Color is one of the most powerful tools available to
graphic communicators—second only to words.
Color aids understanding. It can improve
the efficacy of just about any document. Color can
tie related elements together so their relationship is
apparent at first glance.
Color emphasizes. Color can lead the reader’s
eye to the key point, the benefit or the bottom line.
Color shows ranking. Color and tone can create
hierarchy and ranking. Color can create structure
in complicated content. It can also highlight, emphasize
or separate elements to aid comprehension.
Use color to guide the reader. Color’s value
in communication lies in the simple fact that it is
not black. Prioritizing typographic information
with color is easy, because curiosity compels viewers
to look at the colored type. By reserving color for
what is most significant, you can easily guide the
reader through content.
Use color to sort out information. By assigning
color to type, you codify the information and
help the reader navigate material more quickly and
with less effort. Use color to designate a recurring
theme in a series of documents or recurring aspects
within a single document. Keep in mind that the
practical maximum number of colors people can easily
remember is four. Using more than four colors in
a document can actually begin to detract from the
process of providing information.
Use color to link related elements. Color
intuitively bridges the gap between elements on the
page. The green line on the graph with the green
words describing it … the red title with the key
paragraph in the same red … the blue pull quote
with the blue name … the orange cause with its
orange effect. … Separate elements are immediately
seen to have a relationship when color is used to
SEVEN RULES FOR THE BEST USE OF COLOR WITH TYPE
1. Plan to use color from the start
Color must be more than an embellishment. It
should add value. Whether it’s for running heads or
simple list-bullets, the color plan and palette should
be part of the initial design process. Color should
not be an afterthought or a decoration. Don’t waste
the power of color.
2. Use less color rather than more
Because it is so much fun and such an engaging
medium, it’s easy to overuse color. Be discriminating,
however, in applying color to the page. A simple
drop initial to mark the beginning of copy or a pull
quote to break up lengthy text can benefit from the
judicious use of color. A page that is awash in color,
however, is just graphic noise. It is a color’s rarity
that makes it noticeable and powerful.
3. Use color consistently
Few documents stand alone; most are part of a
series. Color can be used to tie several documents
together. If it is coordinated with consistent typography
and uniform layout, a unique scheme can help
create unity among many documents, and build
4. Make large areas pale, small areas bright
A solid page covered in a brilliant, saturated hue is
probably painful enough to push viewers away. Yet
the identical hue may be ideal for a small, sparkling
spot or typographic highlight. The rule of thumb
is: The bigger the area, the more muted the color
5. Avoid color clichés, and trust your common sense
A lot is written about the meanings of colors, and
interpretations abound: Purple is majestic, green
means go, red means stop and blue is cool and trustworthy.
My advice: Go with your gut instinct.
6. Choose colors for their value and chroma rather
than their hue
Hue—the “redness” or “blueness” of a color—is
useful for recognizing elements or categorizing
information. It also provides identification to
Value—the darkness or lightness of a color—makes it stand out or disappear on white—the
darker, the better. Black reads best; that’s why
we use it all the time.
Chroma—the brightness or saturation of a color—gives brilliance or dullness. A color can be very bright
but very light—like process yellow—so if you use it
to set text, the copy can become virtually invisible.
The combination of value and chroma affect
your communication much more powerfully than hue
does. Safest bet: Pick the dark shades of bright colors.
You can always make them lighter by screening.
7. Use color-friendly fonts
Regardless of how bright a particular color is, that
color is paler than black and contrasts less with a
light background. As a result, type printed in color
will not have the impact of simple black. You can
compensate for this paleness by adjusting other
attributes of the type. Increase the impact by bumping
up the type by one weight (book to regular,
regular to semibold, semibold to bold, etc.). Or set
type a size larger. Another trick is to make lines of
copy shorter and increase line space slightly. If type
is worthy of color, it is worthy of being legible.
The bottom line is that color can be a powerful
communication tool—just remember that it is not
decoration and should be used sparingly.