The concept of warm and cool colors is quite well-known as it is inevitable for colors to evoke emotions. Colors have the power to energize or instill calm; they can invoke feelings of love and passion as well as rage and hate. While this is both relative and contextual, we can still talk about a general and subconscious sense of feeling evoked by specific colors. Hence the warm and cool colors… So what are they? How are warm and cool colors differentiated?
Generally speaking, warm colors are those that are associated with fire, the sun and heat, the sources of life and health. These colors are assumed to stimulate and evoke feelings of warmth. They also attract attention. Warm colors are generally associated with feelings of passion and excitement as well as energy. On the classical color wheel, these colors are where reds, oranges, yellows and similar combinations are concentrated.
It is generally accepted that warm colors advance towards the eye and play with the perception of depth by giving a sense of closeness and coziness. This is why it is usually recommended to paint very large rooms or social spaces with warm colors. It is also the reason why many products in the consumer society are using red in their labels.
The general feelings associated with warm colors are as follows:
Yellow: As the brightest color of all, yellow is the color that the eye is the most sensitive to. Therefore yellow attracts attention and stimulates the brain. It is thus believed that yellow is beneficial for concentration. Yellow is also considered charming and joyful.
Red:As a dominant color, the emotional impact of red is considered very high. Research shows that red has a dual effect; it may evoke intense feelings of both love and anger. It also increases blood pressure and adrenaline. The color red therefore gives energy and motivation for action. It is in the longest wavelength and thus red objects seem closer to the eye.
Orange: Considered as an entertaining color, orange is cheerful and positive. Orange has a warming and vitalizing effect.
Cool colors are typically listed as blue, green and purple. Generally speaking, these colors are associated with water, sky, ice and even snow. They are assumed to have a calming and soothing effect. They are also assumed to increase rationality and sharpen thoughts rather than emotions. This is why cool colors are usually used in offices. It is also the reason for cool blues being the most popular color of business shirts.
Contrary to the advancing feeling that warm colors give, cool colors generally feel as if they recede. This is the reason they are recommended for small rooms. They tend to make tiny places look a lot more spacious. Cool colors also can also reduce the heat in rooms that receive too much sun light and get hot.
The general feelings associated with cool colors are as follows:
Blue:The color blue is associated with rationality, decision-making and concentration. It is considered as a symbol of peace, confidence and safety. Blue has a calming effect; it reduces the heart rate and body temperature.
Green:As the color of nature, green symbolizes fertility, health, growth and freshness. It is considered that green has relieving, relaxing and healing effects. Research also shows that it soothes the eyes and might improve the ability of reading.
Purple: Deriving from a mix of blue and red, purple is considered to balance the effects of these two colors. Therefore it is generally believed that the color purple creates a balance between the intense energy of red and the relaxing effect of blue. Purple is often associated with royalty, power, ambition, wisdom and magic.
While the distinction between warm and cool colors seems ‘obvious’ it is also tricky. It should not be forgotten that color is both relative and contextual. It depends on the context; for example, a yellowish green might seem cool next to orange while it may look warm when used with a cool blue. Therefore, when selecting a palette of warm or cool colors, one should always take the context into consideration.