There are few visual elements that can elicit a subliminal reaction more than colour. This post is intended as a beginning point for designers, helping them to create meaningful work that influences the viewer.

Evidence of subconscious colour reactions can be found all around our world. Connotations of colour have found their way into the English language – you may sometimes feel blue, be tickled pink, or even see red! In nature, it can be a matter of life-or-death – poisonous creatures such as insects, reptiles and amphibians can possess colours as a visual warning to predators.

Sometimes our colour choices are pre-determined (such as by an existing brand system); however where that isn’t the case, it’s definitely worth thinking about colour psychology and how that could possibly influence the viewer. I have provided examples along with synonyms, example colours, and photographic themes.


A gridded image with various tones of blue, and small photographs of a macaw, ocean, sky, and bluebell flowers

Blue #378CC5 / Cyan #00B7EB / Azure #007fff / Sky by SingSing Wade Kim / Macaw by Rose Thayer / Cornflower #6495ED / Navy #000080 / Cobalt #0047AB / Bluebells by Annie Spratt / Ocean Scene by Francesco Ungaro

Blue has connotations with:

  • Depth — intensity, seriousness, insight, profundity
  • Stability — durability, steadfast, durable
  • Trust — confidence, certain, faith
  • Confidence — assurance, courage
  • Calm — relaxed, composed, sedate, tranquil


A gridded image with various tones of red, with small photographs of a phone box, a road sign, strawberries, and fallen leaves

Red #E63142 / Scarlet #900D09 / Phone Box by Steve Harvey / Rose #E3242B / Garnet #610C04 / Leaves by Pop & Zebra / Crimson #B90E0A / Strawberries by Soroush Karimi / Vermilion #E34234 / Give Way by Dim Hou

Red has connotations with:

  • Passion — desire, affection, lust, infatuation, keenness
  • Energy — strength, might, force, stamina
  • Power — command, dominance, sway, control
  • Danger — jeopardy, risk, peril, hazard, threat
  • Action — exertion, feat, spirit, vigour


A gridded image with various tones of green, and small photographs of a frog, limes, runner beans, and a tree

Green #8EB446 / Limes by Taylor Simpson / Forest #0D642F / Laurel #AABA9F / Olive #708037 / Frog by Stephanie LeBlanc / Green Beans by Mateusz Feliksik / Lime #BED249 / Tree by Jan Huber / Jade #009F65

Green has connotations with:

  • Growth — improvement, progress, extension, proliferation
  • Calm — relaxed, composed, sedate, tranquil
  • Nature — world, environment, earth, creation
  • Balance — stability, support, equalize
  • Safety — assurance, security, immunity, precautions, sanctuary


A gridded image with various tones of yellow, and small photographs of a bee, sunflowers, a hazard sign, and a sunset

Yellow #FFC846 / Bee by Kevin Grieve / Gold #F9A602 / Honey #FFC30B / Flax #EEDC82 / Sky by Nic Y-C / Mustard #FEDC56 / Sunflowers by Gérôme Bruneau / Lemon #EFFD5F / Hazard Sign by Bernd Dittrich

Yellow is associated with:

  • Joy — delight, pleasure, glee, euphoria
  • Caution — warning, urge, hazard
  • Freshness — novelty, vigour, originality
  • Energy — intensity liveliness, spirit, determination
  • Optimism — hope, confidence, positivity


A gridded image with various tones of orange, with small photographs of a sunset, a bonfire, a tiger, and the orange fruit

Orange #F5641F / Sky by Megan Clark / Spice #7A3803 / Fire #DD571C / Bonfire by Hans Isaacson / Canteloupe #FDA172 / Tiger by Clovis Wood Photography / Apricot #ED820E / Fruit by Noah Buscher / Bronze #B2560D

Orange has connotations with:

  • Enthusiasm — keenness, motivation, zeal
  • Success — victory, triumph, luck
  • Warmth — comfort, goodwill, cordiality
  • Creativity — imagination, talent, inspiration, originality
  • Excitement — exhilaration, thrill, action


A gridded image with various tones of purple, and small photographs of a crown, flowers, grapes, and a sunset

