What Does Colour Mean?

Written on the 16 October 2006 by <a href="http://desktoppub.about.com/cs/color/a/symbolism.htm">Jacci Howard Bear</a>

Colors are more than a combination of red and blue or yellow and black. They are non-verbal communication. Colors have symbolism and color meanings that go beyond ink. As you design brochures, logos, and Web sites, it is helpful to keep in mind how the eye and the mind perceive certain colors and the color meanings we associate with each color.

Sometimes colors create a physical reaction (red has been shown to raise blood pressure) and at other times it is a cultural reaction (in the U.S. white is for weddings, in some Eastern cultures, white is the color for mourning and funerals). Colors follow trends as well. Avocado, a shade of green, is synomous with the 60s and 70s in the minds of some consumers.

In addition to understanding color meanings, it helps with mixing and matching colors to know the relationship of adjacent, complementary, and clashing colors.
  • Complementary colors are separated by another color on the color wheel. Complementary colors printed side by side can cause visual vibration making them a less than desirable combination. However, separate them on the page with other colors and they can work together.

  • Clashing or contrasting colors are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Despite the name, colors that clash are not always a bad combination if used carefully. They provide great contrast and high visibility.
The following information is about particular colors that have been categorized into groups according their particular characteristics. The groups are:

- Cool Colors (calming): Blue, Green, Turquoise, Silver
- Warm Colors (exciting): Red, Pink, Yellow, Gold, Orange
- Mixed Cool/Warm Colors: Purple, Lavender, Green, Turquoise
- Neutral Colors (unifying): Brown, Beige, Ivory, Gray, Black, White

The Colors of Calm

Cool colors tend to have a calming effect. At one end of the spectrum they are cold, impersonal, antispectic colors. At the other end the cool colors are comforting and nurturing. Blue, green, and the neutrals white, gray, and silver are examples of cool colors.

In nature blue is water and green is plant life - a natural, life-sustaining duo. Combine blues and greens for natural, watery color palettes. Heat up a too cool color palette with a dash of warm colors such as red or orange. If you want warmth with just a blue palette, choose deeper blues with a touch of red but not quite purple or almost black deep navy blues.

Cool colors appear smaller than warm colors and they visually recede on the page so red can visually overpower and stand out over blue even if used in equal amounts.

The profiles for each of these cool colors include descriptions of their nature, cultural color meanings, how to use each color in design work, and which colors work best together.

Blue, Green, Turquoise, Silver.


Calm and Cool: Blue is calming. It can be strong and steadfast or light and friendly. Almost everyone likes some shade of the color blue.

Nature of Blue: A natural color, from the blue of the sky, blue is a universal color. The cool, calming effect of blue makes time pass more quickly and it can help you sleep. Blue is a good color for bedrooms. However, too much blue could dampen spirits.

Culture of Blue: In many diverse cultures blue is significant in religious beliefs, brings peace, or is believed to keep the bad spirits away.

Blue conveys importance and confidence without being somber or sinister, hence the blue power suit of the corporate world and the blue uniforms of police officers. Long considered a corporate color, blue, especially darker blue, is associated with intelligence, stability, unity, and conservatism.

Just as seeing red alludes to the strong emotions invoked by the color red, feeling blue or getting the blues represents the extremes of the calm feelings associated with blue, i.e. sadness or depression, lack of strong (violent) emotion. Dark blue is sometimes seen as staid or stodgy — old-fashioned.

In Iran, blue is the color of mourning while in the West the something blue bridal tradition represents love.

Using Blue: A deep royal blue or azure conveys richness and perhaps even a touch of superiority. Navy blue is almost black and is a bit warmer than lighter blues. Combine a light and dark blue to convey trust and truthfulness — banker's colors. Although blue is a year-round color, pastel blues, especially along with pinks and pale yellows suggest Springtime while deep blue is a colder weather color. Create a conservative but sophisticated look with subtle contrast by combining light and dark shades of blue.

Using Blue with Other Colors:
Mix the color of blue with green for a natural, watery palette. Add gray for understated elegance.

Sky blue and robin's egg blue, especially when combined with neutral light brown, tans, or beige are environmentally friendly color combinations.

Throw in a dash of blue to cool down a hot red or orange scheme. Grab attention with the contrast of blue and yellow.

Dark blue with white is fresh, crisp, and nautical. Red, white, and blue is a patriotic color trio for many countries, including the United States.

Use dark blue with metallic silver accents for an elegantly rich appearance.

