Colour Swatch Book

Designing With Colour

Colour is an important part in visual communication. It can be used to express mood, emotion and can evoke specific responses in the viewer. To use colour properly, an understanding of the target audience and the message to be projected, is essential.

For example, the primary colours are often used to target a younger audience and to suggest a message of simplicity. Active colour combinations suggest; sport, travel, excitement, the exotic and adventure, they are rarely used to target older, more conservative audiences.

Colour is often referred to as the 'silent salesperson'; it has to immediately attract the viewers eye, convey the message of what the product or service is about, and ultimately make the sale.

The human reaction to colour is mostly subliminal and the viewer is generally unaware of its persuasive effects. As an example of this, a consumer walking down the supermarket aisle, their eyes rest on a package for less than one tenth of a second, in that time they must be informed of the contents. Colour and colour combinations are the biggest indicators, with the package shape, image and text, being less important.

Colour association is an important part of the language of design. A graphic designer needs to be aware of colour associations in order to avoid confusing the message. Colours have varying meanings in different cultures. For example; white is associated with death in most of Asia, but is a symbol of purity in the West.

Colours may be considered to be active or passive, hard or soft, warm or cool, dark or light. Blue, blue-green and blue-violet are calming, serene and relaxing. These colours are not seen as signals for alarm, unlike, red, yellow and orange.

Some Common Colour Associations And Uses


Internationally recognised as 'Go' in traffic lights and electrical machinery, freshness, refreshment, harmony, balance, rest, nature, environment, natural, eco-friendly, money, growth, fertility, tranquility, envy, reassurance.


Hygiene, calming, water, sky, trust, efficiency, authority, reliability, dignity, peace, loyalty, integrity, cold. Blue is the most liked of all colours and is widely used on websites, software packages, operating systems, etc.


'Stop' - traffic lights and emergency stop buttons, danger, life, blood, vitality, fire, heat, warmth, courage, anger, strength, energy, stimulation, excitement, aggressiveness, passion, speed, grabs our attention more than other colours.


The Sun, positive energy, growth, optimism, confidence, friendliness, happiness, creativity, fear, cowardice.


Food, warmth, security, fun, abundance, autumn, determination, comfort, good for encouraging impulse purchases.


Richness, royalty, quality, truth, spiritual, religion, mystery, luxury, commonly used on chocolate packaging.


Femininity, innocence, love, nurture, softness, tranquility. Pink is used on toy packaging for young girls and in girls fashion.


Sophistication, elegance, glamour, efficiency, up-market, menace, death, night, neutral. As a neutral 'colour', it can be used in combination with any other colour.


Hygiene, purity, sterility, clarity, simplicity, sophistication, contemporary, cold, light, neutral.


Nature, earthiness, organic, warmth, reliable, subtle richness.

The colour associations listed above have both positive and negative qualities and should not be taken too seriously. The designer needs to know how to effectively combine colours to communicate the right message. Successful use of colour is more to do with tonal relationships than the choice of any particular hue. There needs to be harmony and balance for a colour combination to work effectively.

Colour Schemes


The Monochromatic Colour Scheme uses variations of tone of a single colour, producing a pleasing and soothing effect on the eye. This scheme always looks balanced and is visually appealing. It is often combined with a neutral colour like black, white or grey.


The Analogous Colour Scheme uses hues which are adjacent on the colour wheel. It has a similar effect as the monochromatic, with added contrast and richness. Combining warm and cool hues does not work as well however.


The Complementary Colour Scheme is made of two hues which are opposite on the colour wheel, for example, red and green. This scheme offers the strongest contrast but is harder to get the balance right. The complementary scheme works best using warm and cool hues together.

Split Complementary

The Split Complementary Colour Scheme uses one hue with the two adjacent hues of its complementary, for example, orange with blue and blue-violet. It is harder to balance this scheme, but offers less contrast than the full complementary.


The Triadic Colour Scheme uses three hues spaced evenly on the colour wheel. It creates strong visual contrast while retaining balance. This scheme is popular with artists.


The Tetradic or Double Complementary Colour Scheme uses four hues arranged into two complementary pairs. It is the hardest scheme to balance, best to avoid using colours in equal amounts.