Design Fundamentals



Nothing is more important than color when it comes to designing marketing material for your client.

There are three main areas a graphic designer should consider when choosing colors for a brand identity:

  1. Does the color appropriately represent the client's brand/message?
  2. Does the color appropriately communicate the client's brand/message to the target audience?
  3. Is the color free to use? Does any competitor already "own" the brand color?

Anything Wrong Here?

Color is an important part of identifying brands, products, services, ideas, and messages. Color is one of the first things we see when we encounter marketing material for a product, service or idea. Image how these wrong color combinations would confuse the loyal customer.


wrong colored logos

Color Wheel

Warm colors are the reds, oranges, and yellows. These colors tend to move forward and pop off of a page.

Cool colors do the opposite. The blues, greens and violets tend to recede and move to the background.


Color Wheel


Complement Colors and After-Image

A complement color is one directly across the 12-step color wheel from another. Our favorite Christmas colors, red and green, are perfect example of complementary colors.

Did you know that your eyes can give you any color's complement? Simply stare at the color you are starting with, then move your eyes slightly to the side on a white background and the complement will appear. It only lasts for a short time, so Adobe Illustrator offers the same function. The tool is in the colors palette.

Try this tried-and-true complement activity. Stare at the black dot on top for about 15 seconds, then at the bottom black dot. See the Flag? Pretty cool.


flag after image



Hue simply refers to the name of a color.



Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a hue or color.



Intensity refers to the brightness or dullness of a color.



Color Gamut

The number of colors we can accurately see//print/display varies when we compare the human eye, a printed magazine, or a computer screen. These groupings of colors for a certain medium are referred to as gamuts.

Designers need to be aware of color gamut differences when they create.

If you are designing for a printed brochure and accidentally set up your colors in RGB (used for computer/tv/device screens) you may choose a color that can't be printed on paper (cmyk). You will receive an error message telling you that the color is "Out of Gamut."

Like this:


To fix this issue, you have to switch to a cmyk color mode, or click the little boxes to choose a different color—one that is in both the rgb and cmyk gamuts.

Below is a comparative look at three popular color gamuts. You can see why film photographers were initially reluctant to switch to digital photography. You can also see that an rgb photo will loose a lot of color range when printed in cmyk.

Change Value and Intensity and you Change Color Harmony

Here is an example showing how slight changes to your color palette's values and intensities can positively effect your art's color harmony and unity.

Also, notice how the warm colors pop out, and the cool colors recede to the background. The art has more depth and appeal in the second example.

edrick color sample


Colors and What They Mean to People

A lot of research has been done regarding people's response to color. Here is a summary of some of that research. Use it to help guide your decisions while designing.


Red Header

Energetic, Love, Excitable, Arousing, Pulsating, Fast, Passionate, Active, Loud

Red stimulates the human body and makes the heart beat faster, blood pressure rise, and hormone levels elevate. Red grabs consumers’ attention and wakes the senses. Red stimulates arousal levels and whets the appetite. Red warms people and products. A red cup of soup will seem warmer than a blue cup. This has lead to the success of red and white packaging for Campbell’s soup. Intense reds are powerful and strong and appeal to men seeking these same attributes. The red “power tie” is popular in men’s business circles, especially when it is contrasted with the respect and authority of a dark blue suit. Red is seen as the sexiest color, as proven by its use in decadently sinful cheesecake packaging for Sara Lee, or used on a deep red, silk negligee. Statistical evidence reveals that red cars get a greater number of speeding tickets.



Imagination, Youthfulness, Happiness, Joy, Optimism, Enlightenment, Intelligence

Yellow is most frequently associated with the warmth of the sun and bright light. Yellow is the most easily recognized color. It pops out of a sea of other colors and is easily contrasted from competitor packaging. Taxicabs use yellow to help customers identify them among the congestion of traffic. One of the most endearing popular culture icons, the smiley face, is a lively, bright, uplifting yellow. This symbol is used successfully in Walmart stores as a mascot and ambassador of friendly smiles. In a successful attempt to break the monotony of the telephone operator’s job, yellow was added to the phone book to create the Yellow Pages. Research has proven that type is most legible and most memorable when it is printed with black ink on yellow. Yellow is also a nice complement to other colors. Yellow is used extensively in packaging to make other colors appear brighter and more active.