Language of Blue: The use of blue in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good blue

  • True blue - someone loyal and faithful
  • Out of the blue - unexpected (could be positive or negative)
  • Blue ribbon - first rate, top prize
  • Blueblood - person of noble birth, royalty
  • Bluestocking - well-read or scholarly woman
  • Bluebook - register of socially prominent people
  • The Blues (capitalized) - popular style of music sometimes characterized by melancholy melodies and words
  • Baby blues - Blue eyes (also see Bad blue words)
Bad blue
  • Feeling blue - feeling sad or depressed
  • Blue devils - feelings of depression
  • The blues (not capitalized) - depression, state of sadness
  • Blue Monday - feeling sad
  • Baby blues - post-partum depression
  • Singing the blues - bemoaning one's circumstances
  • Blue laws - laws originally intended to enforce certain moral standards
  • Blue language - profanity
  • Bluenose - puritanical individual
  • Into the blue - entering the unknown or escape to parts unknown
  • Out of the blue - unexpected (could be positive or negative)

Blue Words: These words are synonymous with blue or represent various shades of the color blue.

Sapphire, azure, beryl, cerulean, cobalt, indigo, navy, royal, sky blue, baby blue, robin's egg blue, cyan, cornflower blue, midnight blue, slate, steel blue, Prussian blue.


Life and Renewal: Green is life. Abundant in nature, green signifies growth, renewal, health, and environment. On the flip side, green is jealousy or envy (green-eyed monster) and inexperience.

Nature of Green: Green is a restful color with some of the same calming attributes of blue. Like blue, time moves faster in a green room.

Culture of Green: Green is the national color of Ireland and is strongly associated with that country. Green also has close associations with Islam. Because of all the green in nature the color is reminiscent of Spring. Coupled with red it's a Christmas color.

Using Green: With both a warming and cooling effect, the color green denotes balance, harmony, and stability. Use several shades of green for a fresh, Springtime feel. Olive green, also called olive drab, is a not so drab summery green that may have military overtones for some people.

Using Green with Other Colors: Green with blue produces echoes of nature - water and forest and can denote new beginnings and growth. Green with brown, tan, or beige says organic or recycled and can be a good color combination for packaging of those type of products.

Tri-color combinations of green with yellow and black or white are sporty, outdoorsy colors. Purple with green can be high contrast, lively. Lime green with orange and yellow is a fresh and fruity palette.

Language of Green: The use of green in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good green
  • Green light - go, permission to proceed (with a task)
  • The green room - in theater or televisions it is the room where performers and guests go to relax
  • Green thumb - good with plants
  • Greenback - US dollar bill, money
  • Greener pastures - something newer or better (or perceived to be better), such as a new job
Bad green
  • Green-eyed monster - jealosy
  • Green with envy - jealous or envious
  • Green - inexperienced, untested, untrained
  • Greenhorn - novice, trainee, beginner
  • Green around the gills - pale, sickly
Green Words: These words are synonymous with green or represent various shades of the color green.

Emerald, sea green, seafoam, olive, olive drab, pea green, grass green, apple, mint, forest, lawn green, lime, spring green, leaf green, aquamarine, beryl, chartreuse, fir, kelly green, pine, moss, jade, sage, sap, viridian.


Refreshing and Sophisticated: A mix of blue and green, turquoise has a sweet feminine feel while the darker teal shades add lively sophistication.

Nature of Turquoise: A blend of blue and green, shades of turquoise have the same calming effects of those colors.

Culture of Turquoise: This in-between color represents water, thus the names aqua and aquamarine. It's also a valuable and popular mineral often turned into jewelry. Turquoise is closely associated with the Middle East and the American Southwest.

Using Turquoise: Create feminine appeal with the lighter shades of turquoise. Some shades of turquoise have an old-fashioned 50s and 60s retro feel. Teal has a darker, somewhat more sophisticated look. Like the mineral, turquoise shades range from almost sky blue to deep greenish blues.

Using Turquoise with Other Colors: Keep the soft, feminine qualities going by mixing turquoise with lavender and pale pinks. A bright turquoise and pink create a sparkly clean, retro look. Make it art deco by pairing turquoise with white and black. Turquoise with gray or silver as well as terra cotta and light browns have a Southwestern (U.S.) flavor. Turquoise with orange or yellow creates a fresh, sporty look.

Turquoise Words: These words are synonymous with turquoise or represent various shades of the color turquoise.

Teal, ultramarine, blue-green, aqua, aquamarine.


