Jan 29, 2024 • 7 min read

How Colour Psychology Can Transform Your Print Designs

Enhance your print designs with our guide covering the basics and create captivating palettes with free online tools.

How Colour Psychology Can Transform Your Print Designs

Giving prints visual appeal often starts with colour. Colour is a foundation for expression, drives decision-making, and builds perception. But there's more to it than meets the eye.


Individual colours carry meaning and symbolism in design, influencing human emotions and behaviour. This concept is known as Colour Psychology. It's used frequently in interior design, branding, and marketing sectors. Our interpretation of colour combines our learned experiences (e.g., personal experiences, culture, nationality, etc.) and the biologically innate (information we inherited).


For those familiar with Colour Theory, we use the colour wheel to organise different hues. We can also divide the colour wheel into warm and cool colours, helping us develop a visual hierarchy. This term means we can use colour to direct and control the order in which viewers digest and process visual information. Warm colours include Red, Orange and Yellow and convey heat-like qualities, while Cool colours include Green, Blue and Violet and convey coldness.


We must also acknowledge the cultural implications of colour. Understanding what colours mean in different cultures will ensure your prints consistently convey the right message, especially if your audience is global. For example, suppose a brand sells goods to a worldwide marketplace. The colour choices must be cohesive and inclusive and reflect consumer buying habits to ensure the brand is accepted and regarded positively on the market. It will also pave the way for customers to recognise and recall your products, what you sell, and the values you represent, hopefully leading to customer loyalty.


Let's look at the meaning behind some colours in more depth:



Red is one of the most intense, attention-grabbing colours in print. Dynamic and energising, it signifies importance and commands attention. In the Western world, it's often associated with love and passion. But it’s also linked to urgency, danger, and negativity. In Chinese culture, Red symbolises prosperity and good fortune.



Yellow is a bright, noticeable colour that evokes joy, optimism and happiness. It's also linked to creativity and intellect and can be particularly effective when marketing products like Children's Books. On the other hand, Yellow is also associated with cowardice and can be used to caution and warn of potential danger.



Orange is a warm, energetic colour related to activity, vitality, and extroversion. It supposedly has multi-sensory qualities in cooking and can evoke taste and smell, which is particularly effective for publications like Cookbooks.



Blue is a cool colour known for its calming and serene qualities. Conversely, it can have negative connotations. The saying 'have the blues' is directly influenced by this colour, signifying that someone is sad or depressed. But in branding, it can represent trustworthiness and professionalism.



Green is symbolic of growth, health, and harmony. However, particularly in Western culture, Green can also be associated with greed, wealth and envy. But like Blue, it can be soothing, evoking stability and freshness. It often represents things related to health and wellness but is also synonymous with environmental and sustainability issues. 



Purple can be an intense hue, signifying luxury, mystery, and, in some cultures, royalty. Historically, it was a colour reserved for monarchs and high-ranking individuals due to the expense of obtaining purple dyes. Nowadays, it's widely known for conveying elegance and depth.



Pink is a versatile colour, symbolising love, playfulness, and femininity. While it symbolises romance, its soft and gentle qualities can also successfully denote youthfulness and compassion.



White is an adaptable, timeless colour symbolising simplicity, tranquillity, and peace. In Western culture, white represents purity and new beginnings, but in Eastern cultures, it symbolises mourning. In graphics, white can also suggest temperature and brightness.



Black and its symbolism often shift depending on the context. In Western cultures, Black denotes mourning. It can also represent grief, evil, and depression. But Black can also be a highly sophisticated and elegant colour choice, denoting authority, power and intrigue. Black can also be symbolic of non-conformity, strength and solidarity.



Similar to Black and White, Grey offers a sense of versatility, balance, and timelessness. Tonally, grey falls between Black and White, denoting neutrality and is a subtle, understated colour. It can complement the background colour in print or serve as a base for incorporating other, more vibrant colours.


Let's examine a couple of real-life print examples using the colour psychology theory:


'Derpy Birds' by monkeymintaka

This Zine example has a pink background, hinting at the publication's playful nature, which may be more appealing to younger readers. The white text and graphics contrast in the foreground with the background colour to ensure legibility, giving them an almost luminous quality. The bird's red-ish outline focuses the reader's attention, and the bright yellow beak provides a comical edge.


'On Valencia' by Nat Meier

This Photography Book example has an orange border background, denoting the exotic location and hot weather. The orange, however, appears subdued, suggesting that the book’s content is nostalgic and created with old-fashioned photographic methods. The warm orange also contrasts with the photograph’s pastel colour palette, providing a pared-back look at a busy city.


Now you have an understanding of how colour psychology works, let's equip you with some free online tools for all the colour inspiration you need for future projects:



  • Canva's Colour Palette Generator: test popular, premade colour combinations or create bespoke versions. Alternatively, you can generate a palette from an existing image.


  • Adobe's Colour Wheel: build a colour palette and test colour harmonies. Once you've chosen your colour scheme, copy and paste the HEX or RGB codes into your design program or choose from a range of ready-made schemes (but make sure you know how to convert RGB to CMYK). Adobe users can also save schemes to their account (Select a Swatch to save in your Swatches panel > click Save Swatches in the panel menu > Enter name and location for the file and click Save).


  • Coolors: create custom palettes, explore trending ones or expand the colour dimensions with their gradient generator. Colour palettes can also be shared, saved and exported.


  • ColorZilla and Eye Dropper: these colour picker tools let you select and save colours when sampling colours from any image, allowing you to replicate them in your print designs.


Ultimately, colour psychology is far more nuanced in practice. While our colour choices are most likely influenced by social learning and, to a certain extent, our personal preferences, colour psychology can be a guiding light in the creative process. So, as long as you know your industry, book genre and audience, colour psychology can help you create prints where the first copy has as much colourful impact as the last.

For more news and inspiration, check out the array of posts on Mixam's Blog and visit our Support section for helpful guidance and advice on all things print.


Image and Artwork Credits: Freekpik (Cover), Picmonkey (colour wheel), monkeymintaka and Nat Meier

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