Color Theory: Red
 

Red

Color Wheel Tier: Primary
Tonal Value: Warm
Complementary Color: Green

“Painters use red like spice.”
— Derek Jarman

Red is the color on the visible spectrum most easily seen and the color that most attracts attention, which is why it’s so popular in advertising. How many times have you seen a Sale sign or Buy Now button that is red? More often than not. The same goes for warnings of danger – there’s a reason all Stop signs are red. But it can also be one of the most versatile colors, with many different connotations depending on where and how it’s used. Take a look at this breakdown:

Meanings / Associations

Positive

Love / Romance / Passion / Sexuality
Strength / Courage
Exciting / Energizing
Rubies / Luxury
Ripe fruit
In China: happiness, prosperity
Many parts of Asia: traditional color for wedding dresses

Neutral

Dynamic / Dramatic
Speed / Activity
Extroverts
Fire, Autumn, Spicy, Wine
Defiance
Communism/Socialism
Lasers

Negative

Danger / Warning
Aggression / Dominance
War / Blood
Devils / Sin / Guilt
Red Light Districts
Embarrassment
Debt


These associations are all something to keep in mind if you plan on using red in your branding or advertising. Though the context in which red appears and the exact shade used also has a lot to do with how it’s interpreted. If you see a standard red with green, for example, it will bring to mind Christmas. Shown with white and pink it might bring to mind Valentine’s Day and love. Bright red on a stop sign gains your attention and is a warning. In your bank account it signals danger and debt. Many sports teams use shades of red on their uniforms to show strength and dominance. Red-orange powder on your food generally means it’s going to be spicy. Deeper shades on lipsticks and roses are associated with romance and lust.

I could go on and on. The lists above give a good overview of all the ways red is interpreted. You can also check out my color board on Pinterest if you want to see a whole bunch of different ways that red is used, in action.


What does the color red mean to you?