Elegant Neutral: Gray is a neutral, balanced color. It is a cool, conservative color that seldom evokes strong emotion although it can be seen as a cloudy or moody color.

Nature of Gray: The lighter side of black, gray is a cool color seen in storm clouds and some metals.

Culture of Gray: Like black, gray is used as a color of mourning as well as a color of formality. Along with blue suits, gray suits are part of the uniform of the corporate world. Dark, charcoal gray carries with it some of the strengh and mystery of black. It is a sophisticated color without much of the negative attributes of black. Lighter grays are similar to white. Gray tuxedos are common for men at weddings.

Using Gray: All shades of gray can be good, neutral background colors. Use lighter grays in place of white and darker gray in place of black. Taupe, a grayish brown neutral is a conservative, slightly earthy, warm shade of gray.

Using Gray with Other Colors: Light grays with pastel shades of pink, blue, lavender, and green have a feminine quality. Darken those colors for a more masculine feel. Gray with hot pink can be a little retro. Cool a warm palette by adding gray to rich reds or golden yellows.

Language of Gray: The use of gray in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good gray
  • Gray matter - brains, intellect
  • Gray power - having to do with the elderly or senior citizens
Bad gray
  • Gray - dull, dingy, dirty
  • Gray page - in desktop publishing, a text-heavy page with little contrast or white space
  • Gray-hair - old person (not necessarily derogatory)
  • Gray water - dirty water such as water drained from a bathtub or kitchen sink

Gray Words: These words are synonymous with gray or represent various shades of the color gray.

Charcoal, slate, iron gray, ashen, lead, mousy, gunmetal, silver, dove gray, powder grey, oyster, pearl, taupe, sere, Payne's gray.


Metallic Riches: Silver, especially a shiny, metallic silver, is cool like gray but livelier, more playful. Silver can be sleek and modern or impart a feeling of ornate riches.

Nature of Silver: Silver is a precious metal and other metals are often described as silver in color. Silver doesn't have the warmth of gold. It's a cool metal.

Culture of Silver: Silver often symbolizes riches, just as gold does. Silver can be glamorous and distinguished. While gray-haired men and women are seen as old, silver-haired denotes a graceful aging. Silver is the traditional Twenty-Fifth Wedding Anniversary gift.

Using Silver: The color silver can be earthy, natural or sleek and elegant. It can be used much as gray is although when using shiny metallic inks, small amounts for accents is best.

Using Silver with Other Colors: Silver coupled with turquoise evokes the Southwest (U.S.). A touch of silver pops with medium blue. Use silver with other colors to create a high-tech or industrial look.

Language of Silver: The use of silver in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good silver
  • Silver screen - movies, especially classic movies
  • Silver-tongued - witty, eloquent speaker
  • Pieces of silver - money, especially coins
Bad silver
  • Silver-tongued devil - articulate speaker perceived to be insincere, possibly a liar
  • Born with a silver spoon in one's mouth - usually used as a putdown against someone born into a wealthy family who never had to work for a living
Silver Words: These words are synonymous with silver or represent various shades of the color silver.

Gun metal, gray, metallic grey.


Ultimate Light: White is purity, cleanliness, and innocence. Like black, white goes well with almost any color.

Nature of White: To the human eye, white is a brilliant color that can cause headaches for some. Too much bright white can be blinding.

Culture of White: In most Western countries white is the color for brides. In the East, it's the color for mourning and funerals. White is often associated with hospitals, especially doctors, nurses, and dentists. Some cultures viewed white as the color of royalty or of dieties. Angels are typically depicted as wearing white. In early Westerns the good guy wore white while the bad guy wore black.

Using White: In most cases white is seen as a neutral background color and other colors, even when used in smaller proportion, are the colors that convey the most meaning in a design. Use white to signify cleanliness or purity or softness. Some neutral beige, ivory, and creams carry the same attributes as white but are more subdued, less brilliant than plain white. Use lots of white for a summery look. Use small amounts of white to soften a wintery palette or suggest snow.

Using White with Other Colors: Used with light or pastel tones, white is soft and Spring-like and helps to make the pastel palette more lively. White can make dark or light reds, blues, and greens look brighter, more prominent. Red, white, and blue makes a patriotic palette.

Language of White: The use of white in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good white
  • White as the driven snow - pure, clean, innocent
  • White elephant - rare, valuable but perhaps unwanted
  • White knight - someone who comes to another person's rescue, someone perceived as being good, noble
  • White list - list of good or acceptable items
  • White sale - sale of sheets, towels, other linens
  • Pearly white - teeth, especially very white teeth
Bad white
  • Whitewash - cover up, conceal
  • Whiteout - zero visibility
  • White flag - surrender
  • White lightning - moonshine, illegal whiskey
  • White elephant - rare, valuable but perhaps unwanted
  • White knuckle - something that is fast, exciting, or frightening
White Words: These words are synonymous with white or represent various shades of the color white.

