Unit 1: Intro to Design
Unit 2: Figma Fundamentals
Unit 3: The Creative Process
Unit 4: Color Theory
Unit 5: Introduction to Illustrator
Unit 6: Typography
Unit 7: Layout
Unit 8: Typesetting
Unit 9: User Interface Design
Unit 10: Design Systems
1 of 2

Brand Color Guidelines

In this lesson, we will talk about brand color guide. We will explain how to construct a brand color guide and the best practices around it.

What are Brand Colors

“Brand colors” are a key component to a brand’s visual identity. Typically there are 3-8 designated colors that create a color palette complimentary to the brand’s personality and style.

There are three different types of brand colors: primary brand colors, secondary brand colors and neutral colors.

Primary Brand Colors

Primary brand colors are the main, consistent colors used in all graphics, publications, signage, etc. Primary brand color rarely change because they are central to the brand’s visual identity.

The primary brand color can be tightly associated with the logo. A great example of this is Coca-Cola. When we say Coke-Cola what color came to mind?

Chances are you thought of red. Red is the primary brand color for the Coca-Cola Company and is use consistently and frequently in all marketing.

You can also have lighter tints and darker shades of your primary color once you’ve decided on it. Having these variations of the primary color allows designers more freedom in creating a cohesive and layered look.

Secondary Brand Colors

Secondary brand colors act as a complimentary color pallet to the primary brand colors. These colors are updated more frequently and often change to reflect strategy trends and marketing goals.

For example, if you want to target younger clients then you may adjusting your secondary color palette to reflect current color trends that appeal to a younger demographic.

The secondary brand colors can be used throughout your brand’s website, social media, and packaging but should not consist of more than 50% of the overall design.

Neutral Brand Colors

Black, white and gray are considered neutral colors because they are devoid of hue. Every color palette should have neutral colors because they are likely going to be the color for text and a balancing force for all of the other colors in the brand color guide.

Generally, black is primarily used as a text and background color while white provides contrast and clear spacing. In some cases like print, companies may want a rich black and use all four print colors, for example: cyan 40%, magenta 30%, yellow 30% and black 100%.

For digital use, pure black (#000000) is not recommended for backgrounds or text because pure black overpowers surrounding objects and is straining on the eye on digital devices. Ultimately, pure black is not user-friendly and should be avoided.

Brand color formats

Colors are communicated in all different types of formats depending on its purpose. Below are the most common color formats.

  • HEX: hexadecimal
  • RGB: Red, Green, Blue
  • HSB: Hue, Saturation and Brightness.
  • CMYK: Cyan Magenta Yellow Key. Key is another term for black.
  • PMS: Pantone Matching System

HEX – HEX code is the key to unlock web and digital design like HTML, CSS and SCSS. Colors are represented in a 6 number and/or letters combination. For example, black is #000000 and white is #ffffff.

RGB – RGB is also for digital use including television. For this format, RGB combines red, green and blue to create a spectrum of colors. For this format, black is 0,0,0 and white is 256,256,256.

HSB – HSB is a digital color format that is most intuitive to the human brain because we are able to estimate roughly what the color looks like by knowing the hue of the color, which pin points the color hue family a color falls into. By knowing the saturation, we understand how rich the color is and by knowing the brightness, we understand how bright or dark the color is. It is ideal for exploring colors on digital design programs and upon decision, documenting the color value.

CMYK – For print use, CMYK is ideal. Tiny dots of cyan, magenta, yellow and black are overlapped to blend colors. Because of limitations with a printer, not all colors can be produced. Black is represented as 0,0,0,100 and white is 0,0,0,0. For an even richer black, cyan and magenta can be added to 100% black, resulting in 50,50,0,100.

PMS – Recognizably referred as Pantone or Spot Colors, PMS is used for print and textile production. There are variations of Pantone depending on whether the paper is glossy or coated (Pantone C) and uncoated (Pantone U).In standard Pantone, black is “PANTONE Black C”. A pure white is nonexistent as the creator assumes the image is printed on white paper.

Formula for building a brand color scheme

There’s no one right way to pick your branding color scheme. When dealing with abstracts like brand identity, it’s difficult and unwise to ascribe hard and fast rules. Here, we’re going to explain a general process for building a color scheme that you can use more as a framework, and less as step-by-step instructions.

1. Plan on choosing 3 colors

Your primary or base color, secondary accent and a neutral. Brand color schemes can have between 1-4 colors depending on the type (see below), but even monochrome schemes will require some variation in hues for different purposes.

2. Choose your primary or base color

Of all your brand’s personality traits that you or your clients determined in the initial branding process, which one is most important? Your base color should reflect not only your brand personality’s most dominant trait, but also appeal to the target audience you’re trying to reach.

3. Choose your secondary colors and/or accent

Your accent will be the color you use the most after your base color. This is a bit trickier than choosing your base color because their are more restrictions: aside from matching a brand personality trait, your accent color must also pair visually with your base color, not to mention appease your audience.

You can also choose a few other secondary colors that will complement and support the primary or base color well, either using one or a few of the common color harmonies like complementary, monochromatic, analogous, triadic and so on. Again, we explain in greater detail what these color harmonies are and how to use them.

4. Choosing your neutral

Your neutral color will most likely be a background color, something chosen to avoid attention. Typically these are light hues of gray, but beige, whites and off-whites work, too.

You will also need to determine which neutral color you will use for text, which will most likely be a dark gray that is not 100% black or a very light gray or white for text against dark backgrounds.

Do’s and Dont’s

In every brand color guide and other parts of the brand guide, there should be a “dos and don’ts” section where it outlines design choices that are within brand guidelines and those that are not.

How Many Colors Do I Need

Generally, you can have up two “primary” brand colors and 4-5 “secondary” colors, but there are no hard for fast rule for this. The best strategy to employ is to go back and forth evaluating your design needs – how many colors do you actually need for your design? Big brands likely need a lot more colors for their color guides while smaller brands may need fewer. However many colors you decide to put in your color guide, remember that you can always go back and change it if it’s proven in practice that you need more or fewer. Also remember that less is often more – don’t make your brand color guide look like a rainbow.

Scroll to Top