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What Colors Mean

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Colors evoke emotion. Colors have meanings that vary between cultures and even personal preference.

Of course, the shade of a color can change the meaning, too. For example, yellow might be cheerful, but a darker yellow might be considered dingy. An olive green can feel earthy, while a forest green can symbolize affluence.

Color symbolism is the use of color to represent traditional, cultural, or religious ideas, concepts, or feelings or to evoke physical reactions.

What do individual colors mean in detail:

Blue(plus azure | beryl | cerulean | cobalt | corporate blue | indigo | navy | sapphire)
Green(plus chartreuse)
Pink(plus fuchsia)
Purple(plus lilac | plum | violet)
Red(plus blood red | crimson | scarlet | vermilion)

Please note that while color symbolism applies to colors wherever they are used, this series of articles on color meanings focuses primarily on the use of color in print and Web projects for desktop publishing and graphic design. While some scientific studies are noted, there are no absolutes. Color preferences and meanings are personal and subjective and no one size or situation fits all.

However, speaking in generalities,following Table gives you a sense of what some basic colors typically mean :

ColorVarious Meanings
RedPassion, love, energy, danger, strength, importance, excitement, desire, speed, power, heat, aggression, fire, blood, war, violence, all things intense and passionate.
PinkSymbolizes love and romance, caring, tenderness, acceptance and calm.
Beige and ivorySymbolize unification. Ivory symbolizes quiet and pleasantness. Beige symbolizes calm and simplicity.
TurquoiseSymbolizes calm. Teal symbolizes sophistication. Aquamarine symbolizes water. Lighter turquoise has a feminine appeal.
OrangeHeat, endurance, vitality, health, inviting, energy, balance, enthusiasm, warmth, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant, demanding of attention.
YellowCourage, energizing, pleasant, cheerful, joy, happiness, betrayal, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, gold, philosophy, dishonesty, cowardice, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard and friendship.
GreenSafety, wealth, freshness, calming, nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy, misfortune, vigor.
PurpleRoyalty, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mysterious, transformation, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, honor, arrogance, mourning.
BlueLoyalty, tranquility, responsibility, peace, tranquility, cold, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, loyalty, sky, water, technology, depression, appetite suppressant.
LavenderSymbolizes femininity, grace and elegance.
BlackElegance, power, death, grief, authority, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, fear, evil, unhappiness, depth, style, sadness, remorse, anger, anonymity, underground, good technical color, mourning.
BrownEarthliness, warm, dependability, wistful, woodsy, stability, hearth, home, outdoors, reliability, comfort, endurance, simplicity, and comfort.
WhiteReverence, purity, birth, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, youth, winter, snow, good, sterility, marriage (Western cultures), death (Eastern cultures), cold, clinical.
GraySecurity, reliability, intelligence, staid, modesty, dignity, maturity, solid, conservative, practical, old age, sadness, boring. Silver symbolizes calm.

Physical and Cultural reactions to colors

Sometimes colors create a physical reaction (red has been shown to raise blood pressure) and at other times it is a cultural reaction (in the U.S. white is for weddings, in some Eastern cultures, white is the color for mourning and funerals).

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  • Temperature

    • The more towards the red end of spectrum you go, the hotter it gets.

    • The more towards the blue/purple end of the spectrum you go, the colder it gets.

  • Weight:

    • Darker and more intense colors seem heavier.

    • Lighter colors seem, unsurprisingly, lighter.

  • Money:

    • Darker colors, such as burgundy red, tend to show opulence (they are often called ‘rich’ colors).

    • Dull shades, such as gray and dark browns indicate poverty.

  • Seasons:

    • Pastel and light shades are delicate, feminine, springtime.

    • Bright shades of primary colors indicate summer.

    • Earthy shades of brown, yellow and orange speak of nature and the fall.

    • Cool shades of white, black and blue represent winter.


Uses in retail business

Here are some ways in which colors are used in retail and business:

  • Red: Creates urgency - often used in sales and impulse sales

  • Green: Easy, calm - used to relax people

  • Blue: Creates trust - used by financial institutions such as banks

  • Navy blue: Cheaper - selling to price-sensitive

  • Royal blue: Urgency - selling to impulse buyer

  • Pink: Romantic - selling to women and girls

  • Yellow: Grabbing attention - used in displays and windows

  • Orange: Energizing - used to push for action, as in impulse buying

  • Purple: Calm - used in anti-aging products

  • Black: Power - selling luxury, aggressive products, or to impulse buyers

Color can even change what you taste. Customers who bought 7-Up cans that had their color changed to yellow reported that the drink tasted more lemony.

