Business Colors: You Already Know The Most Important Rule

Red and blue. Maroon and white. Green and yellow.

What do your high school, your favorite sports team and most major corporations have in common? Two colors. They pick two main colors to represent their organization, and you should, too.

It’s All About Restraint

When it comes to color, the best policy is to restrain your hues. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you want your business to look good, you should stick to a limited palette of colors.

creating a brand that's recognizable by choosing a two-color palette

There’s a good reason for this. We expect our audience to associate specific images (like our logo and colors) with our business. The less information we give them to “learn” about us, the better the chance they’ll absorb it.

So stick to what your middle school, high school and college did: pick two colors, and make them your “signature” hues. Use them consistently in your web and print materials, and make sure any other colors you use are secondary to these two main hues.

Finding Colors to Work for your Business

creating a brand palette with Color Scheme DesignerIf you are in the process of defining the colors that will represent your business, there’s a great online (free) resource you can use. It’s called Color Scheme Designer.

Use the “Hues” tab to select colors. Adjust brightness with the “Adjust Scheme” tab.

You can implement color theory by clicking on the color wheels along the top. Once you have a group of colors you like, try clicking on “Light Page Example” and “Dark Page Example” to see how your colors might look when applied to a real web page. When you’re all done, click the “Export” tab to save your colors to the format you prefer.

Remember, of the group of colors you choose, you should choose and use two main colors. The others can be used as accents on your web pages or print pieces, but two main colors should dominate. This will make it easier for your customers to remember your business colors.

It will make your job easier, too. When you have only two colors to choose from, color decisions become a lot easier.

How about you: confused by color? Tell me about it in the comments!

Want to know more? Master design and marketing basics so your business looks more polished and professional. Get the free 10-part Design 101 e-course.

 

Comments

  1. says

    One thing I find funny is colors in general. I’m partially colorblind. I do see colors, people just see colors differently than I do. I see different hues out of each eye.

    This makes matching colors for me very interesting. And yes, I have to have help picking out clothes or I’ll come out looking like a clown.

    One thing I’ve noticed with websites that have tons of different colors is it makes me not want to stay on them, regardless of the content because I won’t be able to focus on the content.

    Simple is good.

    • says

      Brian, my husband is color blind, too, so I’m sensitive to how you see the world a little differently. Whether you’re color blind or not, I think sites with too many colors swirling around are a little distracting, especially if you really want people to read your words.

  2. says

    Thanks for the article,

    It’s absolutely true – the less choice you have, the better you can channel your creativity. And only using 2 colors is also a big plus when it comes to shrinking your logo down to avatar-size.

    I’m glad I followed your advice before I even read it :)
    My favorite colors are crimson red and black, and that’s why I used them for my logo. It’s a little dark, but it conveys a very powerful feeling, kind of a modern, revolutionary style !

  3. Dorothy Ray says

    I feel like I just won the lottery finding your blog and the color wheel magic you linked. Need I mention I’m an artist and interior designer? I’ve been entertaining myself for an hour. Thanks so much for giving this to the world.

    • says

      Welcome, Dorothy! Thanks for the comment.

      I couldn’t believe my luck when I found that ColorSchemeDesigner site, either. I still don’t know how they do that for free!

  4. says

    Wow! I clicked to your site from newrulesofbookpublishing.com and learned something within 10 seconds! That’s pretty exciting. Thanks for the quick lesson. Is white considered a second color? When I was designing my site I felt drawn to a crimson color (what else connotes “passion” like red?), but I don’t really use a secondary color. Well, looking at it again, I guess I use dark gray as an accent.

    Anyhow, great post and thanks for the quick lesson! I look forward to visiting more often.

    • says

      Welcome, Wendy!

      It looks like your site is crimson and grey. I don’t usually count black or white if they’re used as background or text colors. I think your site looks great. And I guess you can see I like red, too! ;)

      • says

        Thanks, Pamela. I signed up for your course and look forward to learning more. I hope it will give me some tips on developing a logo. As a startup, I don’t feel I should be investing my $ there yet, but I also feel as if I need one. Quandry …

  5. says

    Wow, this made me think – really good tip. Thanks! Im about to redesign a website with two logo colours – planning to add a new colour to the website design – now Im a little hesitant.

    • says

      Gunnar, these rules are made to be broken, so add a third color if you’d like. It’s best to pick two of your colors and make them most prominent. The third color can be used as an accent here and there.

  6. says

    Please don’t look at my web site; it’s so embarrassing. I’m an engineer, not a designer … that’s why I’m reading your blog. I played around with the color scheme designer and found colors I like much better than what I have.

    I found a site with many tools including one similar to but not designed quite as nice. http://www.colourlovers.com/ It also has pattern making tools that tile. What do you think of pattern or textured backgrounds?

    Thanks again for inspiring my color sense.

    Peace,

    Rob:-]

    • says

      Hi Rob! My husband is a color blind engineer, so believe me: nothing fazes me!

      Thanks for recommending this site: it looks like a great resource! I’ll look into it a bit more in the future and might recommend it here, too.

      To answer your question, patterned backgrounds can work, but in my opinion they should be very, very subtle. You want visitors to read your words first, and if your background is too busy it will compete with them.

      The way to create a subtle background is to pick a foreground color and a background color for your pattern that are close in tone. You could use a dark blue background with a slightly lighter blue pattern on top of it, for example. The pattern itself should be small, too.

      Good luck. Thanks again for sharing the site!

  7. says

    What kind of color scheme would you advice for colorschemedesigner.com? In the example you use a triad scheme. Or does it depend on the case?

  8. says

    Thanks for the color tips, I really didn’t even know the two rules existed, but I have unconsciously been following the rules as I never use more than two colors while working on business or product branding.

    The color tool you provided was very useful, just shared it with my graphics team.

  9. says

    Once I’ve picked two colours, one based on an existing colour and the other to complement it, what can I do to make sure these colours are the right ones for my brand? Of course I think they are, but I’m likely to change my mind tomorrow, am I not? How long before I know they’re right for me?

    • says

      If you’ve chosen colors based on what you think your target market with respond to, Niel, then the only thing to do is test them.

      Try sending your colors (or a web page created with your colors) to people who are in the target market you’re trying to reach. Get feedback from them to see if they resonate with your choices.

      Then test your final choices over time. See how people respond to them. If you need to, you can tweak the colors if you’re not getting the response you want. Give it a good, long test before you do that, though. It takes many months for color choices to register and be memorable.

      I hope that helps. Thanks for reading!

  10. says

    Hey Pamela,

    I haven’t really picked any colors yet on my marketing site so I was using mostly… How do I say this? Black, White and a lot of Gray.

    I don’t think these colors can trigger any buying emotions but then again, I am kind of working towards making it a site about self discovery through Internet Marketing.

    I know it sounds weird but it wasn’t planned and that’s how it has been turning out lately but I have noticed that whenever I use images with color, they contrast a lot with everything else and I kind of like that.

    I’ll be checking out more of your site since it has been helping me a lot in the short time I have been around so thanks in advance!

    Sergio

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