Snow, pearl, antique white, ivory, chalk, milk white, lily, smoke, seashell, old lace, cream, linen, ghost white, beige, cornsilk, alabaster, paper, whitewash.

The Colors of Excitement

Warm colors rev us up and get us going. The warmth of red, yellow, or orange can create excitement or even anger. Warm colors convey emotions from simple optimism to strong violence. The neutrals of black and brown also carry warm attributes.

In nature, warm colors represent change as in the changing of the seasons or the eruption of a volcano. Tone down the strong emotions of a warm palette with some soothing cool or neutral colors or by using the lighter side of the warm palette such as pinks, pale yellows, and peach.

Warm colors appear larger than cool colors so red can visually overpower blue even if used in equal amounts. Warm colors appear closer while their cool counterparts visually recede on the page.

The profiles for each of these warm colors include descriptions of their nature, cultural color meanings, how to use each color in design work, and which colors work best together.

Red, Pink, Yellow, Gold, Orange.


Love and War: Red is hot. It's a strong color that conjures up a range of seemingly conflicting emotions from passionate love to violence and warfare. Red is Cupid and the Devil.

Nature of Red: A stimulant, red is the hottest of the warm colors. Studies show that red can have a physical effect, increasing the rate of respiration and raising blood pressure.

The expression seeing red indicates anger and may stem not only from the stimulus of the color but from the natural flush (redness) of the cheeks, a physical reaction to anger, increased blood pressure, or physical exertion.

Culture of Red: Red is power, hence the red power tie for business people and the red carpet for celebrities and VIPs (very important people).

Flashing red lights denote danger or emergency. Stop signs and stop lights are red to get the drivers' attention and alert them to the dangers of the intersection.

In some cultures, red denotes purity, joy, and celebration. Red is the color of happiness and prosperity in China and may be used to attract good luck.

Red is often the color worn by brides in the East while it is the color of mourning in South Africa. In Russia the Bolsheviks used a red flag when they overthrew the Tsar, thus red became associated with communism. Many national flags use red. The red Ruby is the traditional Fortieth Wedding Anniversary gift.

Using Red: Use the color red to grab attention and to get people to take action. Use red when you don't want to sink into the background. Use red to suggest speed combined with confidence and perhaps even a dash of danger. A little bit of red goes a long way. Small doses can often be more effective than large amounts of this strong color. Multiple shades of red and even pink or orange can combine for a cheerful palette.

Using Red with Other Colors: Although not normally considered an ideal coupling, in combination with green, red is a Christmas color — a joyful season.

Cool blues provide contrast and tone down the heat of red. Light pinks and yellows are harmonizing colors that can work well with red if not too close in value such as dark red with a pale or golden yellow. Be careful using purple. It can be an elegant combination but too much could be overpowering.

Add a dash of red to a soft but sophisticated pink and gray combo. For some countries, including the US, red, white, and blue is a very patriotic trio even if the shades of red and blue differ from those used in the flag.

Language of Red: The use of red in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others — both the positive and negative aspects.

Good red

  • Red letter day - important or significant occasion
  • Red carpet treatment - make someone feel special, treat them as if they are a celebrity
  • Roll out the red carpet - same as above
  • Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning; red sky at night, sailor's delight - pay attention to good and bad warning signs
  • Paint the town red - celebrate, go out partying
  • Red eye - an overnight flight
Bad red
  • Seeing red - to be angry
  • Red herring - something that deceives or distracts attention from the truth
  • In the red - being overdrawn at the bank or losing money
  • Red flag - denotes danger, warning, or an impending battle

Red Words: These words are synonymous with red or represent various shades of the color red.

Scarlet, crimson, vermillion, carmine, maroon, burgundy, ruby, rose, madder, rouge, brick, blood red, blush, fire engine red, cinnabar, russet, rust, Venetian red, flame, Indian red, tomato.


Cotton Candy and Little Girls: Pink is a softer, less violent red. Pink is the sweet side of red. It's cotton candy and bubble gum and babies, especially little girls.

Nature of Pink: While red stirs up passion and action, studies have shown that large amounts of pink can create physical weakness in people. Perhaps there is a tie-in between this physical reaction and the color's association with the so-called weaker sex.

