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

The best brand designers know all about color. We use it to evoke particular emotions in our audiences, which in turn helps to position and sell products.

Yellow, for example, makes things feel warm and homely, while green has associations with eco-friendliness.

On the other hand, yellow can (in certain contexts) mean danger. And green can relate to health. So while it’s not entirely fixed, the common associations work together to send messages all by themselves.

In a way, we’re all experts on color theory. We express ourselves every day through the color of clothing we wear, the color we dye our hair, and the colors we paint our homes. These all tell the world a little bit about us.

When first impressions don’t quite match up with the reality though, the result can be surprising. For example, nobody who meets me for the first time knows I’m a heavy metal fan. I don’t have any of the body modifications, make-up, hairstyle and clothing associated with that genre.

Surprises like these can be used to your advantage too – but how you do it matters a lot.

How to own a color

Great use of color helps create brand recognition, ownability, and impact.

Take Coca-Cola’s ownership of a particular shade of red, Chevrolet’s gold and yellow logo, and Home Depot’s orange. These businesses have associated themselves with a color so deeply that they pretty much own it.

Best brand designers - Coca Cola
Thirsty yet?

But it’s not just any shade of red, yellow or orange that has built up such strong brand recognition.

The brand will be replicated by different people, for different reasons, for use in different places. So consistency is vital, so that the brand presentation doesn’t waver an inch.

The best brand designers wake up in cold sweats about nightmares where printed materials don’t match up with the color on a website, or vice versa. Because they know that if you let things slip, you can very quickly undermine a brand’s power.

Simple rules, common mistakes

I prefer to use Pantone colors wherever possible, because there’s absolutely no room for mistakes when you use it.

You specify a code. The color which matches that code gets printed. It’s a fantastic standardised system: it’s universal, and it’s updated constantly.

Pantone swatch book orange blue and green - best brand design
Choices, choices…

Where did the Pantone swatch book go? Probably on my desk in the office.

In fact, it’s fair to say I’m a Pantone obsessive. The system gives you so many options, and in my opinion, the swatch books are a designer’s best friend.

I’m not the only one…

All the best brand designers love Pantone, because Pantone colors are printed in a way that makes them really impactful. It’s much harder to create similar tones using CMYK systems, but the punchiness comes at a cost.

Pantone is, sadly, much more expensive than other printing options. And, just like sides in a posh restaurant, printers charge per color when you choose it. So, if your budget doesn’t allow for it, we understand. But if you can stretch things, we recommend it.

And sometimes, Pantone isn’t available – when you’re printing things like pull-up banners and wall vinyls, for example. In those cases, you need to use the CMYK equivalent. But don’t worry – as you can see from the image above, Pantone makes things easy by giving you the CMYK and RGB breakdown for as-close-as-possible reproduction of the shade elsewhere. Beware though, as some shades translate much better than others.

And it’s wise to always start with Pantone choices first, rather than picking out CMYK or RGB choices and moving the other way. It can be really difficult to choose the right Pantone shade to match these, and you can easily avoid the problem. So why put yourself in that position?

Three simple rules the best brand designers always follow

  1. Choose a color from a swatch book. Not from a screen. Not lifted from a website. A swatch book – every time.
  2. Make sure the colors you’ve picked all look great across Pantone, CMYK, and RGB.
  3. If Pantone’s too expensive right now? Well, that’s fair enough. Don’t be afraid to use an alternative that looks great. But remember to use Pantone as a color-picking tool.

All done. Time for a coffee.

Now, where’s my Pantone mug…

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