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13 tips to help when choosing packaging colours

Jay Daggar: Last Updated 16th February 2024
Posted In: Brand Positioning | Guides and Advice
https://www.gwp.co.uk/author/Jay-Daggar/ xx 31631

Printed packaging design

How packaging colours can affect your business' success

Any packaging designer, brand manager, and creative professional knows that colour can play a huge role in a brand’s popularity. What is less well known is the similar impact that careful choice of packaging colours can have.

Wisely choosing packaging colours can significantly impact your business’s success. But it is critical to assess various factors. Points worth considering include colour psychology, consumer and cultural preferences, accurately reflecting your brand values and positioning, and differentiating yourself from competitors.

Selecting the right hues for your retail packaging can help to capture attention. It can delight customers when “unboxing” their eCommerce orders. It can help foster brand loyalty. It can even help brand recognition as your transit packaging travels through supply chains.

Due to this often-overlooked importance, this guide provides several tips when selecting the right packaging colour for your business and brand. It covers:

  • An overview of the technical aspects of colour choices/psychology.
  • Why colour choice is so important.
  • A collection of tips and factors to consider when choosing packaging colours.

Please use the table of contents to go straight to your area of interest or continue reading for further details.

Quick reference / contents

Introduction

The importance of packaging colour choice

A consumer’s first physical interaction with your business is rarely with your product – typically, it is with your packaging.

For online orders, this is the eCommerce packaging used to ship your products. In retail environments, it is seeing the box on the shelf. Even in B2B applications, the outer transit cartons are the first thing your customers see.

This interaction is why it is essential that your packaging makes the right first impression.

Choosing packaging colours
The all-important first impression that your packaging makes is hugely dependent on colour selection

It must reflect your brand and product (positioning, personality and value proposition) and should be memorable and easily recognisable. These factors are why carefully choosing packaging colours can be so important.

Colour psychology

The use of colours is so important for branding (and, by extension, your packaging) that a considerable amount of science is often involved in picking an appropriate hue.

Scientifically selecting colours to elicit specific feelings is known as packaging colour psychology. Colours can have a surprisingly strong influence on human behaviour and emotions. These responses are triggered involuntarily and differ across genders, age groups, cultures, and other demographics.

Whilst the range of emotions that colours can invoke is a vast topic (you can see more information on packaging colour psychology in this guide), some colours produce a predictable response.

Blue, for example, is seen as trustworthy and innovative (and is therefore used by technology companies). Red suggests energy, youth, passion, and can also stimulate hunger (hence fast-food chains and food packaging widely utilising this shade). Blacks and whites/greys suggest sophistication and premium offerings, whilst yellows and bright colours present a positive, cheerful message. Green, of course, is widely regarded as being environmentally friendly.

The science of colour selection

Beyond colour psychology, there are several techniques for selecting packaging colours. High contrast designs, complementary colours (using opposite shades on the colour wheel), and even tints, shades and tones within a single colour can all help create specific messaging for users of your packaging.

But saying that, simply sticking to the science may not necessarily produce the results you expect (or are hoping for).

So what else should be considered?

Well, many factors go into choosing the perfect colour for your packaging.

Menu in Adobe design software to select packaging colour
Beyond the psychology and science of colour selection, there are several other factors to consider

13 tips for choosing packaging colours

Important considerations when selecting packaging colours

So, without further ado, here are the 13 key considerations when selecting the colour of your packaging:

  • Stick to core brand colours.
  • Consider your brand positioning.
  • Consider product positioning.
  • Communicate purpose and personality through colour.
  • Represent your product.
  • Know your customer.
  • Consider age / sex of target consumers.
  • Use colours to invoke emotions.
  • Consider cultural preferences.
  • Stand apart from your competition.
  • Consider material colours.
  • Consider minimalism.
  • Maintain consistency with design and font.

The rest of this article addresses each of these, including how you can apply them to your own business.

Stick to core brand colours

The importance of being able to recognise a brand

Perhaps most obviously, it is essential that your packaging reflects your existing brand identity. Even if you explore the possibility of incorporating different colours to denote varying product ranges, or to target other consumer groups, some use of your brand colours should remain visible.

Both existing and new customers should be able to recognise your brand through your packaging. They expect a consistent appearance across physical retail, online shops and websites, and packaging and products you supply.

Coca cola bottle top in red
Using colour correctly can help with brand recognition and recall

Consider your brand positioning

Where does your business sit within the wider market?

Using colour psychology to select colours for your packaging (and indeed brand) can be a sensible strategy. However, businesses must ensure that the shades chosen accurately reflect their brand values and positioning.

For example, if you want to offer a premium product and target higher-value consumers, the packaging must reflect that. Even if you feel that your brand should convey trust, for example, using a blue when targeting premium segments could be a mistake (and you should consider white or black, for example).

Colour choice should also allow you to tie in with your existing brand colours and identity (unless you are looking to break into new markets – which may require additional considerations).

Consider product positioning

Communicate purpose and personality through colour

Within your brand and product portfolio, you may have (and in some cases are likely) to have products targeting different price points and consumers.

Colour can be an excellent way to differentiate these ranges. However, care is required to allow consistency and the message you want to communicate about your products. Is a specific product representing value? Are others at the premium end of the scale? Are any related to eco-friendly lines or fun options for a particular segment?

Careful consideration should not just go into brand colours, but for individual ranges as well.

