Warm colors

What Are Warm and Cool Colors and How Do They Make You Feel

To find subtractive colors, start with white and change each pair to 00:

Color Basics

A color wheel is an illustrative model of color hues around a circle. It shows the relationships between the primary, secondary, and intermediate/ tertiary colors and helps demonstrate color temperature. Digital teams communicate exact colors through the use of hex codes.

Understanding the Color Wheel

Many color wheels are shown using 12 colors. Using this color wheel as an example, it can be read as follows:

Color wheel with Three Primary Colors (Ps): Red, Yellow, Blue; Three Secondary Colors (S’): Orange, Green, Violet; and Six Tertiary Colors (Ts): Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, which are formed by mixing a primary with a secondary

  • Three Primary Colors (Ps): Red, Yellow, Blue
  • Three Secondary Colors (S’): Orange, Green, Violet
  • Six Tertiary Colors (Ts): Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet, which are formed by mixing a primary with a secondary

It’s important to note that some people add more intermediates, for 24 total named colors, and some color wheels show interior points and circles, which represent color mixtures.

Color Temperature

The colors on the red side of the wheel are warm; the green side of the wheel has the cooler colors. These color temperature designations are absolute. More subtle color temperature relationships are relative, meaning that each color on the warm side of the wheel can be known as cool, and colors on the cools side of the wheel can be known as warm depending on the relationship to their neighboring color. Colors from the same hue, for instance red, can also be warmer or cooler than one another.

Color temperatures affect us both psychologically and perceptually by helping us determine how objects appear positioned.

Warm color scale

  • Warm colors include red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colors.
  • Red and yellow are both primary colors, with orange falling in the middle.
  • Warm colors appear closer to the observer.

Cool color scale

  • Cool colors include green, blue, and purple, and variations of those three colors.
  • Blue is the only primary color within the cool spectrum.
  • Greens take on some of the attributes of yellow, and purple takes on some of the attributes of red.
  • They are often more subdued than warm colors.
  • Cool colors appear farther from the observer.


Neutral colors

Neutral colors include black, white, gray, tans, and browns. They’re commonly combined with brighter accent colors but they can also be used on their own in designs. The meanings and impressions of neutral colors depend more so upon the colors around them.

Color Models: CMYK vs. RGB

There are two models for colors. They have different purposes and different attributes. They are as follows:

CMYK Color Model / RGB Color Model

  • CMYK Color Models: Stands for cyan, magenta, and yellow. It applies to painting and printing. The CMYK model is a subtractive model, meaning that colors are created through absorbing wavelengths of visible light. The wavelengths of light that don’t get absorbed are reflected, and that reflected light ends up being the color we see.
  • RGB Color Models: RGB stands for red, green, and blue. It applies to computers, televisions, and electronics. The RGB model is an additive model, meaning that colors are created through light waves that are added together in particular combinations in order to produce colors.

Hex Codes

To name colors in web design, teams use hexadecimal code. All hexadecimal codes:

SmashingMagazine’s hex code example showing the three pairs of characters sequenced together (totaling of six characters), with each pair controlling one of the primary additive colors (red, green, blue)

  • Start with a hash mark (#)
  • Consist of three pairs of characters sequenced together (totaling of six characters), with each pair controlling one of the primary additive colors (red, green, blue)
  • Those six characters following the hash mark consist of ten numerals (0-9) and/ or six letters (a-f)

Exit Disclaimer

It is easy to identify patterns in the hex codes some colors; see SmashingMagazine’s great chart at the right for this. Some things to know include:

  • 00 is a lack of primary
  • ff is the primary at full strength

To find additive colors, start with black and change each pair to ff:

SmashingMagazine’s chart showing the hex codes of black, the three additive colors, white, and the three subtractive colors

  • #000000 is black (no primaries)
  • #ff0000 is the brightest red
  • #00ff00 is the brightest green
  • #0000ff is the brightest blue

To find subtractive colors, start with white and change each pair to 00:

  • #ffffff is white (all primaries
  • #00ffff is the brightest cyan
  • #ff00ff is the brightest magenta
  • #ffff00 is the brightest yellow

It is also possible to abbreviate some hex numbers. For instance, #fae expands to #ffaaee and #09b expands to #0099bb.

Additional Resources

  • Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of ColorExit Disclaimer
  • The Code Side of ColorExit Disclaimer
  • Color Theory 101: Deconstructing 7 Famous Brands’ Color PalettesExit Disclaimer
  • ColorExit Disclaimer
  • Color SymbolismExit Disclaimer
  • Color Wheel Pro: Color MeaningExit Disclaimer

What Are Warm and Cool Colors and How Do They Make You Feel?

The riveting world of color psychology has been explored, dissected, and expertly analyzed. It’s for this reason why we can confidently say that colors undoubtedly impact our minds, moods, and spirit. Color is a potent communication tool, and we’d all benefit greatly from understanding the effects that certain hues have on us. For instance, while some colors can increase blood pressure, others promote serenity and peace of mind. From biological switches to shifts in behavior, colors influence our well-being in more ways than one.

