Using Shades of Red in Design

Firefighter Responding To Emergency Call

Dennis Stevens / Getty Images

Blood red, blush, brick, burgundy, carmine, China red, cinnabar, crimson, fire engine red, flame, Indian red, madder, maroon, rose, rouge, ruby, russet, rust, scarlet, tomato, Venetian red and vermilion are all synonymous with or represent various shades of the color red.

Nature, Culture, and Symbolism of Red

Red is hot. It's a strong color that conjures up a range of seemingly conflicting emotions from passionate love to violence and warfare. Red is Cupid and the Devil.

A stimulant, red is the hottest of the warm colors. Studies show that red can have a physical effect, increasing the rate of respiration and raising blood pressure.

The expression "seeing red" indicates anger and may stem not only from the stimulus of the color but from the natural flush (redness) of the cheeks, a physical reaction to anger, increased blood pressure or physical exertion.

Red represents power, hence the red power tie for business people and the red carpet for celebrities and VIPs.

Flashing red lights denote danger or emergency. Stop signs and stop lights are red to get the drivers' attention and alert them to the dangers of the intersection.

In some cultures, red denotes purity, joy, and celebration. Red is the color of happiness and prosperity in China, where it may be used to attract good luck.

Red is often the color worn by brides in the East while it is the color of mourning in South Africa. In Russia the Bolsheviks used a red flag when they overthrew the Tsar, thus red became associated with communism. Many national flags use red. The red ruby is the traditional 40th Wedding Anniversary gift.

Awareness Ribbons That Use Red

  • Diseases and conditions such as HIV/AIDS, blood disorders, congenital heart defects, diabetes, heart disease, alcohol substance and drug Abuse, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, headaches and migraines, polio survivor and Hirschsprung's disease
  • Firefighters
  • MADD
  • D.A.R.E.
  • Hospice care
  • Cesarean sections

Using Shades of Red in Print and Web Design

When designing a website or publication, use the color red to grab attention and get people to take action. A little bit of red goes a long way. Small doses can often be more effective than large amounts of this strong color. Use red to suggest speed combined with confidence and perhaps even a dash of danger.

Multiple shades of red and even pink or orange can combine for a cheerful palette. Red pairs well with other colors:

  • Although not normally considered an ideal coupling, in combination with green, red is a Christmas color, a staple of the joyful season.
  • Cool blues provide contrast and tone down the heat of red.
  • Light pinks and yellows are harmonizing colors that can work well with red if not too close in value such as dark red with a pale or golden yellow.
  • Be careful using purple with red. It can be an elegant combination but too much could be overpowering.
  • Add a dash of red to a soft but sophisticated pink and gray combo.
  • For some countries, including the U.S., red, white and blue is a patriotic trio even if the shades of red and blue differ from those used in the flag.

Red in Language

The use of red in familiar phrases can help a designer see how a color choice might be perceived by others — both positively and negatively.

Positive red

  • Red-letter day — important or significant occasion
  • Red carpet treatment — make someone feel special
  • Roll out the red carpet — make someone feel special
  • Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning — red sky at night, sailor's delight: pay attention to good and bad warning signs
  • Paint the town red — celebrate, go out partying
  • Red-eye — an overnight flight

Negative red

  • Seeing red — anger
  • Red herring — something that deceives or distracts attention from the truth
  • In the red — being overdrawn at the bank or losing money
  • Red flag — denotes danger, warning or an impending battle