Culture of Pink: In some cultures, such as the US, pink is the color of little girls. It represents sugar and spice and everything nice. Pink for men goes in and out of style. Most people still think of pink as a feminine, delicate color.

Using Pink: Both red and pink denote love but while red is hot passion, pink is romantic and charming. Use pink to convey playfulness (hot pink flamingoes) and tenderness (pastel pinks). Multiple shades of pink and light purple or other pastels used together maintain the soft, delicate, and playful nature of pink. Add strength with darker shades of pinks and purple and burgundy.

Using Pink with Other Colors: All shades of pink get sophisticated when combined with black or gray or medium to darker shades of blue. Medium to dark green with pink is also a sharp-looking combo.

Language of Pink: The use of pink in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others — both the positive and negative aspects.

Good pink

  • In the pink - healthy
  • Tickled pink - happy, content
  • Pink collar - female office worker (sometimes used in a derogatory manner)
Bad or neutral pink
  • Pink collar - female office worker (sometimes used in a derogatory manner to imply low person on the office totem pole)
  • Pink - cut, notch, or make a zigzag

Pink Words: These words are synonymous with pink or represent various shades of the color pink.

Salmon, coral, hot pink, fuschia, blush, flesh, flush, fuchsia, rose.


Hope and Happiness: Yellow is sunshine. It is a warm color that, like red, has conflicting symbolism. On the one hand it denotes happiness and joy but on the other hand yellow is the color of cowardice and deceit.

Nature of Yellow: Yellow is one of the warm colors. Because of the high visibility of bright yellow, it is often used for hazard signs and some emergency vehicles. Yellow is cheerful.

Culture of Yellow: For years yellow ribbons were worn as a sign of hope as women waited from their men to come marching home from war. Today, they are still used to welcome home loved ones. Its use for hazard signs creates an association between yellow and danger, although not quite as dangerous as red.

If someone is yellow it means they are a coward so yellow can have a negative meaning in some cultures.

Yellow is for mourning in Egypt and actors of the Middle Ages wore yellow to signify the dead. Yet yellow has also represented courage (Japan), merchants (India), and peace.

Using Yellow: Although it can work as the primary color, yellow often works best as a companion to other colors. Use bright yellow to create excitement when red or orange may be too strong or too dark. Yellow can be perky.

Using Yellow with Other Colors: Use yellow to perk up a more subdued cool palette of blues and grays. Use lemon yellow with orange to carry out a healthy, summery, citrus theme. Very pale yellows can work as neutrals alongside darker or richer colors. Yellow and blue are a high contrast, eye-popping combination. Mix yellow with neutral gray and a dash of black for a high-tech look.

Try a hot, exciting mix of red and yellow.

For an earthy palette, especially for fall, mix yellow, olive green, and brown. While yellows and bright or light greens can be part of a natural, fruity color palette, be careful not to use colors too close in value or they will appear washed out.

Language of Yellow: The use of yellow in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good yellow

  • Yellow ribbon - hope, support, remembrance
  • Mellow yellow - laid back, relaxation
Bad yellow
  • Yellow or Yellow streak or Yellow-bellied - cowardice or coward
  • Yellow journalism - irresponsible reporting

Yellow Words: These words are synonymous with yellow or represent various shades of the color yellow.

Lemon, yellow ocher, golden, saffron, cream, topaz, mellow yellow.


Riches and Excess: A cousin to yellow (and orange and brown) is gold. While green may be the color of money (U.S. money, that is) gold is the color of riches and extravagance.

Nature of Gold: The color gold shares many of the attributes of yellow. It is a warm color that can be both bright and cheerful as well as somber and traditional.

Culture of Gold: Because gold is a precious metal, the color gold is associated with wealth and prosperity. While all that glitters is not gold the color gold still suggests grandeur, and perhaps on the downside, the excesses of the rich. Gold is the traditional gift for a Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary while gold-like bronze is for the eighth and copper with its reddish-gold tones is for the seventh.

Using Gold: Add a small amount of metallic gold ink to a project for a special, rich touch. Bright gold catches the eye while darker subdued shades of gold lend richness and warmth.

Using Gold with Other Colors: Add a golden glow to an earthy palette of orange, green, and brown. Double the riches of a burgundy red or purple palette with glittery gold.

More Golden Color Discussion: COLOURlovers looks briefly at the symbolism of gold and visitors comment on it.

