What is the role of color theory in graphic design?


There are few things in the design that are more important than color. Color can evoke reactions, emotions or even action all without using words. So how do we know which colors look good together? The answer is color theory in graphic design! The color theory describes the use of color in graphic design. Otherwise known as graphic design color palettes. However, it’s not only for artists as people use color theory in their everyday life as well! Whether it’s choosing an outfit or putting together a party invitation for a family members birthday color theory helps you choose a colorful graphic design!

1.The Understandings of Color Theory In Graphic Design

The biggest power behind color is their ability to evoke emotions and make people feel things, but the color meaning in graphic design can seem confusing at first as colors often have different interpretations.  Let’s take a look at not only what emotions they evoke but also their symbolism!

Color Theory In Graphic Design: Red

Red is in the “Warm” color family and tends to evoke feelings of passion, both love, and hate! Proven by the fact you can see the color red used in both imagery of Cupid, an angel of love, and demons.

As it’s also been associated with power and imagery of fire, violence, and warfare we tend to use red as a warning of danger or even to reprimand someone, like marking things incorrect using a large red “X” mark. However, red can also be seen as a symbol of status like when used at red carpet events or it can make someone think of red rubies.

Red is best used as an accent color, as it can be overwhelming, and even harmful to the eyes if used in large amounts!

Color Theory In Graphic Design: Yellow

Yellow, also a warm color is considered to be one of the brightest and most energizing of the warm colors. It’s commonly associated with happiness and sunshine. However, it can also be used to convey a warning or caution as it’s commonly used in construction sighs.

Colors in Graphic Design | Digiartu

Use yellow when you want a bright pop of happy energy or to draw immediate attention to an area. Yellow is also great to use when creating more industrial or modern designs! If you find that yellow is too stark and bright, try using a more muted yellow.

Color Theory In Graphic Design: Blue

Blue is often associated with sadness however blue is also used to represent calmness and tranquility. The meaning and symbolism of blue are heavily reliant on the shade of blue. Light blues can be both refreshing and friendly while dark blues are considered stronger and reliable.

Color Theory for beginners | Digiartu

When using blue remember the exact shade of blue you select will matter most with how your design will be perceived. Light blues are often calming, bright blues can be refreshing or even energizing while dark blues, like navy, are great for corporate designs where reliability is a featuring trait.

Color Theory In Graphic Design: Orange

Orange is bright and vibrant and so also gives off an energetic vibe similar to yellow, but is much more subdued in comparison. It’s commonly used in food labels or other cooking-related products (including cell phone recipe apps) as orange is said to invoke hunger in people!

While orange in its purest form is vibrant and bright, more muted forms will give off the feeling of warmth, and remind people of fall leaves. Which can be ideal for designs that want to give the feeling of being “cozy” and warm.

Colors Theory | Digiartu

Orange can be a better warm option to use over red as it has all of the vibrancy and energy that the color red has but without the potentially aggressive symbolism.

Color Theory In Graphic Design: Green

Unsurprisingly green, a cool-toned color is considered as earthy and will invoke images of nature signifying renewal and abundance. Alternatively, green can also represent envy and jealousy as seen in the phrase “green with envy”.

Going with the same theme as “abundance”, green can symbolize wealth especially in countries where their currency is green.

How are Colors important in Graphic Design | Digiartu

Green has a similar calming effect as blue, but with some of the energizing tones of yellow. The brighter the green the more energizing it will be. Muted and olive greens will work best in designs of nature and the natural world while dark greens are the most stable and representative of wealth.

Color Theory In Graphic Design: Purple

Before modern-day dyes were created, purple dyes were hard to find and extremely expensive to make so only royals and the wealthy could afford them. Given this history, dark purples are associated with wealth and royalty.

Complementary Colors in Graphic Design | Digiartu

However, lighter purples, like lavender, are typically associated with softness and a more tender romantic love, as opposed to red which ignites more passionate love. When using purples in design dark purples will give a sense of wealth and luxury while light softer purples are associated with spring and romance.

