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Colors can cause emotional triggers that help your custom t-shirt message stand out in an environment where sensory overload is experienced almost constantly. Colors have such an impact on people that it can persuade, convince, and hook observers to feel what you are attempting to make them feel, and persuade them to take action. The wrong colors and color combinations can negatively impact you message to such a degree that your message will be ignored by all but the most observant of individuals.

To delve into the mysterious psychological impact of color, we have to start at the beginning which is color theory. The foundations for all colors are the Primary Colors, red, blue, and yellow. From this origin all other colors and hues are derived.

primary colors

Tertiary Colors are the result of combing unequal parts of a Primary Color to a Secondary Color resulting in a hue that is close to, but not a pure rendition of the Primary Color.

Colors are also defined by temperature such as cool (blue, green, and purples) and warm (yellow, orange, and red) colors.

color wheel

Contrasting colors are colors that are opposites on a color wheel. The level of contrast will dictate how easily your message can be consumed and can be one of the most debated topics when it comes to designing with a professional graphic artist. High or low contrasting color combinations define how well your image or message stands out from the background. The background can be another design element or even the color of t-shirt you choose to print on.

The level of contrast is not dictated simply because your design features two different colors, what matters for contrast is the level of variation in the tone. For the most important elements of the design or message on the t-shirt, use high contrast color combinations. However when the entirety of the design is high contrast this can cause the opposite effect. If everything is important, nothing is important.

Similarly if everything is low contrast or tone on tone, the message becomes hard to read even if it makes an attractive piece. While good design warrants you’ll have an attractive image, you must insist your designer comply with the rule of contrast for the most important elements of the t-shirt.

Picking winning color combinations is simpler than you might think. It’s because people actually respond better to simplicity especially when absorbing a message. Each color conveys meaning and emotion so overindulgence in colors could cause unnecessary confusion.

Opposites attract both in real life scenarios and in design. Complementary colors are on the opposing side of the color wheel and exude contrast naturally. Choosing complimentary colors creates a complex balance that supports the need for contrast and the ability to consume. However 100% complementary colors making up the entirety of the design can have a jarring impact. You can include two opposites and a single additional hue (this is a split complimentary color) that is similar to one or the other to find a harmonious symmetry.

An analogous pallet is one where the colors sit next to each other on the color wheel. While this color scheme does not have high contrast, it can be used in a design as long as the power words or graphics are in a high contrasting color for punch. Analogous color combos can be soothing and relaxing.

Monochromatic palettes are derived from a single color represented in varying shades, tones, or hues. While probably the most subdued of all color combos, when married with a primary of high contrast, it can produce a design that is both impactful and attractive.

The colors we choose have a direct impact on the psyche and behavior of the observer. When you think about it, where do we look when our eyes are tired and need to rest? Likely blue, gray, or soft white is a calming choice. While how a person perceives colors is informed by past experiences and associations, the science of color psychology can be generally interpreted as the following:

color red

Red is a strong color which is an attention grabber and can also invoke feelings of anger, power, excitement, and even aggression. When used sparingly, it draws the eye and makes the observer keenly aware of the focal point.

color orange

Orange imbues the strength of red with the cheery impact of yellow. It’s well known to have an impact on the appetite and is commonly used for restaurant menus and logos to stimulate hunger. It’s also one of the least favorite colors when people choose apparel so be careful when considering it as a t-shirt background for your design.

color yellow

Yellow is the color of joy and happiness. This color invokes positivity and possibility. Its brightness makes it a great choice for high impact on a dark shirt. Use this color for the main crux of your message.

color green

Green is one the most common colors of our native environment so it’s no surprise it’s perceived as harmonious and natural. Any design that’s looking to invoke a feeling of connection and belonging should feature this color.

color blue

Blue is another color that exists in vast quantities in our environment and has a de-stressing impact on moods. The tranquility of blue lends itself to be used widely in business messaging because it conjures emotions of trust and relaxation.

color purple

Purple is an exotic color that is historically related to royalty and mysticism. While it can make a powerful statement in contrast to white, orange, and yellow, use this color in small doses or as a background since it can be distracting.

color pink

Pink has the psychological impact of tenderness and love. It’s most notably used as an identifying color for breast cancer awareness. While feelings of love and tenderness may be what you’re looking to express, too much can be seen as childish.

color brown

Brown is probably the least desirable color for graphic design unless you’re looking to appeal to the need of stability and constancy like the ground we walk upon.

color black

Black is the absence of light and is frequently used for luxury messaging. It provides a fantastic background for almost every color due to its potential for high contrast. It can also be overpowering so use with caution.

color white

White is an antiseptic color for feelings that make it okay to be vulnerable. It relates purity and innocence and can be successfully contrasted with almost every color. The danger of white is that it can be perceived as too sterile.

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