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DTP Design Tips: Meaning of the Color Yellow

written by: Amber Neely•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 4/22/2012

Yellow is a bright, sunny color that invokes several different feelings. Using it can be project perfection or a design disaster. How do you avoid sending the wrong message with your yellow? Easy! This article explains the meaning of the color yellow, and how you should use it.

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    The Meaning of the Color Yellow: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    Adding a dark color to a yellow-based scheme can make it feel less infantile and more widely accepted The Positives: Yellow is an extremely high energy color that is associated with vibrancy and positive feelings. Using hints of yellow can help bring a feeling of friendliness and cheerfulness that no other color can manage to reproduce. Yellow also invokes a feeling of spontaneity, something other colors cannot manage on their own. Yellow also has a natural relaxed feel, great for promoting feelings of leisure. Golden yellows can also produce a surprisingly sophisticated feeling, great for a wide range of projects when paired with other colors.

    The Negatives: Yellow is considered a fairly childish and lighthearted color. Don't use it exclusively if you are doing a serious project of any kind. Yellow has also come to be synonymous with cowardice. You've heard people called yellow-bellied, right? It's also known that guys don't like yellow, and if your target audience is male, avoid using too much yellow. That isn't to say that you can't use yellow at all, you just need to creatively pair it with other more masculine colors such as deep charcoals and royal blues.

    The Yucks: Dingy, muted yellows such as mustard yellows and yellows with olive tones have their place in design, but it is important that you use them very sparingly. These colors are often considered "yucky," and invoke negative reactions in most people who see them. Even if you do stick to the bright and warm yellow shades, its still important that you avoid using too much yellow. When overused, yellow can invoke a disturbing feeling of nervousness, and even can cause children to feel more fussy. Using yellow sparingly is the key. And no matter what your intuition is telling you, never, ever, ever use yellow text on a white background. This is a terrible faux pas that will leave people squinting to see what you wrote, as well as possibly causing physical discomfort to them.

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    When to Use Yellow, and What Yellows to Use

    If you're still not sure what to use yellow for, here's a short list of some different shades and tones of yellow and their meanings:

    A typical yellow scheme 

    Pale Yellow: Comfort, Intellect, Sweetness, Infant Color (gender neutral, leans toward feminine)

    Yellow-Green: Growth, Freshness, Brightness

    Bright Yellow: Cheerfulness, Joy, Friendliness

    Gold: Sophistication, Maturity

    Dingy Yellow: Earthy, Caution, Jealousy, Decay, Sickness

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    Yellow in Color Schemes

    Balancing Yellow

    A spring color scheme - well balanced and a nice use of both muted greens and yellows. 

    The key to using yellow successfully is finding a balance of yellow and another color. In this scheme, you can achieve a very nice spring feeling! This scheme is absolutely perfect for a child's birthday party, a spring wedding color theme, as well as invitations to spring parties.

    Yellow as an Accent Color

    Adding yellow to a color scheme can make for a welcoming but surprising accent 

    Yellow is more suited to being an accent color rather than a main color of a scheme. It plays beautifully with shades of pink, orange, blue, green, and purples, and makes a striking contrast to a charcoal grey theme. This theme is a sweet pink-lemonade theme, perfect for birthday party invitations for little girls, tweens, teens, and women alike.