Categorizing Colors Into Groups of Warm and Cool

Table categorizing colors into groups of warm and cool

Colors are categorized into two primary groups: warm and cool. If you draw a line down the center of the color wheel, you can easily identify which are which. The colors on the right side are warm, and the shades on the left are classified as cool. Red, orange, and yellow are considered warm hues, and green, blue, and violet are regarded as cool tones. The main difference between the two is that warm colors have the longest wavelengths on the spectrum. Cool colors have shorter wavelengths and don’t advance toward the eye.

Why Bother Classifying Colors?

Range of warm and cool colors

There’s a science behind the necessity of arranging colors. Color psychology maintains that it’s vital to discern warm tones from cool shades so that you know the response they’re going to evoke. Much like their name suggests, warm colors provide warmth, comfort, and understanding. Cool hues, on the other hand, conjure images of Mother Earth and outdoor recreation. When combined, these colors are the most powerful. A combination of inviting tones and nature-esque hues offers the ideal balance.

Psychological Effects of Warm Colors

Typically, people are more drawn to warm shades. Red, orange, and yellow are inherently more welcoming than their cooler cousins. You may even feel safer or more secure when surrounded by these friendly colors. Moreover, since warm shades give the illusion of heat, they’re reminiscent of summertime splendor. Seeing these hues may remind you of simpler times, beach outings, or fun in the sun.

Working well in large spaces, warm colors make environments cozy and stimulating. While you can incorporate these colors into smaller settings, they elicit more positive responses when placed in spacier atmospheres. When in the presence of these hues, you may experience a sudden burst in energy. These tones are go-getters, so they relish activity and movement. Gyms and living rooms often feature warm colors for this very reason.

Beautiful warm sunset over ocean with red and yellow colors

In the advertising realm, warm shades invoke a sense of urgency. If a company uses red, orange, or yellow in their marketing methods, they’re likely trying to reel you in quickly. Interacting with these tones prompts us to take action, which is why you’ll see red in stop signs, yellow as a warning signal, and orange to indicate a fire hazard. All of these things warrant a fast response, and marketers are privy to this. This clever advertising scheme has proven effective time and again.

Generally thought of as bolder tones, red, orange, and yellow grab the attention of passersby. It’s hard to ignore these colors. In essence, they captivate and intrigue individuals. It’s not uncommon for warm shades to make people feel alive and uplifted. These hues have a way of breathing life into everything they touch. They’re also incredibly cheery and don’t succumb to negative thoughts and behaviors.

Surrounding yourself with warm colors bodes well for optimal mental health. These shades are lively and optimistic, and there’s nothing dark or ominous about them. Red, orange, and yellow are highly encouraging, and they don’t put anyone down. Whether you’re feeling glum or want to establish an upbeat atmosphere, these are the hues to turn to. You’ll soon discover how advantageous it is to have these shades around.

Learn more about warm colors.

Color palette with warm tones

Psychological Effects of Cool Colors

On the other end of the spectrum lies cool colors. These include green, blue, and violet. Most prominently, these tones are associated with the great outdoors. Ironically, they perform best when in compact spaces. When placed in smaller rooms, cool shades make the area feel bigger. This is one of the many ways that cool colors double as illusionary agents.

Stress, anxiety, and worry are tense emotions. Cool hues eliminate the toxicity that accompanies these negative feelings. In other words, green, blue, and violet are calm, relaxing colors. They offer an air of tranquility that no other shades come close to mimicking. Being near these shades can feel like a breath of fresh air. Given their relationship with nature, it comes as no surprise that this is how cool tones impact people.

Outdoors in colorful nature with blue sky and green grass

Primarily seen in bathrooms and bedrooms, cool colors are often found in homes. More specifically, they play a reoccurring role in interior design. People introduce these hues into their homes in the hopes that they’ll provide a pleasant ambiance. After all, green, blue, and violet are known to be soothing and gentle. These shades aren’t harsh, and they offer subtle yet noticeable beauty. Cool tones work best when used as an accent color.

Best of all, cool hues inspire us to get our mind and body healthy. Dietitians, personal trainers, and nutritionists could amass more business if they added these hues to their company cards, logos, etc. When we see cool colors, it’s a reminder that our welfare is in our control. This message is empowering and can influence us tremendously. When we make cool shades a regular part of our lives, the perks never end.

Above all else, we can learn a thing or two from cool tones. They inspire us to seek out wisdom and understanding. When we do so, greatness follows. Simply put, cool shades urge us to be better people. These encouraging colors are as supportive as they are enlightening, which makes them positive forces. Similar to warm hues, cool colors trigger strong responses without damaging our behaviors or moods.

Learn more about cool colors.