Color acts as a powerful signifier in nature. In the animal kingdom, for instance, brightly colored creatures like poison dart frogs use their standout color to warn predators to stay away, while many male species in the bird world use their jewel-like plumage to attract a mate. Flowers, of course, use their vivid colors for something else entirely—to lure insects for pollination.
What about in the human world? Color sends messages there too, including on packaging. Why is a soothing body cream not usually packed in a bright red box, and why are food items rarely packaged in black? Read on to find out what colors might work for your brand and brand packaging, whether you're designing a corrugated shipping box, a lighter-weight folding carton, or the tissue paper and retail bags that might go inside.
To begin, it's important to understand what colors tend to signify. Of course, the meaning a color communicates can change depending on time and culture—and sometimes breaking a color rule can be just the attention your brand and box need—but here are the basics.
Red: The attention-grabbing color has meanings ranging from stop (see stop signs and stop lights) to beware (fire engines) to fiery passion (Valentine's Day hearts) and even speed (behold the red sports car).
Yellow: It's hard to imagine a happy face emoji in any other color, as yellow often signifies sunshine, energy, and, yes, happiness. Of course, it also holds an element of caution as in a yellow light or yield sign.
Blue: The color of the ocean and sky, blue is often associated with peace, calm, and tranquility. That said, blue can also signal depression (as in the "baby blues" or Picasso's somber Blue Period paintings), and its "coolness" can sometimes be read as detached.
Green: Often associated with freshness, the outdoors, growth, and fertility, green is a color that communicates nature and the earth itself. It can also be synonymous with wealth.
Purple: The color purple often represents royalty, spirituality, or lavish romance.
Pink: Currently associated with millenials and a signifier that your baby is a girl and not a boy, pink is a shapeshifter. In softer shades, it may signal romance, while in hotter shades, it's a nod to the tropical.
Orange: There's an obvious association with citrus and vibrant, sunshine-y health, and it also signifies fall, the 70s, and Halloween. Orange may also bring to mind safety and awareness, as seen in traffic cones and safety vests.
White: Innocence, cleanliness, and purity are often connected with the color white, although white can veer to sterility, as in a hospital or clinical setting.
Black: Elegant, powerful, mysterious, or a signifier of death, like most colors black has multiple meanings, some in opposition. Use black and white together, and the combination conveys a sense of "classic" or nostalgia
When it comes to adding color to your packaging, you want to consider several factors:
1. What color or colors communicate the essence of your brand? The color or colors on your packaging should nod to your overall brand. What colors are you currently using in association with your brand, and do those colors convey the message you intend? Keep in mind, it's as much about having a color palette as it is having individual colors. Knowing if your brand is more jewel tones or neutrals, for instance, is key for overall branding of your business and via custom packaging. To learn more, read Mistakes Not to Make When Designing a Box.
2. Can you boil down your brand to the bare minimum of color? Once you've narrowed your overall color palette, you may want to pare down further to just one or two colors when designing your custom boxes. For maximum impact, "It's better to pick one color than five," says designer Gabe Benzur, who recommends going as simple as possible for maximum impact. For more on minimal use of color, read How to Use Monochromatic Color on Your Custom Packaging and How to Brand Yourself and Your Box Using a Single Color.
3. Did you format your colors correctly? You may have picked out the perfect color or colors on your computer screen, but you also need to make sure that color translates when it's printed on packaging. Be sure to use CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black), which is recommended for print applications as it delivers the truest colors in the printing process. Distinct Packaging uses an online Designer tool that accepts artwork saved as either CMYK or RGB, but for best results, convert your images into four-color CMYK before uploading. Using CMYK means that you’ll be able to soft proof the images on screen. Note that resolution of artwork should be 300 dpi for printed materials. For more on technological specifics, check out Rules of Color When Designing Custom Packaging. And keep in mind colors look different when printed on white corrugated as opposed to kraft. For specifics, see Designing Corrugated Packaging: When to Use Kraft or White.
At Distinct Packaging, you can create D.I.Y. custom packaging using the site's online designer tool or by working offline in the design program of your choice (simply pick the box type and size you want and choose to Download PDF Templates). Another option if you're too busy to design packaging yourself is to the company's Design Assistant. Choose this service and a professional designer creates your packaging for you, using your artwork and direction. Or, for more complicated projects, Request a Quote connects you with a packaging expert who can help with custom sizes, inserts, and other "extras" to make your package picture-perfect.