Skip to main content

4 Color Theory Tips for Designing Effective Labels


1. Make Color Psychology Work To Your Advantage

Have you ever noticed that clear blue skies put you in a good mood? Or that meetings held in plain white rooms make you sleepy?

If so, you have experienced the powerful influence color has on human emotions. The study of this phenomenon is called color psychology, and it is becomingly increasingly recognized as an important factor in consumer purchasing behavior.

Color psychology is one of several concepts you should consider when incorporating color into your product label designs. Because your product label is one of your most important marketing vehicles, the colors you choose for it have the potential to make or break your sales.

Here is a list of colors and the emotional and physiological responses commonly associated with them. As you read this list, consider the emotions you hope to evoke in your product’s target markets. What colors are associated with these emotions? Are you currently incorporating these colors into your packaging and marketing materials? If the answer to the last question is no, you might want to consider giving your packaging and marketing materials a color makeover – starting with your product labels.

  • WHITE: Relaxation, security and complacency. Feelings of lightness.
  • PINK: Tranquility, relaxation and – in some cases – fatigue.
  • GREEN: Peacefulness, happiness, and relaxation. Also has the potential to reduce blood pressure.
  • LIGHT BLUE: Comfort, spirituality and relaxation.
  • BLUE: Creativity and happiness. Safety.
  • DARK BLUE & GREY-BLUE: Sadness OR security. Trust. Very popular in business due to associations with trust.
  • RED: Everything from energy, warmth, and sensuality; to danger, mistakes and failure. This color has the potential to literally increase one’s heart rate.
  • LIGHT YELLOW: Cheerfulness, optimism, spontaneity and hunger.
  • BRIGHT YELLOW: Irritability. Danger.
  • PURPLE: Introspection, sensitivity, prestige and security.
  • ORANGE: Clarity, vitality, and hunger.
  • BROWN: Relaxation, passivity, security, vitality and – in some cases – depression.
  • BLACK: Virility, rationality and stability; as well as hopelessness and sorrow.

2. Pair Text & Background Colors Together in Legible Combinations

Choosing legible combinations for your text and background colors can be daunting if done haphazardly. If you follow a few basic principles of color theory, however, it is a very manageable process.

The key to successfully pairing text and background colors is contrast – contrast between lightness and darkness, also known as value – and contrast between hues. The greater the contrast, the greater the legibility of your text. Increased contrast also minimizes eye strain and results in a more aesthetically pleasing design.

The most successful designs pair text and background colors that have a large amount of contrast in both hue and value. Complementary hues provide the greatest amount of contrast, and are located directly across from each other on a color wheel. A super-easy method for selecting text and background colors is to pair a dark color from the bottom half of a color wheel with a light one from the top.

What if you are considering pairing black and white together, or black or white with a color? How do you decide which combinations are the most successful, and which ones should be avoided? One solution is to choose a pairing from the top of this list:

  • Black on Yellow (most legible)
  • Black on White
  • Yellow on Black
  • White on Black
  • Blue on White
  • White on Blue
  • Green on White
  • White on Green
  • Red on White
  • White on Red (least legible)

3. Take Advantage of Free Online Tools That Simplify the Process of Choosing a Color Scheme

Choosing colors for your custom labels doesn’t have to be a tedious process. There are plenty of online tools out there today that can help you choose just the right look. When creating your labels, there is often a base color that you want to include – It might be the color of your logo, or a color that fits with the product you are selling. The question is what colors you should put with this base color. Here is a brief roundup of a few online tools that can help you put together color schemes for your labels:

  • Kuler: Developed by Adobe, Kuler allows you to create your own color schemes as well as check out color schemes created by other users. Like many of these tools, Kuler will show you the most popular schemes created by users.
  • COLOURlovers: This site describes itself as a resource for monitoring and influencing color trends. COLOURlovers has a very useful feature that lets you find color palettes based on keywords. Like Kuler, it features the most popular colors as voted on by the site’s “lovers,” and also spotlights emerging color trends.
  • ColorBlender: This site is a little different in that it lets you tweak your color palette on the fly by dragging a button across one of the red, green or blue channels. ColorBlender does not make you register to use any of its features and is a simple, intuitive website that will blend matching colors for you. If you want a site that is very quick to master, check out ColorBlender.

4. Send Your Digital Label Printer CMYK Artwork Files

CMYK, also known as four color process, is the standard image color mode in the printing industry for reproducing full color images. The acronym represents the colors used in four color process printing: cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

But wait, you might ask, why isn’t the acronym CMYB? The answer is two-fold.

The first reason is that the “K” in CMYK represents the color black, but actually stands for the black “key plate” all printers used before the advent of digital printing (which doesn’t use printing plates). The black printing plate was called the key plate because it contained all the artistic detail or “key” information for a print. It contained much more detail than the cyan, magenta, and yellow plates.

The second reason has to do with avoiding confusion with another very popular color model, RGB. This acronym stands for red, green, and blue and is how computer monitors and televisions represent color. Even though no one refers to the black plate as the key plate anymore, the four color process model has retained the acronym CMYK in order to avoid confusion with the RGB color model.

Most digital printing presses (including the ones here at Lightning Labels) only handle CMYK. If you send us your label artwork files in RGB or another image color mode, we will have to convert it to CMYK in order to print it. This could cause extreme shifts in how the colors in your label designs appear when printed.

If you have any concerns about how the colors in your finished labels will appear, you might want to take advantage of our free “press proof” offer. A press proof will allow you to see exactly how the colors in your finished labels will appear before your label order goes into production.