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Eve Entwisle
Written by

Eve Entwisle
When brands use colour well, how to choose and use colour correctly, and simple rules to avoid embarrassing colour disasters.

Colour theory

Colour, colour, colour. Colour is a wonderful thing for many, many reasons. Thanks to associations born through instinct or repetition, we can evoke particular emotions through colour, instilling feelings of warmth and friendliness through yellow for example, or wellbeing and eco-friendliness through greens. These aren’t fixed rules, of course, but they help give us an idea of where we should be looking within the colour wheel when designing a brand.

Colour is also a wonderful way of allowing us to express ourselves. We do this through the clothing we wear, the colour we dye our hair, and the tones we choose which all give a first impression into what we’re like as a person, and what we’re into. First impressions can be totally wrong though – for example, nobody has any idea of my penchant for heavy metal, for I do not display the usual body modificationmake-up, hairstyle and clothing associated with that genre.

Due to our natural instincts, colour is something everyone can relate to, which means that when we design something, we know that it will speak to people in the same way. There is of course one exception to the rule. Dogs. Colour is wasted on them.

 

Branding – owning a colour

Coca Cola bottle top

The world of branding uses colour as a component to help create recognition, ownability, and impact. The brands that instantly spring to mind are some of the most recognisable in the world. Take Coca Cola’s ownership of a particular shade of red, Cadburys’ purple, and Marie Curie – yellow. They’ve all successfully managed to own their distinctive colours by creating powerful brand associations – compared to other brands where unique typography may be the point of difference that everybody knows and recognises.

When using colour in branding, it’s very important that it’s done right. Unlike other art disciplines, a brand is something that needs to be reproduced by different people, on different applications, in different places at different times, on different mediums, and the most important thing is consistency. The moment you lose the consistency, you lose all the benefits the colour brings to the brand: the emotion, the association, the expression, and how we relate to it. It’s literally muddying the waters. It’s a client’s worst nightmare because their billboards don’t match their website, and a designer’s worst nightmare of a brief.

 

Common mistakes

By following some very simple rules, we can avoid some very common mistakes.

Pantone swatch book orange blue and green

The first is to avoid picking colours only achievable by using Pantone inks. For the uninitiated, ‘the Pantone Color Matching System is largely a standardized colour reproduction system. By standardizing the colours, different manufacturers in different locations can all refer to the Pantone system to make sure colours match without direct contact with one another.”

It’s a great system. Its universal, its range is vast, and it’s constantly updated to improve its spectrum offering. I love Pantone, and if anyone ever wonders where the Pantone swatch book is currently sitting in the office, your best bet is generally going to be on my desk. It’s fair to say I’m a Pantone obsessive; I know all their songs, I know where they live, and if I don’t get my Pantone fix at least once a day, bad things happen.

I’m not alone in my thinking. People LOVE Pantone. Pantone can achieve tones brighter than the sun. Due to the way that Pantone colours print, we can create impact with solid punchy tones, something much more difficult to achieve with CMYK. But it comes at a price. Cost. It’s much more expensive. And just like side orders in a posh French restaurant, printers charge you per colour. Because of this, we only suggest purely Pantone when and where the budget allows.

Another reason to avoid only picking the super bright vivid tones within the Pantone swatch book is colour reproduction. Pantone is sometimes not an option for things like pull up banners and wall vinyls and so we need to use the CMYK equivalent. Luckily, Pantone swatch books have done the hard work for us, and suggest the closest matching CMYK breakdown for every colour. If you happen to have a swatch book close to hand, flick through it and you will see how some colours translate effortlessly, whilst others fail miserably. Imagine printing your business cards in a shocking Pantone neon pink, and your pull-up banners in a wishy-washy salmon. Nightmare!

The second mistake to avoid is picking a colour breakdown in programmes such as Adobe Illustrator, or picking a colour from a website or a document you’ve scanned, as this will bring up random values. The problem with this is that when it comes to putting brand guidelines together, these will generally provide you with Pantone references and if you haven’t started with a Pantone, it becomes a challenge to convert the CMYK figures to an accurate approximation. It’s essentially doing the job in reverse and brings up a whole world of consistency problems – problems that could have been easily avoided.

 

Three simple rules to achieving colour happiness

  1. Choose a colour from a swatch book (not from onscreen, not colour-picked from a website, not from a photo you took of a wallpaper that caught your eye).
  2. Make sure it has similar outputs across Pantone, CMYK, RGB to give you the most flexibility when it comes to producing, printing and polishing.
  3. And if Pantone is simply a no go, don’t be afraid to stick to the traditional outputs. Happy client, happy boss, and best of all, happy you.

Right time for a coffee. Umm ok, who the hell’s hidden my Pantone mug…

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