A Designer's Guide to the Color Orange

The different shades of orange and their meanings

Macro Shot Of Orange Fruit
Orange Fruit.

 Martin Jahr / Getty Images

Orange is vibrant. It's a combination of hot red and sunshine yellow so it shares some common attributes with those colors. It denotes energy, warmth, and the sun. But orange has a bit less intensity or aggression than red, calmed by the cheerfulness of yellow. These words are synonymous with or represent various shades of the color orange: pumpkin, gold, flame, scarlet, copper, brass, apricot, peach, citrus, tangerine, vermilion.

Nature and Culture of Orange

As a warm color orange is a stimulant—stimulating the emotions and even the appetite. Orange radiates in nature through the changing leaves of fall, the setting sun, and the skin and meat of citrus fruit.

Orange brings up images of autumn leaves, pumpkins, and Halloween. It represents the changing seasons so in that sense it is a color on the edge, the color of change between the heat of summer and the cool of winter. Because orange is also a citrus color, it can conjure up thoughts of vitamin C and good health. Awareness ribbons that use orange include:

  • Various diseases and conditions such as Juvenile Diabetes, Deep Vein Thrombosis, Agent Orange Exposure, Leukemia, and Multiple Sclerosis
  • Human Rights
  • Racial Tolerance
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Feral Cats
  • Motorcycle Safety
  • Underage Drinking
  • Hunger

Using Orange in Design

To get noticed without screaming, consider the color orange—it demands attention. The softer oranges such as peach are even friendlier and more soothing. Peachy oranges are less flamboyant than their redder cousins but still energetic. In keeping with its transitional appearance in nature, you might use shades of orange to indicate transition or a bridge between two opposing factors. 

Orange is often synonymous with autumn yet the brighter oranges are a summer color. Use shades of orange for seasonal-themed fall or summer materials. Orange is mentally stimulating as well as sociable. Use it to get people thinking or to get them talking. Try orange as a textbook cover color.

Orange Combined With Other Colors

While orange and black are traditional Halloween colors, orange really pops with a medium blue. Red, yellow, and orange can be a fiery hot combination or, in tamer shades, a fresh, fruity experience. Make it tropical with green. Use caution when mixing orange and pink unless your goal is to recreate a vibrating, '60s psychedelic look.

Try a dash of orange with deep purple or a dash of purple with a bit of orange, tempered by lots of mellow yellow or white for an eye-catching look that's not overpowering.