Color Chart
"An executive for a paint company received complaints from workers in a blue office that the office was too cold. When the offices were painted a warm peach, the sweaters came off even though the temperature had not changed."

Choosing colors based on symbolism can apply to everything from clothing to wall paint to home furnishings.

Colors Around the World

Go on and see what colors mean around the world :

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  • For the ancient Romans, a red flag was a signal for battle

  • Because of its visibility, stop signs, stoplights, brake lights, and fire equipment are all painted red.

  • The ancient Egyptians considered themselves a red race and painted their bodies with red dye for emphasis.

  • In Russia, red means beautiful. The Bolsheviks used a red flag as their symbol when they overthrew the tsar in 1917. That is how red became the color of communism.

  • In India, red is the symbol for a bride.

  • In South Africa, red is the color of mourning.

  • It’s considered good luck to tie a red bow on a new car.

  • In China, red is the color of good luck and is used as a holiday and wedding color. Chinese babies are given their names at a red-egg ceremony.

  • Superstitious people think red frightens the devil.

  • A “red-letter day” is one of special importance and good fortune

  • In Greece, eggs are dyed red for good luck at Easter time

  • Red is the color most commonly found in national flags.

  • The “Redshirts” were the soldiers of the Italian leader Garibaldi, who unified modern Italy in the nineteenth century.

  • To “see red” is to be angry.

  • A “red herring” is a distraction, something that takes attention away from the real issue.

  • A “red eye” is an overnight airplane flight.

  • If a business is “in the red,” it is losing money.


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  • Only one national flag is a solid color: the green flag of Libya.

  • Ancient Egyptians colored the floors of their temples green.

  • In ancient Greece, green symbolized victory.

  • In the highlands of Scotland, people wore green as a mark of honor.

  • Green is the national color of Ireland.

  • A “greenback” is slang for a U.S. dollar bill.

  • Green means “go.” When “all systems are green,” it means everything is in order.

  • The green room of a concert hall or theater is where performers relax before going onstage.

  • The “green-eyed monster” is jealousy.

  • A greenhorn is a newcomer or unsophisticated person

  • Green is youthful.

  • Being “green around the gills” is looking pale and sickly.

  • Green with envy” means full of envy or jealousy.

  • A person with a “green thumb” is good at making plants grow.

  • A green, or common, is a town park.

  • Green is a healing color, the color of nature.


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  • In ancient Rome, public servants wore blue. Today, police and other public servants wear blue.

  • In Iran, blue is the color of mourning.

  • Blue was used as protection against witches, who supposedly dislike the color.

  • If you are “true blue,” you are loyal and faithful.

  • Blue stands for love, which is why a bride carries or wears something blue on her wedding day.

  • A room painted blue is said to be relaxing.

  • “Feeling blue” is feeling sad. “Blue devils” are feelings of depression.

  • Something “out of the blue” is from an unknown source at an unexpected time.

  • A bluebook is a list of socially prominent people.

  • The first prize gets a blue ribbon.A blue blood is a person of noble descent. This is probably from the blue veins of the fair-complexioned aristocrats who first used this term.

  • “Into the blue” means into the unknown.

  • A “bluenose” is a strict, puritanical person.

  • A “bluestocking” used to be a scholarly or highly knowledgeable woman.

  • The pharaohs of ancient Egypt wore blue for protection against evil.

  • The “blues” is a style of music derived from southern African-American secular songs. It influenced the development of rock, R&B, and country music.

  • “Blue laws” are used to enforce moral standards.

  • A blue ribbon panel is a group of especially qualified people

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  • The Egyptian queen Cleopatra loved purple. To obtain one ounce of Tyrian purple dye, she had her servants soak 20,000 Purpura snails for 10 days.

  • In Thailand, purple is worn by a widow mourning her husband's death.

  • A “purple heart” is a U.S. military decoration for soldiers wounded or killed in battle.

  • Purple is a royal color.

  • Purple robes are an emblem of authority and rank.

  • Purple speech” is profane talk.

  • Purple prose” is writing that is full of exaggerated literary effects and ornamentation.