In conclusion, each color around us has a personality and unique characteristics. These colors translate the environmental tone and mood for us. Thus, colors are a significant design foundation that boosts the delivery of our message to the audience.

2. What’s the Color Terminology?

When talking about the color theory you may notice a few key terms pop up quite frequently. That is because describing color is best done by describing it’s hue, saturation, brightness or value. Let’s cover what exactly these terms mean!

Color Terminology in Graphic Design | Digiartu



Hue is one of the main properties of color and is the property of light by which the color of an object is classified as red, blue, green, or yellow in the color spectrum.

Green, orange, yellow, and blue — each of these is a hue, a color or a shade. A rainbow shows the melting of one hue into another, from red to violet, and all the shades in between. The noun hue means both a color and a shade of a color. Green is a hue, and turquoise is a hue of both green and blue!


A tint is where an artist adds a color to white to create a lighter version of the color. An example of a tint is pink. Pink is a tint created by adding white to red.


Tones are created when grey is added to a color. The final tone depends on the amount of black and white used, and tones may be lighter or darker than the original hue.


A shade is where an artist adds black to a color to darken it down.


Saturation is the intensity of a hue from a gray tone with no saturation, to pure, vivid color with high saturation. High saturation colors will come off more colorful or deep, while low saturation images will come off muted or pastel.

Hue | Saturation | Value Colors | Digiartu



Value refers to the lightness, brightness or darkness of a color. Value in the art will refer to the shadows and highlights and will give your work more dimension. It is especially important in black and white photos, design and illustration as it will separate objects from each other and their background.


Brightness is simply both the hue of color along with the value of the color. It refers to its lightness and its ability to replicate light or reflection. This is also known as “luminance.”

3. Color Palette For Graphic Design

Creating a cohesive color scheme relies on one thing: knowing what colors go well together and compliment each other. Luckily there are a number of different ways to mix, match and find the perfect color scheme for you!

Color Wheel

The color wheel for graphic design is a circle with different colored sections used to show the relationship between colors. The typical color wheel includes the blue, red, and yellow primary colors. The corresponding secondary colors are then green, orange, and violet or purple.

Complementary Color Wheel Terminology | Digiartu


Secondary Color

A mentioned above, secondary colors are colors that come from mixing two primary colors. There are three secondary colors. In RGB graphic design, the secondary colors are purple made from red mixed with blue, orange made from red mixed with yellow, and green made from yellow mixed with blue.



Two colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel are called complementary colors. Complementary colors of graphic designs provide high contrast and high impact color combination. When placed together or next to one another these colors will appear brighter and more vibrant.

Split Complementary

A split complementary color scheme involves the use of three colors. Start with one color, find its complement and then use the two colors on either side of it.


Analogous colors are among the easiest to find on the color wheel. Pick any color at any point on the wheel. Now, look at any three colors directly to the left or right of the chosen color. Together, those four are a group of analogous colors. Mixing colors that are adjacent to each other creates a colorful yet harmonious look. When using an analogous color scheme it’s best to choose one main color, using the other three as accent colors. This will help keep designs from becoming too chaotic or busy.


Tertiary colors are colors made by combining a secondary color with a primary color. There are six colors considered tertiary. In the RYB color wheel, these tertiary colors are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.

In conclusion, each color around us has a personality and unique characteristics. These colors translate the environmental tones and moods for us. Thus, colors are a significant design foundation that boosts the delivery of our message to the audience. If you like this article, please share and subscribe to our newsletter.

You have learned about color theory and understand that using color is a structured process. People who work with color (artists, architects, interior decorators) do not just use color randomly; they use color wheels and color theory to help create a piece that conveys meaning and emotion. Color has a powerful way of creating “mood,” especially when used in a cool, warm, or monochromatic color scheme. Using the right color for your design causes people to have a better interaction with your design.

You now know terms involved in color theory and can recognize color schemes that are used in the world around you. If you like this post, please share it and subscribe to our newsletter for more cool things.

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