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Using Color Well. Document Design By Dr. Jennifer Bowie. Rules. # 1: Use color to communicate not decorate! Keep it simple Be consistent. When to use?. To make documents look better To improve the effectives of documents To communicate. Terms to know.

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Using color well

Using Color Well

Document Design

By Dr. Jennifer Bowie


# 1: Use color to communicate not decorate!

  • Keep it simple

  • Be consistent

When to use
When to use?

  • To make documents look better

  • To improve the effectives of documents

  • To communicate

Terms to know
Terms to know

  • Grayscale: The different shades of gray a printer can make.

  • Hue: The color/wavelength, such as green.

  • Saturation: The purity of the color. The less pure the more gray it looks.

  • Brightness: How bright/dark something seems, ranges from white to grays to black.

  • Shade: Add black to the hue.

  • Tint: Add white to the hue.

  • RGB: System for mixing colors to create other colors. Used by televisions and computer monitors. Uses red, green, and blue as primary colors. Additive color—the colors combine to create these colors.

  • CYMK: System for mixing colors to create other colors. Commonly used by printing services. Uses cyan, yellow, magenta, and black as primary colors. Subtractive color: Some wavelengths are filtered out, color made from remaining wavelengths .

Spot color
Spot Color

  • Using a second color (with the 1st often black)

  • Easy effect and cheap way of improving design

  • Rules of thumb:

    • Can mix spot color with white and black for shades (lighter and darker)

    • Do not over use (think of it like bold)

    • Can replace black with another color and have a normal color and a spot color for more colorful designs.


  • Use colored paper to add color

  • Colors vary from screen to printer and from printer to printer

  • Since 1% of women and 8% of men have issues with distinguishing some color (color blindness), use more then color to separate items (even light vs. dark would work)

  • Consider cultural conations and color meanings

History of color
History of color

  • Color has always been part of the human existence, playing an important role in the life of humans.

  • Early humans learned to eat food based on its color--ripe, not ripe, poisonous, healing.

  • “Ancient cultures thought of color as symbolically divine." (Sidelinger, 1)

    • yellow, in ancient times, represented the mind to primitive man, the sun and the sun god Ra to Egyptians, the goddess Athena and air to Grecians, and honor to Indians. (Sidelinger, 78-79)

  • Connotations of colors change over time.

    • in ancient times Greece and Zunis green represented water. Today blue represents water. (Sidelinger, 80)

Color sex differences
Color & Sex Differences

  • According to Natalia Khouw there are sex differences in color preferences & taste:

    • “Blue stands out for men much more than for women.

    • Men prefer blue to red, women red to blue.

    • Men prefer orange to yellow, women yellow to orange”

    • Women have more diverse color tastes than men

    • Women in India and England could consistency list more colors than men

      Info & quotes on this page from “color my world” by Molly E. Holzschlag

International connotations of color
International connotations of color

  • Red:

    • West: courage and love

    • China: happiness and good fortune (preferred for wedding gowns)

    • US flag: blood

    • French Flag: military color & coat of arms

    • US: “Stop” signs & lights

  • Yellow:

    • China: imperial color, revered

    • US: people’s least favorite color but a happy color

    • France: jealousy

International connotations of color1
International connotations of color

  • Green:

    • Positive (US): growth, clean, fresh, environmental

    • Negative (US): mold, nausea, and jealousy

    • Historic Europe: fertility (wedding gown color in 15th century)

    • US: “Go” green lights

  • Blue:

    • Positive (US): serenity, the sky, infinity

    • Negative (US): sadness (feeling blue)

    • US Flag: valor of US, particularly soldiers

    • French Flag: military color & coat of arms

    • “Safe” in almost every culture (Morton)

International connotations of color2
International connotations of color

  • Purple:

    • Historical West: royalty, mourning

    • France: religion, sacredness

    • US: magic, lavishness, homosexuality

    • Catholic Europe: death and crucifixion

    • Middle East: prostitution

    • Cultural “unsafe” color

  • Pink:

    • East India: feminine color

    • US: baby girls get pink, innocence, sweetness, soft, gentleness

    • Japan: pastels are neither masculine nor feminine

    • France: homosexuality

International connotations of color3
International connotations of color

  • Black:

    • West: mourning, death

    • France: unknown, death, night, work

  • White:

    • East: mourning, death

    • West: purity (color of bridal gowns)

    • US Flag: bandages to staunch the flow of blood

    • France: monarchy, royalty

Use color wisely well
Use color wisely & well

Remember: communicate not decorate

  • Sources:

  • Your readings &




Cool links to find out more
Cool Links to find out more!