The ultimate guide to color selection

The ultimate guide to color selection

The ultimate guide to color selection

If you're involved and struggle to create color schemes for branding and websites, you're not alone. Choosing colors may seem intuitive, but in fact, there are a lot of strategies that go into creating effective color palettes. Everyone has subjective opinions on different colors--some people love bold, bright colors like cherry red and neon green, whereas others gravitate towards soft pastels. The challenge is to look past your subjective views, team, shareholders, and clients, in order to choose colors strategically.

Fortunately, there are certain principles and methods that help make color choices a breeze for you and your team. In this guide, Adaweb will share with you how to take the guesswork out of choosing colors for your branding and website projects. First, we'll review the fundamental color theory and psychology principles that everyone needs to know. Then, we'll spell out a simple 3-step process that’ll help you choose colors like a pro.

Why choosing the right colors is important

You may be wondering: is the color choice really that important for a website? The answer is a resounding yes. Good color choice promotes legibility, visual appeal, and brand recognition. Bad color choice, on the other hand, creates a poor user experience. As we all know, a poor user experience spells disaster for a business website.


Color choice helps determine whether the content on a page is readable. Legibility is optimized with an appropriate level of color contrast between the text and the background. Too little contrast makes the text hard to read; too much contrast is hard on the eyes. A classic example of color contrast is black text on a white background. If you look closely, you'll notice that many websites actually use dark grey text on a white or off-white background in order to maximize legibility while minimizing eye strain.

Example of a website that uses appropriate contrast by Vault

Visual appeal

When referring to visual appeal in web design, we're not talking about subjective color opinions. Instead, the emphasis is on creating harmonious color palettes that are easy on the eyes. Choosing colors that have broad visual appeal requires an understanding of color theory. As we'll discuss in more detail later on, there are three types of color schemes that have universal appeal: monochromatic, complementary, and analogous. Recognizing and knowing how to create these color schemes makes choosing colors for websites easier and more effective.

Example of a website with a harmonious color scheme by Taras Migulko

Brand recognition

Another important role of colors in a web design context is brand recognition. Many brands have a primary color (or two) that has a strong presence across their website, marketing materials, and other brand assets. Some classic examples that come to mind are Coca-Cola's red, Starbucks green, and Ikea's high-contrast blue and yellow. Consistency is key for creating brand recognition through color. Later on, we'll see how color psychology comes into play when choosing primary brand colors.

Coca-Cola, Ikea, and Starbucks have recognizable brand colors

Using color theory to choose colors

Color theory is a practical framework for determining which colors work well together. The principles of color theory revolve around the color wheel, which visually portrays the relationships between different colors. The color wheel contains primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. It can also be divided into warm and cool colors. Familiarizing yourself with the color wheel is the first step to learning how to choose harmonious colors.

Color schemes

A color scheme is a harmonious combination of colors. The three main types of color schemes designers should know about are monochromatic, complementary, and analogous. You could think of these schemes as sort of like templates for choosing colors. Let's look at each one in more detail.


Monochromatic color schemes are based on a single hue ("mono" means one). Hues are primary and secondary colors, like red, yellow, and green. To create a monochromatic color scheme, you'd pick a hue, for instance blue, and use tints, shades, and tones to create a harmonious palette. Monochromatic colors tick the box for visual appeal, but be careful to create enough contrast for legibility.

Example of a website with a monochromatic color scheme by Anik Deb


Complementary color schemes consist of colors on opposite ends of the color wheel. For example, red and green or blue and orange. Complementary colors tend to contrast well and are therefore a popular choice for web design. However, the contrast can be striking and should therefore be used intentionally in order to ensure that the colors aren't too distracting.

Blue and orange are complementary colors by Alisa Maiboroda


Analogous color schemes are made of colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. These color schemes are inherently visually appealing, but as with monochromatic color schemes, be careful to create enough contrast for legibility. A tip for using an analogous color scheme on a website is to pair it with a neutral color like black or white in order to improve readability.

Yellow and orange are analogous colors by Webinsane

Once you have a good handle on color theory, creating harmonious color palettes becomes more intuitive. But which scheme is best for a given project, and how do you decide which sections of the color wheel to use? This is where color psychology comes into play.

Using color psychology to choose colors

Whereas color theory is centered on creating harmonious color schemes, color psychology is concerned with the feelings and emotions different colors evoke. Feelings and emotions may sound wishy-washy in a business context, but they actually play a critical role in branding, marketing, and sales. In fact, emotions are at the core of a consumer's decision-making process (source).

Color meanings

One way to incorporate color psychology when choosing colors for a website is through consideration of common color meanings. Different colors, both consciously and subconsciously, spark certain feelings. These feelings are largely influenced by cultural contexts, as well as personal experiences. Below are some examples of common color associations:

  • Red: passion, power, love, danger, excitement
  • Blue: calm, trust, competence, peace, logic, reliability
  • Green: health, nature, abundance, prosperity
  • Yellow: happiness, optimism, creativity, friendliness
  • Orange: fun, freedom, warmth, comfort, playfulness
  • Purple: luxury, mystery, sophistication, loyalty, creativity
  • Pink: nurturing, gentleness, sincerity, warmth
  • Brown: nature, security, protection, support
  • Black: elegance, power, control, sophistication, depression
  • White: purity, peace, clarity, cleanliness
Some color meanings appear contradictory. For instance, red often denotes danger, but it can also convey love and passion. Black can evoke feelings of power in some cases and depression in others. The key here is context.

Context is crucial to consider when choosing colors for a brand or website. Using the color red for a website won't automatically signal danger, just like it won't automatically signal romance. The other elements on the page, such as typography, imagery, and messaging, all work symbiotically to convey a certain look and feel.

Example of a website with a monochromatic red color scheme by Kateryna Kaida
Color psychology can help inform which colors would best represent your client's brand. It makes sense to use green for a health-centered website because of the color's associations with health, nature, and abundance. However, in creative fields like design, rules are sometimes meant to be broken. Within the right context, an unexpected color scheme could work favorably for a brand. A health brand with a red color scheme would certainly stand out among its green competitors; the trick is to make it stand out in a good way, a skill that takes time and practice to master.

By Arief Fadillah

Source: Flux Academy

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