Language of Gold: The use of gold in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good gold

  • Gold star - praise, commendation
  • Good as gold - valuable, positive
  • Solid gold - superior, outstanding, best of the best
  • Gold standard - the best, a measure of quality, excellence
  • Golden child/boy - favored person
Bad gold
  • Gold brick - trick, cheat, or deceive
  • Golddigger - someone who feigns genuine interest but is only after a person's money
  • Fool's Gold - mica, anything mistaken for gold, worthless

Gold Words: These words are synonymous with gold or represent various shades of the color gold.

Goldenrod, yellow gold, honey, bronze, copper.


Flamboyant and Energetic : Orange is vibrant. It's a combination of red and yellow so it shares some common attributes with those colors. It denotes energy, warmth, and the sun. But orange has a bit less intensity or aggression than red, calmed by the cheerfulness of yellow.

Nature of Orange: As a warm color orange is a stimulant — stimulating the emotions and even the appetite. Orange can be found in nature in the changing leaves of fall, the setting sun, and the skin and meat of citrus fruit.

Culture of Orange: Orange brings up images of autumn leaves, pumpkins, and (in combination with Black) Halloween. It represents the changing seasons so in that sense it is a color on the edge, the color of change between the heat of summer and the cool of winter.

Because orange is also a citrus color, it can conjure up thoughts of vitamin C and good health.

Using Orange: If you want to get noticed without screaming, consider the color orange — it demands attention. The softer oranges such as peach are even friendlier, more soothing. Peachy oranges are less flamboyant than their redder cousins but still energetic.

In keeping with its transitional appearance in nature, you might use shades of orange to indicate transition or a bridge between two opposing factors.

Orange is often synonymous with autumn yet the brighter oranges are a summer color. Use shades of orange for seasonal-themed fall or summer materials.

Orange is mentally stimulating as well as sociable. Use it to get people thinking or to get them talking.

Using Orange with Other Colors: While orange and black are traditional Halloween colors, orange really pops with a medium blue. Red, yellow, and orange can be a fiery hot combination or, in tamer shades, a fresh, fruity experience. Make it tropical with green.

Use caution mixing orange and pink unless you want to recreate a vibrating, 60s psychedelic look.

Try a dash of orange with deep purple or a dash of purple with a bit of orange, tempered by lots of mellow yellow or white for an eye-catching look that's not overpowering.

Orange Words: These words are synonymous with orange or represent various shades of the color orange.

Pumpkin, gold, flame, copper, brass, apricot, peach, citrus, tangerine.


Ultimate Dark: Considered the negation of color, black is conservative, goes well with almost any color except the very dark. It also has conflicting connotations. It can be serious and conventional. The color black can also be mysterious, sexy, and sophisticated.

Nature of Black: Black is the absence of color. In clothing, black is visually slimming. Black, like other dark colors, can make a room appear to shrink in size and even a well-lit room looks dark with a lot of black. Black can make other colors appear brighter.

Culture of Black: In most Western countries black is the color of mourning. Among young people, black is often seen as a color of rebellion. Black is both positive and negative. It is the color for little boys in China. Black, especially combined with orange is the color of Halloween. In early Westerns the good guy wore white while the bad guy wore black. But later on good guys wore black to lend an air of mystery to themselves.

Using Black: Use the color black to convey elegance, sophistication, or perhaps a touch of mystery. Dark charcoal gray and very dark brown can sometimes stand in for black.

Using Black with Other Colors: Be careful using black with very dark colors. It can work, but if the colors are too similiar they blend together. Black works well with bright, jewel-toned shades of red, blue, and green. Black is the ultimate dark color and makes lighter colors such as yellow really pop out. Photographs often look brighter against a black background. Black and gray is a conservative combo as is medium or light blue and black.

Language of Black: The use of black in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good black

  • Black tie - formal (as in formal party attire)
  • Black belt - expert (especially in martial arts)
  • Blackwash - bring things out in the open In the black - having money, doing well in business
  • Men in black - government agents
  • Black box - equipment or apparatus
  • Pitch black - dark as night, very black
Bad black
  • Black out - Loss of consciouness or the act of erasing something
  • Blackout - loss of electricity or turning out the lights
  • Black eye - damage such as damage to one's reputation, slander, unpopular
  • Black-hearted - evil
  • Blackguard - a scoundrel
  • Black sheep - an outcast from a family or from society
  • Black market - illegal trade (goods or money)
  • Blackmail - obtaining something by threat
  • Blacklist - list of people or organizations to boycott, avoid, or punish

Black Words: These words are synonymous with black or represent various shades of the color black.

