Orange is known to be a polarizing color, and many people say that it can look cheap and tacky. Given its common association with traffic cones and price stickers, this seems like a fair assessment. But when used correctly, orange can be the transformative element in a design. Depending on how you apply it, orange can just as easily conjure visions of autumn, flickering fires, or of course, the fruit itself. It all depends on how and why you’re using it.
Use orange if you want to add energy and vibrancy to a design. Use it if you’re going for something a little edgy and unique, or if you just want to mix a warm color in with a cool color palette. As long as you have a good grasp of how to work with it, orange will surprise you with its versatility and beauty. Just make sure that you’re aware of these seven guidelines for using orange in your work:
1. Orange is great in smaller doses
Just a few small touches of orange in a website, like Fresh Not Canned above, can add a lot of interest. You can get away with more, like Grip Limited below, but only if your color palette is extremely restrained; it’s best to stick with muted colors and shades if you’re going to feature orange heavily.
2. But don’t go overboard
Orange can be overwhelming in really large amounts (Mulley above). Just like any other warm color, a large field of orange on a webpage can read as intimidating, or even aggressive. Only take this route if you’re really trying to make a bold statement, like Toy NY below.
3. Orange is especially effective when paired with cooler colors
Where orange really excels is as an accent color, especially with cooler colors like blue, green, and purple. Blue and green are always safe choices for your main color; both are fairly versatile when it comes to appealing to multiple demographics.
But blue and green can both appear too cool if they don’t have an accent color to warm them up. For example, icebrrg.com’s website has a chilly feel (on purpose, in this case, but it’s rare for this to be a good thing), but Jet Blue’s site has a lot more life and warmth, from just a few touches of orange.
4. Conversely, it’s difficult to use orange with other warm colors
When you look at a design that only uses warm hues (that is, reds, yellows, and oranges), like Story Cubes, you’ll notice that your eye starts to wish for some cooler colors to break up the space.
5. Orange can be difficult to read
Be careful when using orange for text; because it’s a lighter color, it’s always going to be more difficult to read, even when it’s paired with a dark background. Orange generally works best when as a background color; which is why you often see it on buttons and behind headlines.
Be especially cautious when using combinations of blue and orange. It’s a beautiful combination, but designs with oranges right on top of blues can be visually overwhelming. The two colors especially pose a challenge for those with blue-yellow colorblindness.
6. Use orange in more subtle ways
7. Make sure that orange works for your design
Orange is most often associated with a fun, youthful look. It’s a lively, exciting color, and should be used in a context where those attributes make sense. A company that focuses on making trendy stickers is a great fit for adding some cheery, exciting orange. But an established and venerable bank is probably looking for some more sedate color choices.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and as long as it’s handled correctly, orange can look great in almost any application. But now that you know what to watch out for, you’ll be able to make designs with orange that might make even make the naysayers think twice.