5 min read

Why is colour theory important? A guide to powerful graphic design.

Published on
January 7, 2021
Example of colour theory design
Leah Camps
Marketing Executive
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Is colour theory affecting how your graphic design and marketing is being perceived without you even knowing it? What is it and why does it matter? To really illustrate the importance of colour theory and why it's so pivotal to great graphic design, consider the fact that‚ according to studies, up to 90% of impulse buys are based solely on colour.' Here's how you can start to use colour theory to aid in powerful graphic design.

What is Colour Theory?

Instead of turning this blog into a short book, we're going to talk about just a few of the fundamental colour theory principles and why you should definitely be taking them into account when designing absolutely anything! First of all, it's really important to have an understanding of the colour wheel. The colour wheel can be split into the following areas:

Primary colours

Red, Yellow and Blue make up the Primary Colours and can be mixed to create every other colour that exists. 

Secondary colours

Orange, Green and Purple are our secondary colours! Secondary colours are created by mixing two primary colours together.

Complementary colours

These are opposite on the colour wheel. Orange and blue are opposite on the wheel and therefore are complementary colours!

Tertiary Colours

Tertiary colours are created from mixing both primary and secondary colours together. These are the colours that fill up the rest of our colour wheel.Knowing these basic principles of colour theory is going to help you identify phenomenal graphics that are naturally appealing to the human eye. Knowledge of the various sections of the colour wheel allows us to see where different hues and saturations sit and in turn helps us understand which colours work together to create a tasteful palette!

colour theory charts

Choosing colours that work well together is one of the pillars of premium graphic design. The more harmonious your palette is the better your graphics will appear visually! This is completely crucial when using graphic design to market your business or product. Designing a leaflet using jarring colours that do not sit well together will often evoke a negative reaction in the viewer which could render your efforts useless since your audience will not want to spend time looking at your work. Equally, using colours that are too dull can mean that your leaflet will not be noticed. Wisely choosing colours that reflect your brand and are pleasing to look at will drastically improve your marketing efforts. In fact, it is estimated that brand recognition can be increased by up to 80% by effective use of color throughout marketing, packaging, and logo design. Harmonious colours can be determined by principles such as analogous colours, which are colours that are tertiary and sit in a group of 3 next to each other on the colour wheel. Using this technique can contribute to beautiful monochromatic palettes. You could also use your knowledge of complimentary colours to identify hues that work well together!

cloud of different colour powders

Another feature of colour theory worthy of consideration are the psychological effects. Did you know that colours evoke subconscious emotional reactions? Colours are a large part of how we interpret the world around us! Green is often associated with calmness and serenity and that is something we easily relate to when we feel more relaxed after a walk in nature. Colours can inspire us to take action, to relax or to feel more passionately about something. Take for example the popular energy drink Mountain Dew - how do we recognise that drink? Mainly it's because of that intense lime green colour! Did you know that, according to, in 1974, Pepsi added orange flavouring and the signature lime-green colouring to Mountain Dew? That almost neon hue helps us to associate the drink with energy. Intentionally changing the colour and then the way the drink was marketed helped to make the product an international hit. The way we choose to communicate and evoke feelings or emotions with colours in graphic design can be the difference between a piece that fails to harness attention and one that sits memorably in our audiences mind. Keep in mind that people won't always remember your brand for the catchy slogan you have come up with or the pictures you use on your website, but they will almost always recognise you from the colours you use!

brightly coloured buildings

So, why is it important to use colour theory in graphic design?

If you are wondering why your marketing might be underperforming, look to your graphic design. How appealing is it? How much does it help you to stand out from your competition and what is it communicating to your audience? If you feel underwhelmed by the final asset, the chances are that your customers will feel the same. After considering how harmonious colours can be the difference between your leaflet being picked up or forgotten about, and looking at how colours can spark emotional reactions, it is absolutely clear to see why colour theory and outstanding graphic design go hand in hand. Make sure every piece of content you supply your customers with is working in your favour by choosing your colours carefully!If you found this blog useful and think it could be just the thing for someone you know, please do share or keep an eye on our blog for more articles.