A pair of blue adidas trainers among cardboard boxes
Packaging colours can help differentiate products within a larger range, as well as representing brand personality and positioning

Represent your product

Avoid confusing customers with unexpected colours

However, a common pitfall is a packaging colour that provides the desired messaging and positioning but confuses the customer.

A prime example would be using colours that are not associated with a specific flavour or variation of a product. For instance, orange-flavoured or scented products in green or purple packaging would not represent your product accurately.

Similarly, not using greens to portray an environmentally friendly product/packaging (when it is not) is important. This form of greenwashing could potentially alienate customers who would otherwise have been happy to purchase from your business.

Retail packaging displayed in a supermarket
Care must be taken that the colours you select for your packaging do not confuse customers

Know your customer

Which colours appeal to your target audience?

These factors lead to perhaps the most crucial point – that you must know your target customers.

Specific colours appeal to different ages, genders, socio-economic groups, cultures, and demographics. Even shades within a colour can make a big difference here, with bright pinks appealing to younger markets than dusky, lighter shades.

Also, be careful here to not be too generic. Blue packaging is the most popular amongst male consumers, but using this colour can potentially see you become lost in the crowd (more on this later).

Ultimately, your packaging should be a colour and design that your target consumer can relate to and find visually appealing.

A young woman opening an eCommerce delivery box
Knowing your customers and target demographic can help you decide on suitable packaging colours

Consider age and gender

Selecting colours appropriate for your market

Although there are many factors to consider when identifying your target consumer, two factors arguably play a more prominent role than any other – your customers’ gender and age.

Studies have suggested that teenagers and those in their 30s prefer purple packaging. Black packaging typically appeals to younger people, whereas children lean towards blues and greens.

Most men prefer blue packaging, although green and black are also good options for masculine brands. Purple, red, and green (as well as – you guessed it – blue) are common choices for brands and packaging targeting females.

Surprisingly, considering it conveys cheerfulness, confidence, and warmth, not many consumers respond to orange packaging!

Use colours to invoke emotions

How do you want customers to feel about your product?

Colour can be surprisingly effective in eliciting target consumers’ emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Although this can be different based on demographics (and even within similar groups depending on past experiences), using a suitable colour scheme can make your potential customers feel positive (or otherwise) about your brand.

Colour can also be associative. Associative colours can generate feelings of nostalgia, excitement, anticipation, calming and even security and dependability. If you know your customer well enough, you can leverage these emotions to your advantage.

A fan of Pantone colour swatches
Colours can be used to evoke specific emotions and feelings within your target customers

Consider cultural preferences

Ensure choices are suitable for all regions / sales territories

It is also important to remember that colours can have cultural meanings attached to them. The implications of different colours are fundamental when launching products into new markets or shipping internationally.

You must consider culture and heritage when creating packaging for specific regions or if you have strong sales in a particular country. An oft-cited example is that the colour red represents good luck in China.

Stand apart from your competition

Don't blend in with rival products

Choosing colours for your packaging that elicit a specific emotion or feeling amongst your ideal consumer can be a clever strategy. But what if all your competitors are doing this too?

Sometimes, it can be hard to differentiate between products and packaging on a shelf as they are all optimised to the same criteria.

It can often be worth taking a risk and seeing if you can position your brand apart from competitors in these circumstances. At the very least, using a colour outside the norm (if you are the only one doing it) can allow you to stand out, capture more attention, and become more memorable than your competitors.

Consider material colours

Can you use packaging materials for an interesting appearance?

When working with corrugated packaging, in particular, the colour of the material used in its manufacture can also have a surprisingly significant impact on how your packaging, products and brand are perceived.

Many businesses now use kraft material with green and white inks to create a natural, environmentally friendly message. Alternatively, white materials (and those using clay coat liners or specialist surface coating to provide a “sheen”) are ideal for more premium offerings.

How the colour of the material used for your packaging combines with your chosen print colours is becoming increasingly important.

A brown cardboard box with black printing
Using the natural colour of your packaging alongside minimalist print can create some visually appealing options

Consider minimalism

Less is more...

As with consideration of material colours, many businesses are pivoting towards minimalism.

While not using many colours or print coverage, minimal design can create a premium “less is more” approach. Minimalism can work surprisingly well with corrugated packaging and can be in stark contrast to competitors using multiple colours.

A step and repeat pattern is another strong option for creating an impactful appearance using a single or very few colours.

Cardboard box with repeating printed pattern
Use of singles colours with "step and repeat" patterns can provide a unique appearance

Maintain consistency with design and font

Take a joined up approach

The final point to consider is that all elements of your packaging design should work together., It is no use using colours to provide a premium appearance and then ruining this with a font that appears cheap and cheerful (or, similarly, using cartoon-esque graphics or icons too).

Similarly, classy fonts (typically using serif designs), used with bright colours, can look jarring and out of place.

The fonts, icons and graphics also send a message to customers. Making sure all design elements are pulling in the same direction is crucial.

Summary

why you should choose packaging colours carefully

As you can see, choosing packaging colours can be more complicated than many would believe.

It is essential to consider how you want potential customers to view your product and brand. You must also bear in mind the emotions and feelings your packaging should convey, where it is used, and your position within the market. By doing this, you can create packaging that helps capture attention and ultimately improves sales.

Should you require any assistance with selecting packaging colours for your business, please contact a member of the GWP team.

Further reading

About the Author

Jay Daggar, GWP Packaging Sales Manager

Jay Daggar

Sales Manager | GWP Packaging

Jay joined GWP Packaging in mid-2008 before becoming Sales Manager in 2011, meaning he has worked for GWP for over 10 years. [Read full bio…]

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