Reliability, Protection, Trustworthy, Respect, Loyalty, Fidelity, Integrity, Dependability, Classicism, Confidence

Blue is the most liked color among women and men. Men especially prefer blue. Police officers often wear blue uniforms to command respect, demonstrate authority, convey a peaceful and calm personality, and to help calm those they interact with. Blue is the most acceptable color for business and political attire. Men and women in positions of authority wear blue to garner respect and to show those they lead that they are approachable and not aggressive or threatening. Since most interactions with blue are positive, it is a popular color for packaging. The positive words consumers associate with blue are transferred to the product packaged in it. A consumer that is apprehensive about an expensive purchase of a car, furniture, or clothing, will usually choose to buy the color blue because of its permanence and stability. Blue is not a trendy color, so it is less likely to go out of style.



Creative, Friendly, Outgoing, Cheerful, Freshness, Health, Energy, Youth, Happiness, Adventure

Orange is associated with nature and the heat of the sun. Being a warm, bright color, orange grabs a viewer’s attention and is used as a warning color. Neon, blaze, or bright orange are used on products targeting the outdoor person. Hunters rely on orange clothing to make them visible to other hunters from great distances. Dangerous parts of heavy equipment and machinery are often painted bright orange to warn operators or workers to be cautious. Emergency and safety workers choose orange clothing and vests to make other motorists aware of their presence. Orange represents people who are supposed to be creative, playful, humorous, and fun. Orange encourages the flow of oxygen intake to the brain and stimulates creativity. Because of these qualities, orange is the favorite color of many children, teenagers, and athletes. The playful, energetic qualities also make it an excellent choice for children’s games and toys, and inexpensive novelty products. Orange can be seen as a value-priced color, so marketers must be cautious not to use too much of it on products that are meant for an upscale, more status-oriented target market.



Nature, Calming, Environmental, Fresh, Growth, Healthy, Calm, Peaceful, Quiet, Relaxing, Life, Youthful, Energy, Safe, Kind, Generous

The majority of consumers choose green as their second favorite color. Women tend to like green more than men. Green, being a cool color, is one of the most calming of all colors. Like yellow, green can be used with many other colors on packaging. In nature green goes with most any color. Green foliage goes well with red, yellow, orange, blue or purple flowers. At a stoplight, green calmly allows motorists to proceed. Communities prefer green road signs whenever possible because they blend into the surrounding environment with little obstruction. Darker greens symbolize wealth, prosperity and status. Printed money is primarily green for this reason.



Regal, Mysterious, Royal, Luxurious, Passionate, Sensuous, Spiritual, Dignified, Extravagant, Magical

Purple is not a mainstream packaging choice because of the mixed messages it sends to consumers. Throughout history, purple, black and gray were most often associated with rotten or spoiled foods that shouldn’t be eaten. Some scientists believe that this message has been subconsciously passed down through generations and still affects consumers’ food and packaging choices. The exceptions are food products targeted to young audiences and purple colored food such as grape juice, eggplant, and grape flavored candy and beverages. Kids have shown a preference for oddly colored foods such as bright green, purple, orange, and yellow. However, these colors are usually associated with the flavor of the food, such as green apple or purple grape candy and juice drinks.



Earthy, Home, Durability, Warm, Comforting, Approachable, Common, Sincere, Masculine, Rugged, Natural

To the consumer, brown is down-to-earth, simple, and says, “hearth and home comfort.” Brown is considered a neutral color and is often used to color high priced products and services. Consumers feel more comfortable buying expensive furniture, picture frames, handbags, jackets, and shoes in brown because, like blue, brown is less likely to go out of style. All shades and tints of brown are associated with the solid, secure foundation of the earth. Apparel marketers must be careful, however, because consumers can also associate brown with dirt—not a favorable impression when you are selling clothes.



Authoritative, Overpowering, Elegant, Classy, Conservative, Dignified, Serious, Dramatic, Oppressive, Powerful

Consumers associate black packaging with sophistication and expense. An important occasion is labeled as a black-tie affair. And an important person or dignitary is driven in a black limousine.



Simplicity, Elegance, Truth, Innocence, Goodness, Purity

White is the primary color of medical and hygienic products because it represents cleanliness and an antiseptic quality. White is a popular product and packaging color for soaps, household cleaners, shampoos, toothpaste, and skin lotions. Breath mints are commonly white to symbolize a clean, fresh mouth after use. The majority of cleaning utensils such as cotton balls, swabs, toothbrush bristles, scrub brushes, dishcloths, mops, and dish towels are white. Consumers see a white cleaning utensil and associate them with a clean end result.