The color scheme of your website makes an instant impression on your visitors, whether they realize it or not. The colors you choose for the text, buttons, and background are critical in capturing the attention of visitors and keeping them engaged. But how does one go about putting together a color scheme that is both engaging and unique?
Choosing the best color palette for your website is not as daunting as you might think. Once you understand the emotional responses that color elicits, you can translate that into an impactful color scheme for your website. Read on to find out how.
Website color scheme vs. Color palette
A website color scheme refers to the grouping of colors chosen for the design of a website. The color scheme describes the organizational framework of the color groupings and how they interact to create a harmonious aesthetic. The color scheme is used throughout the website for a variety of components.
The terms “color scheme” and “color palette” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. The “color scheme” describes the relationship between the color groupings, while the “color palette” refers to the actual colors you select. The colors in your color palette are based on your color scheme.
Generally speaking, color palettes are divided into primary and secondary color groupings. Primary colors are typically used for the dominant elements of the website, such as the background color, menu color, logos, and buttons. The secondary colors are used for accent elements. We will address that in greater depth later on.
It is not uncommon for a color palette to incorporate the same color in varying degrees of saturation. This gives the website design visual depth while maintaining consistency.
Why are website color schemes important?
An effective color scheme is essential for brand recognition
Simply put, brand recognition refers to the way your brand resonates in the mind of a prospective customer. Your color scheme is your brand’s calling card—a visual identity. The color scheme you choose must align with brand messaging to attract the intended target audience.
Color schemes create emotional connection
Different color palettes trigger different emotional responses and associations. Your choice of color plays a significant role in your brand’s voice and tone. The way someone responds to color varies from person to person and is largely influenced by age, gender, and culture. This phenomenon is known as the psychology of color.
Color psychology and color schemes
It has been scientifically proven that color impacts human emotions and responses. Colors influence the decisions and choices we make daily.
Large corporations invest millions of dollars, carefully crafting their product’s image and brand identity. This includes a meticulously selected color combination for their products and goods.
The color palette you select for your website represents your brand identity. It is important to choose colors that elicit the emotional response appropriate to your website’s objective.
How do you know what colors will resonate with your target audience? You need to know what colors relate to what type of emotional response. Fortunately, that work has been done for you. Psychologists and marketing experts have performed extensive research to understand the subliminal human response to color stimulation.
Color psychology cheat sheet
Red is a bold and powerful color. It reflects confidence, youth, and joy. It is also the color associated with love, passion, and violence. This duality can create emotional tension.
Brighter reds give a website color scheme an energetic feeling, while darker ones feel more powerful and elegant.
Yellow is cheerful, friendly, and optimistic. Yellow is the color of sunshine and is associated with happiness, hope, and youth.
The color blue is flexible in expression. Light blue shades are calming, while dark blue shades are associated with reliability and strength. The brightest blues are considered refreshing and invigorating.
Historically, only people of wealth and status had access to purple dyes for clothing because they were expensive and difficult to obtain. In modern times, purple continues its association with wealth and abundance as well as creativity and imagination.
Green is a calming, soothing color. Depending on its shade, green represents nature, wealth, stability, growth, and rebirth.
The color orange is friendly, fun, energetic, and slightly dangerous. As a prominent autumnal color, orange is also associated with change and movement.
For web design, black is considered a neutral color, along with white, gray, and brown. Black is the strongest neutral of the three and represents sophistication, power, and luxury.
White is the color of clarity, purity, and simplicity.
Gray is steady, unemotional, and precise. It offers an element of sophistication, neutrality, and control.
Brown is the color of the earth. As an earth tone, brown conveys feelings of warmth, dependability, authenticity, and reliability.
Pink has a strong association with femininity, romance, sensuality, and love.
Other considerations in choosing colors for your color palette
Start With What You Have
Do you have an existing brand image? If you or your client already have a logo and associated color, that will typically be the starting point for your color palette. Do not incorporate your competitors’ colors into your color scheme.
Remember Your Target Audience
The website colors of a law firm will be very different from the color palette of a media or entertainment website. The website’s intended user persona should determine your color choices. Who are they and how do you want them to feel?
Building a color palette
At this point, you should have clarity regarding your brand’s message and a basic understanding of color psychology. You are ready to select a primary color to articulate that vision.