Purple #310B49 / Sky by Kyle Wilson / Lilac #B65FCF / Mauve #7A4988 / Violet #710193 / Crown by Markus Spiske / Grapes by Aedrian / Flowers by Artiom Vallat / Grape #663046 / Heather #9E7BB5

Purple is associated with:

  • Royalty — regal, imperial, sovereign, grand, majestic
  • Power — control, authority, influence, domination
  • Arrogance — conceit, pride, swagger, hubris
  • Luxury — opulence, extravagence, splendour
  • Wisdom — understanding, learning, knowledge, intelligence


A gridded image with various tones of pink, with small photographs of a doughnut, cherry blossoms, parrots, and coral

Pink #F699CD / Punch #F25278 / Doughnut by Isaac Quesada / Flamingo #FDA4BA / Cherry Blossoms by AJ / Parrots by Megan Clark / Coral #FE7D6A / Blush #FEC5E5 / Salmon #FDAB9F / Coral by David Clode

Pink is associated with:

  • Sensitivity — reactivity, responsiveness, understanding, empathy
  • Caring — compassionate, kindly, warmth
  • Emotional — spiritual, personal
  • Love — adoration, cherish, prize
  • Sexuality — desire, lust, virility


A gridded image with various tones of white, with small photographs of a glacier, a wedding, a flower, and an arctic fox

White #FFFFFF / Alabaster #FEF9F3 / Snow #F5FEFD / Arctic Fox by Jonatan Pie / Wedding by Ulyana Tim / Glacier by Xavier Balderas Cejudo / Ivory #FDF6E4 / Daisy by Freya Ingva / Cotton #FBFBF9 / Porcelain #FFFEFC

White has connotations with:

  • Purity — cleanliness, brilliance, wholesomeness, integrity, honesty
  • Innocence — naiveté, gullibility, blameless, modesty
  • Luxury — opulence, splendour, affluence
  • Security — safety, protection, safekeeping
  • Peace — truce, pacification, quiet


A gridded image with various tones of grey, with small photographs of a rhinoceros, slate, a misty forest, and a detail of modern architecture

Grey #969696 / Rhinoceros by Joel Herzog / Pearl #D9DDDC / Smoke #BEBDB8 / Slate by Lou Batier / Anchor #3E424B / Mink #88807B / Fossil #787276 / Architectural Detail by Erik Eastman / Misty Forest by Silvana Amicone

Grey has connotations with:

  • Neutrality — impartiality, detachment
  • Simplicity — obviousness, clarity, restraint, purity
  • Reliability — dependable, responsible, certain, honesty, sound
  • Sophistication — poise, elegance
  • Stability — durability, permanence, steadiness, strength


A gridded image with various tones of brown, and small photographs of a bear, rust, coffee beans, and logged timber

Brown #6E3C28 / Tortilla #9A7B4F / Bear by Melina Kiefer / Rust by Maxime Horlaville / Mocha #3C280D / Gingerbread #5E2C04 / Tawny #80471C / Coffee by Moritz Knöringer / Cedar #4A3728 / Timber by Gregory Dalleau

Brown is associated with:

  • Honesty — integrity, honour, morality, sincerity
  • Trust — belief, credence, faith, care
  • Wistful — yearning, contemplative, dreamy, forlorn
  • Rugged — uneven, rocky, rough, irregular
  • Simplicity — naivety, innocence, openness


A gridded image with various tones of black, and small photographs of a cat, a black and white female portrait, coal, and the moon

Black #000000 / Midnight #040406 / Onyx #030104 / Cat by Adél Grőber / Portrait by Alexander Krivitskiy / Coal by Nick Nice / Raven #050301 / Charcoal #28231D / Soot #160D08 / Moon by Alexander Andrews

Black is associated with:

  • Boldness — bravery, daring, heroic, gallant, forward
  • Power — control, authority, influence, domination
  • Mystery — secret, enigma, obscurity
  • Elegance — dignity, grace, style, taste, sophistication
  • Prestige — status, reputation, esteem

Header Image: Patrick Fore on Unsplash.