Ebony, jet, ink, lampblack, coal, soot, charcoal, raven, midnight, obsidian, onyx, sable.


Down-to-Earth: Brown is a natural, down-to-earth neutral color. It is found in earth, wood, and stone.

Nature of Brown: Brown is a warm neutral color that can stimulate the appetite. It is found extensively in nature in both living and non-living materials.

Culture of Brown: Brown represents wholesomeness and earthiness. While it might be considered a little on the dull side, it also represents steadfastness, simplicity, friendliness, dependability, and health. Although blue is the typical corporate color, UPS (United Parcel Service) has built their business around the dependability associated with brown.

Using Brown: The color brown and its lighter cousins in tan, taupe, beige, or cream make excellent backgrounds helping accompanying colors appear richer, brighter. Use brown to convey a feeling of warmth, honesty, and wholesomeness. Although found in nature year-round, brown is often considered a fall and winter color. It is more casual than black.

Using Brown with Other Colors: Shades of brown coupled with green are an especially earthy pair, often used to convey the concept of recycling or earth-friendly products. Very dark brown can replace black, adding a slightly warmer tone to some palettes. Brighten brown with a mellow yellow or rusty orange. Go smart but conservative with a mix of brown and deep purple, green, gray, or orange-red.

Language of Brown: The use of brown in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good brown

  • Brown bottle - beer
  • Brown - cook or burn
Bad brown
  • Brown-nose - someone who attempts to ingratiate themselves with people of authority
  • Brown study - someone who is aloof, indifferent
  • Brown out - partial loss of electricity

Brown Words: These words are synonymous with brown or represent various shades of the color brown.

Sienna, bay, sand, wood, dapple, auburn, chestnut, nut-brown, cinnamon, russet, tawny, chocolate, tan, brunette, fawn, liver-colored, mahogany, oak, bronze, terra-cotta, toast, umber, cocoa, coffee, copper, ecru, ginger, hazel, khaki, ochre, puce, snuff-colored.

The Colors of Intrigue

Colors with attributes from both the warm and cool colors can calm and excite. These are colors derived from a mix of a cool and warm color such as blue and red or blue and yellow.

A cool blue and a warm red combine to create deep purples and pale lavendars. To a lesser extent, shades of green, especially turquoise and teal, also have both the warming and cooling effects born of warm yellow and cool blue. Some light neutrals such as cream, pale beige, and taupe evoke some of the same warm and cool feelings of purples and greens. The opposite or clashing color for purple is green and for green, purple.

The profiles for each of these mixed colors include descriptions of their nature, cultural color meanings, how to use each color in design work, and which colors work best together. Green and Turquoise are also included in this category.

Purple, Lavender, Green, Turquoise.


Royalty and Spirituality: Purple is royalty. A mysterious color, purple is associated with both nobility and spirituality. The opposites of hot red and cool blue combine to create this intriguing color.

Nature of Purple: Purple has a special, almost sacred place in nature: lavender, orchid, lilac, and violet flowers are often delicate and considered precious. Because purple is derived from the mixing of a strong warm and strong cool color it has both warm and cool properties. A purple room can boost a child's imagination or an artist's creativity. Too much purple, like blue, could result in moodiness.

Culture of Purple: The color of mourning for widows in Thailand, purple was the favorite color of Egypt's Cleopatra. It has been traditionally associated with royalty in many cultures. Purple robes were worn by royalty and people of authority or high rank. The Purple Heart is a U.S. Military decoration given to soldiers wounded in battle.

Using Purple: Deep or bright purples suggest riches while lighter purples are more romantic and delicate. Use redder purples for a warmer color scheme or the bluer purples to cool down.

Using Purple with Other Colors: A deep eggplant purple with neutral tans or beige is an earthy, conservative color combination with a touch of the mystery that purple provides. Green and purple can be a striking combination in deep or bright jewel tones or use lighter shades for a cheerful, springlike feel. Pink and purple has feminine appeal.

Language of Purple: The use of purple in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good purple

  • Purple cow - something remarkable, eye-catching, unusual
  • Purple prose - exaggeration, highly imaginative writing (also has negative connotations)
Bad purple
  • Purple speech - profanity, raunchy language
  • Purple prose - exaggeration, colorful lies
  • Purple haze - state of confusion or euphoria, possibly drug-induced, type of marijuana

Purple Words: These words are synonymous with purple or represent various shades of the color purple.

Violet, plum, lavender, lilac, puce, thistle, orchid, mauve, magenta, royal, amethyst, wine, pomegranate, eggplant, mulberry.