  • Leonardo da Vinci believed that the power of meditation increases 10 times when done in a purple light, as in the purple light of stained glass.

  • Purple in a child's room is said to help develop the imagination according to color theory.


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  • In Egypt and Burma, yellow signifies mourning.

  • In Spain, executioners once wore yellow.

  • In India, yellow is the symbol for a merchant or farmer.

  • In tenth-century France, the doors of traitors and criminals were painted yellow.

  • Hindus in India wear yellow to celebrate the festival of spring.

  • If someone is said to have a “yellow streak,” that person is considered a coward.

  • In Japan during the War of Dynasty in 1357, each warrior wore a yellow chrysanthemum as a pledge of courage.

  • A yellow ribbon is a sign of support for soldiers at the front.

  • Yellow is a symbol of jealousy and deceit.

  • In the Middle Ages, actors portraying the dead in a play wore yellow.

  • To holistic healers, yellow is the color of peace.

  • Yellow has good visibility and is often used as a color of warning. It is also a symbol for quarantine, an area marked off because of danger.

  • Yellow journalism” refers to irresponsible and alarmist reporting.


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  • A white flag is the universal symbol for truce.

  • White means mourning in China and Japan.

  • Angels are usually depicted wearing white robes.

  • The ancient Greeks wore white to bed to ensure pleasant dreams.

  • The Egyptian pharaohs wore white crowns.

  • The ancient Persians believed all gods wore white.

  • A “white elephant” is a rare, pale elephant considered sacred to the people of India, Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka; in this country, it is either a possession that costs more than it is worth to keep or an item that the owner doesn't want but can't get rid of.

  • It's considered good luck to be married in a white garment.

  • White heat is a state of intense enthusiasm, anger, devotion, or passion.

  • To whitewash is to gloss over defects or make something seem presentable that isn't.

  • A “white knight” is a rescuer.

  • A white list contains favored items (as opposed to a blacklist).

  • A “whiteout” occurs when there is zero visibility during a blizzard.

  • A “white sale” is a sale of sheets, towels, and other bed and bath items.

  • A “whited sepulcher” is a person who is evil inside but appears good on the outside, a hypocrite.

  • White lightning” is slang for moonshine, a homebrewed alcohol.

  • A white room is a clean room as well as a temperature-controlled, dust-free room for precision instruments.

  • White water is the foamy, frothy water in rapids and waterfalls.


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  • The ancient Egyptians and Romans used black for mourning, as do most Europeans and Americans today.

  • The “Blackshirts” were the security troops in Hitler's German army, also known as the S.S.

  • Black often stands for secrecy.

  • Black humor is morbid or unhealthy and gloomy humor.

  • A “blackhearted” person is evil.

  • If a business is “in the black,” it is making money.

  • A “blacklist” is a list of persons or organizations to be boycotted or punished.

  • Black is associated with sophistication and elegance. A “black tie” event is formal.

  • A black belt in karate identifies an expert.

  • A black flag in a car race is the signal for a driver to go to the pits.

  • A blackguard is a scoundrel.

  • The ancient Egyptians believed that black cats had divine powers.

  • Black lung is a coal miner's disease caused by the frequent inhaling of coal dust.

  • Blackmail is getting things by threat.

  • Black market is illegal trade in goods or money.

  • A black sheep is an outcast.

  • Blackwash” (as opposed to “whitewash”) is to uncover or bring out in the light.

  • A blackout is a period of darkness from the loss of electricity, for protection against night-time air raids, or, in the theater, to separate scenes in a play.

  • When you “black out,” you temporarily lose consciousness.


Colors in digital world

In desktop publishing and design choosing color based on its symbolism applies to print and electronic projects from logos to Web site backgrounds.

Colors are more than a combination of red and blue or yellow and black. They are non-verbal communication. They have meaning that goes beyond ink.

When selecting colors for your blog, take a pre-emptive stance and research the color’s meaning for any negative connotations that might relate to your topic. For example, if you have a food blog, steer clear of using a lot of blue. Some say that the color blue suppresses the appetite.


So use the color in situations where you are trying to persuade. Use shades of brown and green to relax people and say you are environmentally friendly. Use red to kick people into action. And so on.

McDonald's, apparently, use red and yellow because red=fast and yellow=hunger (hence fast food!).

Remember also that meaning is what we create. It does not exist in the color itself and individual meanings may or may not exist in different cultures and individuals.

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