felt” when looking at it. I’ve read that people tend to take more risks & gamble more when exposed to red light.

Red is used for stop signs & stoplights because it’s such a bright, attention-getting color. When a person dresses in red clothing it tends to make them look & feel more confident. It tends to be used in advertising to increase enthusiasm & encourage action.

Because it encourages action, red is also associated with speed & strength. It can also occasionally be associated with anger.

Pink

The color pink is commonly considered a feminine & youthful color. Depending on the shade it can be seen as soft & sweet or fun, passionate, & exciting.

Light pink is a calm, happy color & it is said that in sports, some teams will paint the locker room that the opposing team is going to use pink so that while they are in the locker room they are subtly being affected by the calming effect of the color.

Bright pinks are more energetic shades & are considered fun, passionate, & exciting.

All shades of pink can be associated with romance. (If you’ve walked into a store around February 14th you probably knew that.) Pink combines the passion & sensuality associated with red with the purity of white to represent a softer, more lasting romance.

Pink is also associated with happiness & friendship.

Orange

Orange can be a love it or hate it color, though softer shades of orange like peach or terra cotta tend to be fairly well liked. Orange is commonly seen as a fresh color, vibrant & full of energy. It is frequently associated with creativity & socializing.

Most shades of orange are warm but the qualities associated with each shade are different. Deep shades of orange are usually seen as more “earthy” & shades with a red tone to them tend to be considered sensual. Lighter shades can also be seen as earthy & calm (like terra cotta) or soft, playful, & sweet (like peach).

Of course, being a mix of red & yellow, orange is usually going to be a bright, vibrant color. It is also sometimes said to stimulate our appetites.

Yellow

Usually seen as a bright, warm, happy color, yellow is usually associated with sunshine, joy, energy, & optimism.

Though usually considered a positive, cheerful color, too much yellow can have the opposite effect. I’ve read that people lose their tempers more often in yellow rooms & babies cry more in yellow rooms than in rooms painted other colors. This could be because too much of such a stimulating color can be overpowering. It hurts people’s eyes to take in large expanses of bright colors & yellow is the brightest & most difficult to look at in large amounts.

However yellow does enhance concentration. It stimulates the mind & the nervous system & is said to enhance memory & encourage communication. Yellow is also said to speed up our metabolisms.

Green

Green shows up quite frequently in the world in the form of grass & leaves. Thankfully it’s a lot easier on the eyes than yellow. It’s a refreshing color associated with nature, growth, abundance, & fertility.

Dark green is a rich deep color that can be associated with masculinity & money or with fertility. Bright & light greens are seen as refreshing & relaxing. Green is frequently used to show that a person or company is eco-friendly due to it’s association with nature.

Green is said to be the second most popular favorite color. Though some shades of green can look slimy or sickly, most are fresh, peaceful & happy. Green combines the vibrancy & joy of yellow with the refreshing calm of blue.

Blue

The color of the sky & the ocean, blue is also the most popular favorite color among women & men. Blue is frequently associated with trust, loyalty, & dependability. People are supposedly more productive in blue rooms.

Dark shades of blue can be associated with coldness & depression. Bright or “electric” blues are more exciting & energetic. Lighter blues are seen as serene & peaceful & looking at them can actually cause our brains to produce calming chemicals.

Purple

Purple is commonly seen as a mystical or spiritual color. It is also associated with royalty, luxury, & sophistication. Purple is supposedly is a common favorite color among eccentric & creative people.

As a combination of blue & red, each shade of purple will take on the color of it’s undertone. Red-toned purples are exciting & vibrant while blue-toned purples are more deep & calm. Red-based purples are also frequently seen as feminine & even romantic.

Some people consider purple to seem artificial, possibly because, though it does show up in nature, it’s not seen as commonly as other colors are.

Black

Mysterious, powerful, & elegant or empty, depressing, & evil? All of those & more?

Black is often worn by people wanting to look thinner. In fashion it is considered a classic & timeless color. When a color or style starts trending it is frequently referred to as “the new black” (though the trends never stick around like black does).

Black can be associated with sex & seduction, sophistication, power & authority, or evil, mourning & death. It is the color of all articles of clothing from fishnet stockings & lacy underwear to villains’ & thieves’ outfits in movies to judges robes & corporate suits. Priests & nuns are said to wear black to signify submission to God.

Black is a very strong & versatile color.

White

Ok so technically that text is in gray, but you can’t read white on white anyway.

White is commonly associated with light, purity, & innocence. It’s a very bright, fresh, clean color & is used in homes to make rooms appear brighter & bigger because it reflects light. For this reason, white is also said to be a good color to wear to keep cool in the summer. This may be true, but keep in mind you’re also probably blinding people! I suggest wearing a light pastel color instead.

Doctors wear white coats to show cleanliness. Because it shows dirt so easily, it is more difficult to keep looking clean than darker colors.

Brides wear white dresses to symbolize innocence (traditionally virginity) new beginnings & purity of love. It can be seen as a youthful color (but really that can be said of most bright/light colors) & is commonly considered a neutral color that goes with everything.

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