Remember, if you have an existing colored logo, start with a primary color that matches your current branding. You can find the exact HEX value of your primary color by using Adobe Photoshop color-picker or an online networking platform like Dribbble or Designspiration.
Adding Additional Colors
Once you have chosen your main color, you need to select additional colors for contrast and emphasis. Consider complementary colors first. Every color wheel has an opposing color that makes it “pop.” The complementary color adds contrast and readability to your website.
Do not underestimate the importance of your background color. Theoretically, your background color takes up more space than the other colors and needs to function effectively as a backdrop for the primary and accent colors.
There are several ways to achieve this. You can use a muted shade of your main color or you can go for a neutral color such as gray, light gray, white, brown, or black. Light gray and off-white are the most popular choices for website backgrounds.
A common mistake when adding colors to your palette is adding too many. A color scheme in a website design is surprisingly impactful using a maximum of just five colors. You can add more if you like, but start minimally, with two to three neutral colors, your primary color, and an accent color. If you add too many colors, your website will look cluttered and create a visual overload for visitors to your site.
Using a Website Color Scheme Generator
If you feel overwhelmed by the number of color choices, don’t worry. There are a host of online applications that will generate a color scheme for you:Material Palette
Material Palette uses design rules to generate color schemes. Its simple interface is intended for generating color schemes in mobile apps, but the color schemes can be applied to websites as well.
The Photocopa color scheme generator allows you to create a color scheme based on an uploaded photo. The website also has a basic tool that generates color combinations based on a single color selection.
Adobe Color CC is a smart and user-friendly tool for creating color palettes. You choose the color rules, spin the color wheel, and Adobe Color CC will generate the color scheme.
If you modify one of the colors in the palette, the rest of the colors adjust automatically to remain in sync with the color rule. You can also create color palettes by uploading photos.
Coolors is a fun and dynamic color scheme generator. You can search and save existing palettes or create your own.
Paletton provides a powerful tool to create color combinations and color schemes that work well together. The major advantage of Paletton is that it does not work with computer-engineered RGB color. Rather, it is built on the classical color wheel, which is then translated to the RGB color space. Therefore, the color combinations it produces are more precise and organic than the colors you might get from other computer graphic applications.
When you have a primary color in mind but just can’t get the right HEX value, Color Safe is a great help. With Color Safe, you search for colors based on their type so that you can generate that perfect sky blue, iridescent red, or emerald green.
Maximizing color combinations
As we previously learned, individual colors have unique characters that invoke specific emotional responses. The same phenomenon is true for the relationship between two or more colors. Color combinations convey a message to the user and, for that reason, should be chosen deliberately.
Working with Complementary Color Schemes
Complementary colors are colors on the opposing sides of the color wheel. Examples are red and green, blue and yellow, and purple and yellow, to name a few. The common thread in these pairs is that they are opposites on the color spectrum and work well together because they create visual contrast. When used effectively, complementary color schemes help specific elements stand out, specifically accent colors.
Complementary color schemes are useful for navigation menus and buttons. The complementary color scheme for website text and background catches the users’ attention due to the stark contrast between the colors. Designing a button with contrasting text not only increases its visibility; it can also result in increased clickability and a higher conversion rate.
Analogous Color Schemes – Adjacent Color
An analogous color scheme is three colors next to one another on the color wheel. Analogous color schemes usually contain one dominant color, a supporting secondary or tertiary color, and a third color that is either a combination of the first two colors or an accent color.
Look to nature for examples of an analogous color scheme: When we watch the sunset, we see shades of red, orange, and yellow.
The Benefit of Triadic Color Schemes
A triadic color scheme can be any three colors on the color wheel that are at a 120-degree distance from one another. Although considered basic, triadic color schemes are extremely flexible, as the scheme may be applied to any three colors on the color wheel—so long as they maintain that 120-degree distance from one another.
In a way, triadic color schemes offer the benefits of both analogous and contrasting color schemes. Where analogous color schemes are limited to three similar colors, and complementary color schemes use only contrasting colors, the triadic color scheme uses a combination of both principles. This flexibility provides endless creative options for the web designer.
Bright Color Schemes
Bright color schemes are versatile and impactful when used with deliberation. Web designers use bright, vibrant colors to draw attention to key elements and create a memorable user experience.
Studies prove that bright primary and secondary colors are most effective in a CTA. Using red, green, orange, or yellow in a CTA brings about a higher conversion rate than dark or muted colors.
