Topic 2: Applying Colour for Impact

Topic 2: Applying Colour for Impact

Topic Progress:

Click on the headings to access each section of the topic.

Creating Mood… Balancing Proportions

fig-3-colourIn graphic design colour helps to bring home the desired message and increasingly the science of colour is applied to a design to help create the desired response. It is applied to create visibility and legibility.

Colours can be relaxed and serene or they can be bold and brash. Colour is also used to create mood. It can create a mood of harmony or contrast. See Figs. 3 & 4

Complementary Colours

Complementary colours, i.e. colours appearing opposite on the wheel, provide vibrance and movement, e.g. purple or blue and gold.

When creating the arts brochure seen in Fig. 4 we used the main image for colour inspiration. As opposites on the colour wheel, the blue and gold work well together. The blue works well with the red image on the back.

Harmonising Colours


Colours that appear near or beside each other on the colour wheel are said to be analogous. They harmonise, that is they work peacefully together E.G. blue and green, green and yellow and/or purple and berry.

Note how the brochure in Fig. 3 uses harmonising colours. The purple and berry colours sit beside each other on the colour wheel. We then applied full strength of the purple and berry colours on the front and reduced them to a percentage of each on the back to heighten contrast.

Muted and softer effects can be achieved by creating varying monotones of images to use as backgrounds or watermarks.

Example 1: Note in Fig 3 how we used an enlarged and reduced in strength version of the logo symbol as a watermark.

fig-5-colourExample 2: See how we use the lynx from our WebLynx logo as a watermark on each page in the layout of this course. The watermark is created by adjusting the lynx image to greyscale, then creating a percentage that is low enough to be visible without reducing the legibility of text and enlarging to the required size.

Example 3: In Fig. 5, the logo for this upmarket accommodation in the Snowy Mountains, a popular summer and snow destination uses only two colours that appear close to each other on the colour wheel (blue-green or teal and blue.) The blue was applied to reflect strength and reliability, the tealy green as a calming, relaxing colour. Contrast is achieved by selectively using tints, reducing their percentages or intensity. The saturation of the blue has been reduced in the “the”, likewise the smaller peak. See Fig. 5

Achieving Contrast

Small amounts of vibrant colours will have a greater impact than great slabs of bright colours.

It is sometimes more effective to create contrast by toning down colour saturations and applying tints of a colour.

Primary colours respond well against contrasting backgrounds such as black and white.

Colours interact with each other and based on perception, value, intensity and hue can appear or display as different with a range of backgrounds. E.G. Charcoal can appear lighter against a blue background than against red.

Click on the following links to view examples:

Example 4: Note how in developing the logo and promotional materials for this audiovisual company we applied slashes of red to make the logo and brochures ‘pop’. See:

Example 5: Note the use of red contrasting with black and percentage of black (grey) on the logo, price list and website for a hair salon. See:

Example 6: We used red to provide strength to the logo for Tyree, an electronics company, made more dramatic by the addition of a smidgeon of black. Again, the red against white, with a dash of black makes the Tyree logo ‘pop’. See:

Example 7: Red was also used as a feature in the logo for a lock manufacturer:

For more on colour theory, there are lots of blog posts and videos on YouTube. So many that it may divert your attention too much.

It is up to you how many you view, but although aimed at painters I would recommend these quick exercises by Marilyn Fenn that illustrate the perception of colour. See: Also on YouTube, see: “Colour Theory Hue & Saturation” with Scott Naismith

More on Colour…

Colour is subjective and colour choice is often quite personal. There are wide-ranging factors that influence our colour choices and the colours we are drawn to.

We may be influenced by physiological factors, or psychological factors may come into play. When we choose clothing often our choices are influenced by both – intuitively we choose colours that fit our personality and suit our skin tones and hair colouring as well. (A raging extrovert is more likely to choose different colouring in clothing than their more introverted counterpart, for example).

Capacity or perception of colour also varies from individual to individual, and some people may be able to decipher tone while others may not.

As an individual, you most probably have your own favourite or preferred colours, and as graphic designer you will soon, if you have not already done so, start to develop a strong sense of colour and palette style.

As a professional, the main thing to always be mindful of when choosing colour for designs are client preference and genre, and the ongoing challenge is to assess and match client colour preferences while choosing colours to evoke the desired market response.

Designing With Colour Is Challenging Because...
  • Colour is an element subject to personal choice based on individual perception and the emotional responses it triggers. As previously discussed, the challenge is to assess and match client colour preferences while choosing colours to evoke the desired market response.
  • In the printing process, colours respond differently to varying papers and finishes. As we will discuss further when looking at printing in Part B, colours printed on uncoated stock flatten out, while tints may print heavier than intended. On the other hand, colours printed on coated stock are brighter and more vibrant. Gloss varnish brightens the colour while matt varnish softens it. To avoid client disappointment, it is essential that the designer explains this clearly before the job goes to the commercial printer.*
  • Colours view differently on-screen than they do in other forms and can vary from one screen to another. They may also vary from one computer printout to another according to the software program and inkjet or laser printer used. On-screen colours always appear brighter than they will in printouts.

* Note: Be mindful, that the small office printers used by freelance designers in their studios are not able to achieve the range of colour that commercial printing presses can.

Therefore you need to be sure you explain potential colour variations between your studio prints and the printers’ prints to clients.

We usually assist the client in selecting their colours by using the Pantone Matching System (PMS) colour swatches that we will introduce in Topic 3, choosing colours appropriate to the proposed coated or uncoated stock.

This way, except for error made by of the commercial printer, there can be no comeback on colours if the client has selected from the swatch and you have recorded their choice accurately.

Although geared to website design, if you wish to read more and see examples from Smashing Magazine go to:

Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color
Color Theory For Designers, Part 2: Understanding Concepts And Terminology
Color Theory For Designers: Creating Your Own Color Palettes

All content © Copyright WebLynx College strictly for use by enrolled students and not to be reproduced or distributed without permission of WebLynx College.