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Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs

Combining the fiery energy of red with the optimism of yellow, orange is one of the most positively perceived colors. Associated with creativity, health, zest and amusement, you can use orange to give instant energy to your designs.

The orange color in fruits and vegetables is generated by carotenes, a type of pigment that converts light energy from the sun into chemical energy for growth. As a result, orange is often associated with health, growth, and taste. This, along with its warm and positive energy, makes it a favorite for designers looking to inject vitality into brand, fashion, and interior designs.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — Drawn from Nature
Image by contributor Petr Klabal.

Skip to the end of the article to discover three cutting-edge orange color palettes to use in your designs. You can also discover a whole spectrum of incredible colors to use in your designs with our new color tool.

How is Orange Made?

Orange is a secondary color, meaning that is created by mixing two primary colors, red and yellow. On the visible light spectrum, it sits between yellow and red.

On a traditional painter’s color wheel, orange sits between warm yellow and warm red. It’s also a warm color, as opposed to a cool color such as blue or green.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — Color Wheel

Color wheel images adapted from contributor Antun Hirsman

Types of Orange

Orange hues can range from vivid neons (favored by the Netherlands national football team) to brown-, red-, or yellow-infused tones. Each of these tones adopt some of the characteristics of their infused colors.

Orange can be pure and vibrant, or mixed with small amounts of other colors to create more subtle incarnations of orange. Below, discover the main categories of oranges you can use in your designs:

  • True oranges like exuberance and bright orange are cheerful and vibrant. When used in designs they can evoke tropical climes and inject energy and confidence into color schemes.
  • Brown-oranges like burnt orange and cayenne have a more sophisticated and calmer mood than their true orange relations, making them incredibly versatile for design projects. Red-oranges are evocative of fall, making them perfect partners for autumnal design schemes.
  • Red-oranges like orange red and jaffa orange are earthy and Mediterranean, reminiscent of terracotta clay. Paired with neutral colors and natural textures they are extremely chic and contemporary.

    Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — The Origins of Orange
    Image by contributor Kryvenok Anastasiia.
  • Yellow-oranges like golden orange and amber are said to stimulate mental activity, making them wise choices for decorating offices, kitchens, or dining areas.
  • Pink-oranges such as coral and bittersweet balance the relaxing quality of pink with the energy of orange, making them feel summery, stylish, and chic.

Discover how you can use a variety of oranges using the Shutterstock color tool. Explore palettes and images related to a range of oranges, including golden orange, jaffa orange, coral, and cayenne.

Orange’s Complementary Color

Orange’s complementary color (which sits directly opposite it on a color wheel) is blue.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — Complementary Color Wheel

Color wheel images adapted from contributor Antun Hirsman

The Meaning of Orange

Orange is a naturally occurring color in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, such as pumpkins, carrots, sweet potatoes, and, of course, oranges. As a result, orange is often associated with taste, health, zest, vibrancy, and excitement.

Orange also has a wide range of cultural, social, and religious meanings, depending on context.

  • Orange has historically been associated with amusement, entertainment, and frivolity. Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, was dressed in orange robes, and clowns traditionally wear orange wigs.
  • A variety of orange shades, known as “saffron,” are closely associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, with the color worn by monks and holy men across Asia. In Hinduism, orange is symbolic of fire and cleansing, and the color is therefore associated with purity.

    Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — The Meaning of Orange
    Image by contributor CatherineLProd.
  • Orange can be symbolic of danger, and is often used for warning signs. This is mainly because orange is the most visible color in low light. The color “safety orange” was developed to provide contrast against azure-blue skies. Lifeguards, astronauts, and prisoners also often wear orange uniforms or clothing to maximize their visibility during work or, in the case of prisoners, during escape attempts.
  • Orange is often adopted by sports teams due to its energetic mood and high visibility. Such teams include the Dutch national football team and the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Orange is a popular color for a wide range of brands, perhaps due to its optimism, vitality and visibility. Orange, FedEx, Fanta, EasyJet, Sainsbury’s, Nickelodeon, and TNT have all adopted the color for their brand identities.

Where Does Orange Come From?

Orange is a color that occurs widely in nature, meaning that humans have been exposed to the color since early prehistory. The orange landscapes of Utah, orange sunsets, and the spices saffron and turmeric are just a few examples of orange occurring in natural settings and materials.

The orange in carrots, pumpkins, and autumn leaves is produced by carotene, a photosynthetic pigment. There are also a number of animals and insects that have orange coloring, including bengal tigers, orangutans, robins (historically and erroneously described as red-breasted robins), monarch butterflies and clown fish. These animals evolved an orange coloring to increase their visibility, either to attract potential mates or discourage predators.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — Colorful Creatures
Image by contributor Iain Clyne.

The ancient Egyptians were the first recorded culture to develop an orange pigment sourced from minerals, called realgar. This was used to paint tombs and was later used by Medieval artists for coloring manuscripts.

The word orange originates from the Old French word orange, which was taken from the old term for the orange fruit, pomme d’orange. The color was later adopted by the House of Orange, a noble lineage originating from the House of Orange-Nassau in France. Due to the house’s affiliations with Protestantism during the French Wars of Religion, the color orange also became connected with the Protestant faith. This Protestant link was developed further in the Netherlands, with orange adopted for the national flag in honor of William III of Orange.

