You can’t have missed it: in graphic design, the color blue is everywhere. It’s even the most popular color for logos! So, from turquoise to sapphire, cobalt to azure, let’s investigate why blue is so ubiquitous.
Here is a quick summary of the themes that we will cover in this article:
- Defining the color blue
- Blue and civilizations: history and perceptions
- Blue in art
- Blue in graphic design and brand visual identity
Defining the color blue
Let’s start with an accurate definition of the color blue.
Blue: a simple primary color?
As we learned early on at school: blue is a primary color. However, it’s not quite that simple. In the additive color model (or RGB for Red, Green, Blue), which is used to define the colors diffused on our screens on websites and digital communications, blue is indeed a primary color. Yet for printed materials, the primary blue shade used is actually a cyan tint (blue-green). The printing industry uses the subtractive color model, or CMYK for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black.
The many hues of blue
Blue is a chromatic color, composed of hundreds of shades between green and violet.
Although blue is considered a cool color (as opposed to a warm red), shades of blue can be warmer or cooler depending on their undertones. The undertones are the secondary colors that are mixed with your blue: a little green will give you a peacock blue or teal, for example.
In addition, saturation also plays an important role: from a dull hue (blue-gray) to a vibrant hue (electric blue).
Finally, brightness will also determine your shade of blue: from a deep, dark shade like midnight blue, to a light shade like sky blue.
So, if you used to say that blue was your favorite color, you can now be more precise! As we have just seen, the range of blue is very wide. You probably have a preference between navy blue, pastel blue and electric blue!
💡 TIP: The choice is yours! Be creative when choosing a shade of blue, don’t use a shade that is too close to your competitors’.
Blue and civilizations: history and perceptions
Now that we have defined the color blue, let’s begin to answer our question about the ubiquity of this color in graphic design by focusing on its history and its relationship to past and present civilizations.
A short history of the color blue
The birth of “blue”
This may surprise you, but blue was only born in the Middle Ages. Before that, neither its name nor its concept had been defined. In other words, blue was not a notion that existed at that time for human beings. However, this does not mean that there were no blue objects, just that blue was not considered a color in its own right. Anything blue was described with the colors that existed at the time. It’s very difficult to conceive of in this day and age!
A history of pigments
Blue is rarely found in nature, and natural blue pigments are therefore scarce. As a matter of fact, the only natural blue pigments come from indigo (a plant), pastel (a plant) and lapis lazuli (a mineral).
Civilizations quickly learned how to create synthetic blue pigments. The first of these was invented by the Egyptians in ancient times, called Egyptian blue. Prussian blue, Cobalt blue and Phthalocyanine blue are some other examples of synthetic blue pigments.
It is interesting to note that although blue did not yet have a name, human beings already seemed to be fascinated by this color to the point of trying to create pigments.
Blue and perceptions
Today, blue is a color that is part of our daily lives, but this was not always the case. In ancient Rome, blue was despised: it was a symbol of ridicule and even associated with barbarians.
From the Middle Ages, the color took on a divine connotation and it started to appear on many religious works of art. It then became the color of the monarchy (of divine rights) a little later.
Finally, in the 20th century, all of humanity embraced the color blue when blue jeans came into fashion.
As we have seen, depending on the era or culture, the feelings and connotations associated with certain colors can vary. Let’s take a look at current perceptions around the color blue.
In English, we say “feeling blue” to describe feelings of depression, but when we have “blue skies ahead” it means that we are optimistic about the future. In French, “être fleur bleue” means to be romantic or sentimental, and “avoir une peur bleue” means scared to death! So, blue can evoke several disparate images depending on the language.
Here are a few examples of different perceptions associated with the color blue:
Current universal perceptions
Specific cultural perceptions
- nobility, royalty: royal blue, to have “blue blood”
- the Democratic party (in the U.S.)
- the masculine, as opposed to the feminine pink (in the West)
- mourning (in Korea)
- workers: “blue collar” laborers, as opposed to “white collar” office workers
💡 TIP: Although the feelings commonly associated with the color blue are calm and confidence, it is always a good idea to check the perception of each hue you plan to use in your communications against your target audience and their culture.
Blue in art
We couldn’t talk about blue in graphic design without also mentioning blue in art. Of course, graphic design draws inspiration from art! We can find blue in many works of art: from Van Gogh’s Starry Night to Hokusai’s The Great Wave to Andy Warhol’s Colored Mona Lisa.