Cool Color Combinations
The cool colors of the color wheel include purple, blue, and green. Blue is the only primary color in this color grouping. Purple and green are created by combining blue with a warm color.
The colors of nature, like water, foliage, and night shades, belong to the “cool” category. Cool colors are soothing, harmonious, and slightly reserved. A website using cool color combinations invokes a sense of tranquility, comfort, and professionalism.
Creating coherence through visual hierarchy
Visual hierarchy refers to the arrangement of design elements in order of importance. A website’s visual hierarchy shows the viewer what graphic element to focus on, and in what order. There are several ways that this can be achieved, and choice of color and arrangement is one of them.
Referring back to our discussion about bright color schemes, bright, bold colors like red, yellow, and orange are eye-catching. This makes them useful in guiding the viewer’s attention to buttons or tabs that contain key information.
Conversely, neutral and cool colors like purple, blue, gray, or black are less emotionally charged. The brain takes longer to process these colors, so they are better applied to background elements or to create contrast between them and the brighter elements of your color scheme.
An effective color scheme establishes visual order through consistency. For example, the bright orange color you chose for the “more info” button should be the same orange color for every “more info” button throughout the website. The neutral gray you choose for the background of an H2 header should be the same gray color for every H2 header on your website.
Color coherence is a subliminal means of communicating that your website and your company are organized and professional.
How do I know what colors go where?
Now that you have selected your color palette, how do you apply the colors to your website? This is where the 60-30-10 rule comes into play.
The 60-30-10 rule is a color ratio formula designed to create a harmonious balance. Using this method, the dominant color occupies 60% of the design space, the secondary color 30%, and the accent color 10%. While there’s no need to restrict yourself to three colors, this number creates visual order and is pleasing to the human eye.
Putting the 60-30-10 rule into practice looks something like this:
- 60% of the website should be occupied by the primary colors. These bold, vibrant colors catch the user’s eye when they are strategically placed on your website. Primary colors are your CTA colors. They are used for buttons, icons, and headlines, prompting the user to take action.
- 30% of the website’s usable space should be occupied by the secondary colors. Secondary colors are used to highlight the less essential information on the website, including subheadings, backgrounds, and secondary buttons
- 10% of the space is for neutral colors. Neutral colors are used mostly for text or background. The main job of neutral color is to tone down the website’s most colorful sections and help the eye refocus.
Using a colorblind-friendly palette
Approximately 0.5% of women and 8% of men and have some form of color vision deficiency, or CVD. CVD is more commonly called color blindness, although this term is not exactly accurate. People with CVD cannot differentiate between colors that most people see as different, especially reds and greens. These conditions are referred to as “green-weak,” “red-weak,’” or “red-green colorblindness.” People with “red-green colorblindness” see both green and red as brown.
A colorblind-friendly palette avoids or sparingly uses reds and greens. Try to use color combinations in which at least one of the colors is not associated with color vision deficiency. For example, a blue/orange palette is considered colorblind-friendly. So are blue/red and blue/ brown, as a person with CVD can usually recognize the color blue.
You can feed your color palette into the website www.checkmycolours.com to determine whether it provides adequate contrast for someone with color vision deficiency.
Effective e-Commerce website color schemes
The next time you visit your favorite online store, pay close attention to the color groupings and how they are distributed. How do the colors fit together and how do you feel when you interact with the site? Do you feel energized, inspired, or neutral? Going back to the psychology of color, the most effective color schemes on an e-commerce website should generate a specific emotional response.
Great e-Commerce website color schemes using the isolation effect
The isolation effect is the theory that an item that stands out in a group due to its differing size or color is more likely to be remembered.
Think of a web or printed page typed in black except for one word, which is printed in bright red. The one red word is sure to be remembered more vividly than the words typed in black.
Use this phenomenon to your advantage by selecting one color for your CTAs. Call it your “isolation color” and use it for add-to-cart and purchase buttons, among other important links.
Consistent use of your isolation color for calls to action sends a powerful subliminal message to visitors to click every time they see it. The isolation effect makes shopping easy and customers are subliminally accustomed to its visual simplicity.
Often, the most impactful color schemes for an e-commerce website are black and white, plus one isolation color.
Web landing page color schemes
When a visitor arrives at your landing page, your website should entice them to continue down the sales channel. What colors best contribute to a solid conversion rate?