In the late 18th century a French scientist named Louis Vauquelin discovered the mineral crocoite, which led to the invention of the synthetic pigment chrome orange. As a result of this and the development of other orange pigments, 19th century painters were able to be more experimental and lavish with their use of orange. The British Pre-Raphaelite movement was especially known for its devotion to orange, mainly in the depiction of red-haired heroines. Later, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, and Van Gogh would use orange liberally in their post-impressionist work.

By the 20th century, due to its high visibility, orange took on a new role as a signifier of danger. During the Second World War, US Navy pilots wore orange life jackets to improve search and rescue efforts after planes were shot down in the Pacific. The trend for using orange for safety equipment and warning signs continued beyond the 1940s, with highway workers, cyclists, and even astronauts adopting the color for its high visibility.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — Visibility
A giant astronaut sculpture in Sydney, Australia pays tribute to the orange uniform adopted by Space Station astronauts. Image by contributor ArliftAtoz2205.

How to Design with Orange

Because orange sits between two primary colors, red and yellow, it has the versatility to work as both an accent color and a neutral color. Teamed with red, for example, orange’s energy is lessened in comparison, making it feel like a neutral shade. When paired with its complementary color, blue, orange is the more energetic color, drawing the eye and giving it more prominence.

Orange is popular with brand designers because it is eye-catching, optimistic, and contemporary. Teamed with different colors it’s also able to take on a versatile range of moods and characteristics.

In this example, New York-based creative agency High Tide used orange as an anchor for the brand identity of restaurant reservation app Resy. With the logo always set in vivid orange, the other colors in the scheme, such as blue, play a secondary role, making for a playful and vibrant scheme.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — High Tide

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — Resy Branding
Brand design for Resy by creative agency High Tide.

You can channel orange’s associations with frivolity by teaming it with pastel shades, creating a youthful, high-spirited palette. Here, Montreal-based designers Simon Langlois and Raphaëlle Brillant created a multi-colored brand identity for the Jacques-Ouellette School Foundation. Orange is equally balanced alongside other pastel tones, making for a fresh and breezy palette that feels ultra contemporary.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — Simon Langlois and Raphaëlle Brillant

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Designs — Jacques-Ouellette School Foundation
Brand identity for the Jacques-Ouellette School Foundation by Simon Langlois and Raphaëlle Brillant.

Orange might not be the first color that springs to mind when getting dressed in the morning, but lately orange hues have taken the fashion world by storm. In line with a resurgence for 1970s trends, shades of brick, terracotta, and umber look exceptionally chic paired with brown, black, or cream. Bold fashion followers might also opt for orange in its pure form, perhaps paired with blue for a particularly striking look.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Design — Orange in Fashion
A show attendee wearing orange, black and blue Fendi shoes before the MSGM fashion show at Milan Men’s Fashion Week. Image by contributor andersphoto.

In interiors, orange can make spaces feel instantly more optimistic and energizing. With its ability to stimulate creativity and mental action, orange can work beautifully in offices and kitchens. But, it is best used sparingly in more relaxed areas, such as bedrooms.

Teamed with black, gray, and warm wood, orange feels cosy and inviting.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Design — Cozy Interiors
Image by contributor

In bedrooms or in areas you want orange to be used sparingly, try teaming orange accents with crisp white and natural textures, such as rattan and wood. This will bring out the Mediterranean feel of deeper burnt oranges, terracottas, and golden yellows.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Design — Paired with Natural Textures
Image by contributor

What Colors Go With Orange?

Colors that go with orange depend on the type of color scheme you want to use:

  • A monochromatic orange color scheme uses paler tints and darker shades of orange to create an entirely orange palette.
  • A complementary orange color scheme incorporates blue. Blue’s neighbor colors, green and violet, are complementary to red and yellow, respectively.
  • An analogous orange color scheme uses the colors bordering orange on either side of the color wheel. Orange’s neighboring colors are warm red and warm yellow.
  • A triadic orange color scheme includes green and purple since they are equidistant from orange on a modern color wheel.
    Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Design — Triadic Color Wheel

To find the colors and exact hex codes that go with orange, use our color combinations tool. It shows you monochromatic, analogous, triadic, and contrasting color palettes for a variety of orange hues. Try a scheme with golden orange, jaffa orange, coral, or cayenne.

Below, discover three cutting-edge, pre-made color palettes for the color orange.

Palette 1: Playtime

Orange’s high energy can be tempered when teamed with pastel colors. This palette uses pale pink, sorbet yellow, and a calm forest green to create a scheme that’s stylish, youthful, and perfect for fashion or retail branding.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Design — Playtime

Palette 2: Sand and Sky

This bold palette looks to orange’s complementary color, blue, to create a strong scheme that exaggerates the energy and warmth of pure bright orange. Pale blush pink and maroon are soothing counter-colors.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Design — Sand and Sky

Palette 3: Jungle King

This palette has a strong, masculine feel which would make it a good choice for fitness or travel brands. Red orange‘s vitality is complemented by earthier tones of dark green, charcoal, and moss.

Zest for Life: How to Use The Color Orange in Your Design — Jungle King

Eager to discover more incredible colors to use in your designs?

Discover a whole spectrum of incredible colors with our new color tool that helps to bring your projects to life.

Cover image via contributor Petr Klabal.

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