Graceful and Feminine: Lavender has long been a favorite flower and color of genteel ladies. This shade of purple suggests refinement along with grace, elegance, and something special.

Nature of Lavender: Purple and its lighter lavender shades has a special, almost sacred place in nature: lavender, orchid, lilac, and violet flowers are often delicate and considered precious.

Culture of Lavender: While purple is the color of royalty, lavender is the color of femininity. It's a grown up pink.

Using Lavender: Use the color lavender to suggest something unique or extremely special but without the deeper mystery of purple. Lavender may be a good choice when you are targeting women and want to invoke feelings of nostalgia or romance.

Using Lavender with Other Colors: Pink with lavender is extremely feminine. A minty green with lavender is a cheerful, Springtime look. Blues with lavender are cool and sophisticated combination or warm it up with reds. For a contemporary earthy palette try lavender with beige and light browns.

Lavender Words: These words are synonymous with lavender or represent various shades of the color lavender.

Plum, lilac, thistle, orchid, mauve, purple.


Dependable and Flexible: Beige is a chameleon, taking on some of the attributes of stronger warm or cool colors it accompanies. On its own, the color beige is a calm neutral background.

Nature of Beige: Beige is a neutral color with a bit of the warmth of brown and the crisp, coolness of white. It is sometimes seen as dull and boring unless coupled with other colors. It can be a relaxing color for a room.

Culture of Beige: Beige has traditionally been seen as a conservative, background color. In some cultures, beige garments might symbolize piety or simplicity. Traditional Saudi Arabia dress include a flowing floor-length outer cloak (bisht) made of wool or camel hair in black, beige, brown or cream tones.

Using Beige: Use the color beige to provide a calm, relaxing background. Small doses of beige might be added to separate two dark colors to help each stand out.

Using Beige with Other Colors: Beige can take on some of the attributes of yellow or pink when touched with those shades. Try purple and pink with beige for a conservative but feminine look. Beige with greens, browns, and orange can create an earthy palette. Black lends a touch of strength and sophistication to beige. A touch of beige warms up a palette of cool blues without overpowering them.

Beige Words: These words are synonymous with beige or represent various shades of the color beige.

Buff, camel, oatmeal, tan, sand, biscuit, cream, ecru, mushroom.

The Colors of Unity

The neutral colors of black, white, silver, gray, and brown make good backgrounds, serve to unify diverse color palettes, and also often stand alone as the only or primary focus of a design.

Neutral colors help to put the focus on other colors or serve to tone down colors that might otherwise be overpowering on their own. To some extent blacks, browns, tans, golds, and beige colors are considered warm. While white, ivory, silver, and gray are somewhat cooler colors. Yet these warm and cool attributes are flexible and more subtle than that of reds or blues.

The profiles for each of these neutral colors include descriptions of their nature, cultural color meanings, and how to use each color in design work.

Brown, Beige, Ivory, Gray, Black, White.


Relaxing Neutral: Ivory is a soft neutral color that isn't quite white and has some of the earthiness of light browns. Ivory represents quiet, pleasantness with a touch of luster.

Nature of Ivory: As a neutral, ivory is a calming color. It carries some of the same pureness, softness, and cleanliness of white but is slightly richer, a touch warmer.

Culture of Ivory: The ivory tusks of elephants have long been prized and used in jewelry and the decoration of housewares and furniture. Pearl and opal, shades of ivory, are also precious stones. Ivory is the traditional Fourteenth Wedding Anniversary gift while pearl is for the Thirtieth.

Using Ivory: The color ivory provides a calming effect. Use it to set a relaxed tone of understated elegance.

Using Ivory with Other Colors: Ivory with light peach, pale grassy green, and light browns has an earthy feel but softer than other natural palettes. Use a touch of ivory to lighten and brighten medium and dark orange, blue, green, purple, or turquoise.

Language of Ivory: The use of ivory in familiar phrases can help a designer see how their color of choice might be perceived by others, both the positive and negative aspects.

Good ivory

  • Ivory dome - intellectual or teacher
  • Ivory tower - refuge, place of seclusion from the world
Bad ivory
  • Ivory tower - often used in a derogatory manner to indicate someone who has been physically or mentally in a place out of touch with reality or the real world

Ivory Words: These words are synonymous with ivory or represent various shades of the color ivory.

Milk white, pearl, off-white, opaline.


Author: <a href="http://desktoppub.about.com/cs/color/a/symbolism.htm">Jacci Howard Bear</a>