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November 7, 2022
February 2, 2024

The Packaging Designer’s Guide to Color Mastery - Artwork Flow

Mrignayni Pandey

The Packaging Designer’s Guide to Color Mastery - Artwork Flow

November 7, 2022
February 2, 2024
Mrignayni Pandey


Color is the most important part of packaging design as it’s the first thing consumers tend to notice before the brand logo, typography and other design elements. 

So, as a graphic designer, you’ve got to understand how to use color in design elements to grab the consumer’s attention and create an effective design. 

In this article, we’ll discover how to learn color theory, different graphic design color schemes, and their applications in packaging. 

Let’s start with looking at why you should study color theory. 

1. Study color theory

A poorly selected color scheme or clashing color palettes can quickly turn off viewers, even if you’ve created a stunning design. To avoid this mishap, you need to understand how to use color in graphic design by learning color theory for designers. 

But what is color theory?

Color theory discusses how people perceive color and the visual consequences of how colors blend, complement, or contrast one another. It also includes each color’s messages and methods used to replicate colors. 

Sir Isaac Newton established this theory in 1666 when he invented the color wheel. He categorized colors into three groups, namely:

  • Primary colors: These are colors that can be created by combining two or more colors together. Red, yellow, and blue are the three primary colors.
  • Secondary colors: These colors are formed by combining two of the three primary colors. Green, orange and purple are some of the best combinations of secondary colors. 
  • Tertiary colors: These colors are created by combining one primary color and one secondary color. But the most important thing to remember about them is that not all primary and secondary colors mix in harmony to create a secondary color. They’re only created when a primary color mixes with a secondary color next to it on the color wheel. 

What is a color wheel?

The color wheel visually represents primary, secondary, and tertiary colors in a circle. It helps form color schemes that you can use to create palettes and choose colors that work well together.

Image source: Color Meanings

2. Choose the right color scheme

A color scheme is a combination of colors, each consisting of one or more of the twelve colors on the color wheel. Here are some of the main color schemes and where you can use them:

 Monochromatic color scheme

A monochromatic color scheme is formed by creating variations of a single color. Although it gives a one-dimensional look to the design, it’s a great choice if the brand you’re working for wants to embody minimalism.  Plus, it gives you plenty of room to add content or important information, so it works well on websites and packaging. 

Here’s an example of a brand with monochromatic packaging to distinguish between different products. 

Complementary color scheme

Complementary colors exist on opposite sides of the color wheel, with one being a primary color and the other a secondary color. Blue and orange are the most common complementary colors, followed by red and green and yellow and purple.

Image source: Adobe

The stark contrast between the two colors can make imagery pop, but overusing them may tire the viewer’s eyes. 

To reduce the intensity, use tints, tones, and shades to broaden the palette. Rico’s brand design, for example, uses lighter and darker orange and blue values to make the complementary palette easier on the eyes.

Image source: Instagram

Analogous color scheme

Analogous color schemes are created by combining one primary color with the two complementary colors on the color wheel. You can add two more colors (located next to the two outside colors) if you want to use a five-color scheme. 

Image source: Adobe

Since analogous color schemes are visually appealing, you can use them in your next project if you’re unsure of which scheme to pick. However, remember to keep your palette grounded by combining only cool or warm colors, as Sour Patch kids have done with its packaging. 

Image source: Delish

Triadic color scheme

A triadic color scheme is made up of three colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel. Some of the most common triadic palettes are blue, red, and yellow; and violet, green, and orange.

You can use triadic color schemes to create high contrast between each color in a design. But the caveat is that they can overwhelm the viewer quickly if all the chosen colors are at the same point on the color wheel.

To avoid this, you can choose one dominant color and use the others sparingly, or simply subdue the other two colors by selecting a softer tint, as Burger King has done with its logo. 

Image Source: Seek Logo

An extension of this color scheme is the square and rectangle color scheme, where you choose colors from four points in the color wheel. 

3. Learn color psychology 

Graphic design entails more than just selecting a few complementary colors. Understanding color psychology and learning to use it strategically is one of the fundamentals of graphic design.

What is color psychology?

The study of how colors influence human emotions and behaviors is known as color psychology. 

For example, blue is commonly used for calming or sleeping pills, whereas red or yellow are typically used for stimulants.

Color psychology also includes learning about cultural differences in color perception. Yellow, for example, has a bright, cheerful connotation in most cultures, but it may have adult connotations in China.

White is often used for bridal branding in the United States, but it is a mourning color in Japan, India, China, Korea, and the Middle East.

Here are some of the most commonly used colors and their meanings:

  • Red: The color red is frequently associated with strong or passionate emotions like love, comfort, confidence, warmth, and excitement. However, it can also evoke negative emotions such as anger and danger, so use it carefully. 
  • Yellow: Yellow is the color of joy, happiness, and hope. It can improve confidence, curiosity, and even learning. That’s why it’s most commonly used on designs meant for kids. However, it can also elicit anxiety and discomfort as it indicates potentially risky business. 
  • Green: Associated with nature and positivity, green can evoke feelings of harmony, growth, safety, and success. It’s also a soothing color that makes people feel secure and at ease. Also, it doesn’t have many negative connotations, so if you’re unsure of a primary color, green can be your safest option.
  • Blue: As the color of the sky and the sea, blue is used to imply a connection to nature. It’s also associated with loyalty, confidence, security, and reliable authority.

However, you should exercise caution when using it because it can also be associated with sadness or depression. Furthermore, many people associate deep blues with storms and the night, which can create unsettling feelings.

  • Orange: Choose orange to get your audience excited about something. It’s a vibrant, warm color that stands out when paired with cool blue or green tones.

However, too much orange can have the opposite effect. Overwhelmingly orange designs can be perceived as almost arrogant. So, it's best to use orange sparingly to draw attention to what matters most.

Now that you’ve learnt all about the color theory for designers, it’s time to start incorporating it into your packaging designs. 

Before you send your completed design for review, it’s important to check if the design you’ve created maintains color and font consistency. So, use Artwork Flow’s free online proofing tools to check for errors and inconsistencies to reduce approval time. 

Wrapping Up

Studying color helps you design attractive packaging that increases sales by creating a positive association with the customer. 

After you’ve used the tips above to learn color theory and design an effective package, use Artwork Flow’s proofing tools to check for any inconsistencies in your colors and fonts. 

If you’d like to learn more on how Artwork Flow can help you with designing packages, check out our case studies and book a free demo with us today.

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