That depends on the nature of your business. According to research, red, orange, royal blue, and black best engage impulse shoppers, while teal and navy blue resonate with budget shoppers. Soft and pastel colors are effective in reaching conventional shoppers.
As is the case with everything in good marketing, choosing the most compelling color scheme starts with a thorough understanding of your target market.
Great portfolio website color schemes
The overall design of a portfolio website should contribute to the ease of viewing your work online. In this instance, an effective color scheme fades into the background so that your work occupies center stage.
Neutral color schemes create the cleanest, most unobtrusive backdrops to showcase your work. Black, gray, or simple white spaces achieve this most effectively. Bright colors will distract the eye from your work, so if you incorporate bright colors, only do so for headings or menu tabs.
Whatever colors you choose, make sure they create a pleasing contrast against your work. If you decide to go with bright primary and secondary colors, your color scheme should be muted and neutral. If you happen to prefer more muted colors, select a bright color palette to illuminate your work.
Putting It Together
Selecting the best website color scheme for your business is less intimidating when you are equipped with an understanding of color theory and color psychology. The process of color selection will become more intuitive as you practice these principles.
Everything You Need To Know
Frequently asked questions
The best color schemes are the ones that resonate with your target market. It is important to study the impact of color on human emotion, but here is a cheat sheet:
- Red: Bold and powerful; reflects confidence, youth, and joy.
- Yellow: Cheerful, friendly, and optimistic; evokes happiness, hope, and youth.
- Blue: Reliable, calming, and strong; bright and light blues are refreshing and invigorating.
- Purple: Wealthy status, abundance, creativity, and imagination.
- Green: Calming and soothing; depending on its shade, green can represent nature, wealth, stability, and rebirth.
- Orange: Friendly, happy, fun, and energetic; orange is also associated with change and movement.
- Black: Black is considered a neutral color, along with white, gray, and brown; black is the strongest neutral of the three and represents sophistication, power, and luxury.
- White: Clarity, purity, and simplicity.
- Gray: Steady, unemotional, and precise; gray offers an element of sophistication, neutrality, and control.
- Brown: Warmth, dependability, authenticity, and reliability
- Pink: Romance, femininity, sensuality, and love
- Study the principles of color theory.
- Make sure you understand the basics of color psychology and how it applies to your target audience.
- Start with what you have. If you have an existing logo and brand color, use these to determine your primary color and build your color palette from there.
- Avoid or eliminate colors used by your competitors.
- Select a complementary or accent color that works well with your primary color.
- Add one or two neutral colors to complete the color palette.
The best background colors are the ones that support your primary and accent colors while creating a clean, readable website. The best choice of background color is the one that allows text and images to pop. The most commonly used background colors are neutral colors like black, white, gray, light gray, and brown.
The best color scheme for your website effectively communicates your brand identity and messaging. Research the psychology of color to determine the best color scheme for your target audience. There are several ways to implement your color palette into a color scheme. The most common color schemes are:
- Complementary color schemes: Colors on the opposing sides of the color spectrum. For example, red and green, blue and yellow, and purple and yellow, to name a few. Complementary pairings create visual contrast.
- Analogous color schemes: Three adjacent colors on the color wheel. Analogous color schemes usually contain one dominant color, a supporting secondary or tertiary color, and a third color that is either a combination of the first two colors or an accent color.
- Triadic color schemes: Any three colors on the color wheel that are at a 120-degree distance from one another. Triadic color schemes can use both similar and complementary colors so long as they follow the 120-degree separation rule. Thus, triadic color schemes offer the most flexibility for the website designer.
- Red, orange, royal blue, and black attract impulse shoppers.
- Teal and navy blue resonate with budget shoppers.
- Soft and pastel colors attract conventional shoppers, especially for clothing.
Your website should have a maximum of five colors: one primary color, a secondary or accent color, and a maximum of three neutral colors. Anything more than that will make your website appear cluttered and create too many visual stimuli for the user. A popular color formula to achieve a well-balanced color scheme is:
- Base color
- Accent color
- Dark gray
- Light gray
- Blue is considered the safest color scheme. It is many peoples’ favorite color and is associated with trust and reliability.
- Green is primarily associated with financial growth, freshness, wellness, and health.
- Orange is associated with danger. When used sparingly, it expresses risk, fun energy, and vibrancy.