So, while we will only cite a few interesting examples of the use of blue in art below, there are certainly many others.
The Jardin Majorelle
Have you heard of this villa and garden in Morocco, painted entirely in a special cobalt blue shade? It has become a very famous destination because it is so unique.
French painter Jacques Majorelle was inspired by Marrakesh and built a villa with its own botanical garden in the 1930s. But he did not stop there, he also created the “Majorelle blue” color and decided to paint the walls of his villa with it.
This garden has become a huge source of inspiration for artists and creatives, notably for French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent.
💡 REMEMBER: Use blue in bold, new, unexpected, and inspiring ways.
Yves Klein: IKB blue
Let’s focus now on another inventor of blue: Yves Klein. He is the creator of IKB blue, or International Klein Blue, a shade close to ultramarine blue. He is a visual artist who used his invention, the IKB, in many works, including monochrome, meaning using only this color.
💡 REMEMBER: You can use blue as a trademark, a unique blue that makes you recognizable.
Picasso: the Blue Period
Our final example of the use of blue in art is Picasso’s Blue Period from 1901 to 1904. Deeply affected by the death of a loved one, the young painter began to paint in shades of blue to express his grief.
💡 REMEMBER: Colors can relay messages and express feelings.
Blue in graphic design and brand visual identity
After our extensive theoretical overview on the color blue, which we hope will have convinced you of its importance, let’s move on to a practical study: how do brands use blue? Plus, how to use it well in your brand identity and, by extension, in your digital publications on Calaméo.
Why use blue in graphic design?
For a positive brand image
🔎 READ: Brand identity vs. brand image: what’s the difference?
Because blue is humankind’s favorite color, it seems obvious that using it in your designs is a good idea since it will appeal to a very large portion of your clients and prospects. In addition, there are many positive associations with this color: confidence, peace, calm. People will associate your brand with these qualities instantly.
So, just by using blue in your brand style guide, the public will have a positive perception of your brand.
For the user experience
In graphic design, it’s important to focus on the user experience and make it as pleasant as possible for everyone. Blue being the color least affected by color vision disorders, it is a good choice for your graphic design.
Examples of blue in brand style guides
To help you use blue in your visual identity and in your communications, here are some interesting examples of the use of blue in brand style guides and good ideas to inspire your creativity.
How can we talk about blue in graphic design without talking about Ikea? Ikea uses two strong colors that stand out and give a unique and recognizable visual identity. It’s probably the only furniture store that you are able to recognize from afar, wherever you are in the world, thanks to its blue and yellow sign and blue exterior.
💡 REMEMBER: Partner two strong colors that contrast, such as complementary colors, for a big impact. For example: combine blue with orange or yellow tones.
These distinctive colors reflect those of the Swedish flag. This choice reinforces Ikea’s brand identity: from the names of the products to the types of dishes offered in their restaurants to their brand style guide…all of these elements emphasize the company’s origins.
💡 REMEMBER: Use specific colors to reinforce your brand identity.
Major players on the web: all in shades of blue
Among the major Internet companies, almost all of their logos are blue. You can see some examples above. What at the beginning was perhaps a strategic choice seems to have turned into a trend. We can imagine that the choice of a blue logo of the first entities on the Internet reflects the desire to have an image of stability and confidence in this new virtual world that seemed ephemeral. As a result, blue logos are now associated with tech and web companies.
💡 REMEMBER: Study your competitors and their brand style guides; if they all use the same codes, there may be a reason.
Calaméo: blue for emphasis
Finally, we wanted to tell you about our use of blue. Although blue is not our main color and does not appear in our logo, we do have a very specific use for it. We use blue to highlight and emphasize important messages. As you can see, on our blog the links are in blue and stand out.
💡 REMEMBER: You can use a shade of blue in your graphic design without it being a main color. Do not hesitate to give it a specific function.
In this respect, many brands use blue in their visual identity, and the color performs different functions for each. From main color to accent color, it is a matter of finding the best way to incorporate this color in your style guide so that it completes your brand and identity.
📌 FUN FACT: Many countries use the color blue on their flags! In France, for example, the blue and red of the flag represent the colors of the city of Paris. In the United States, the blue on the flag represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
Blue is a fascinating color: its history, its many uses in art, and all its different meanings and connotations. That’s why blue has become an essential color in graphic design.
Don’t hesitate to use it in your brand identity and in your digital publications. Blue used with ingenuity, in an original shade or in combination with unusual shades, will make you stand out and will make your content unforgettable.