The Colors of the Rainbow for Designers

The Colors of the Rainbow for Designers

12 min read

Remember that handy acronym you learned growing up to remember the colors of the rainbow: ROY G. BIV? If you were paying attention in school, you’d remember that that acronym stands for the actual rainbow color order.

What are the colors of the rainbow?

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Indigo
  • Violet
Image Source: Mateus Campos Felipe 

But why do the colors of the rainbow matter, you might ask? Well, if you’re a designer, being familiar with the spectrum of colors that can be used in design is essential.

This article will talk about the history behind the rainbow colors and discuss how to use each color in your designs. We’re going back to the basics to discuss the color wheel and how colors can make an audience feel.

It’s no secret that specific colors evoke different emotions in an audience. Some create a happy, nostalgic feeling, and others evoke feelings of power and passion. Some colors even convince people to spend more money or return to your store.

According to CNN, people are 15 percent more likely to come back to stores with blue color schemes than they are to those with orange color schemes. That 15 percent can make a big difference when it comes to sales.

As a designer with a focus on marketing and sales, knowing how colors make your audience feel can be a game-changer. If you can convince people to buy products using not only your design skills, but your knowledge of color psychology, you’ll be raking in the dough.

Color psychology studies how different colors impact the human brain and its instincts and emotions.

We all have a favorite color and certain hues that we naturally gravitate to, but as a designer, it’s important to dive deeper than that. When you’re creating designs, you need to be aware of each color’s effect on the overall reaction to your piece.

All of this talk about color got us thinking about the rainbow and how it came to be. Let’s dive into it.

What is the History Behind the Colors of the Rainbow?

We’ve all seen how breathtaking a natural rainbow looks after a hard rainstorm. As a kid, getting to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was a major (albeit unattainable) goal.

But you likely haven’t put much thought into the history of rainbows. Sure, it’s just a beam of light in the sky that’s pretty to look at. But the history behind the 7 colors of the rainbow isn’t so simple.

We did some digging and discovered that the history behind the colors of the rainbow is much more exciting and scientific than you might think.

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Spoiler alert: it involves some famous dead guys, a magic number, and music.

Let’s start by talking about the visible spectrum of light.

The Visible Spectrum of Light

We have the brilliant Sir Isaac Newton to thank for everything we know about rainbows today.

Sir Isaac Newton was an all-around genius, mathematician, astronomer, and author widely recognized as one of the greatest minds of all time.

I for Isaac Newton
I for Isaac Newton designed by Diana Urquiza Negrete. Connect with them on Dribbble; the global community for designers and creative professionals.

He is known for his mathematical equations, discovering and defining the laws of gravity, and discovering how we perceive color.

In the 17th century, Newton discovered the visible spectrum of light. The visual spectrum of light creates the rainbow colors that we see in the sky after a storm.

He discovered this by breaking apart white light using water droplets and uncovered the visual spectrum of colored light. The reflection of light in water droplets is what creates the rainbow spectrum that we’re all familiar with.

But, the rainbow isn’t automatically separated into a certain number of distinct colors. It is a spectrum of colors that blurs together. Newton decided to separate the spectrum to make the colors easier to refer to and understand, and that is how we ended up with the colors of the rainbow.

But why 7 colors? That’s a great question.

Allow us to take you even further down this rabbit hole. Let’s talk about the magic of the number 7.

The Magic of Seven

Seven is a lucky number. We all know that.

But there is much more to that number than you might think. And it all starts way back in Ancient Greece with a guy named Pythagoras.

Pythagoras of Samos was a Greek philosopher who lived during the 6th century BC. As an early philosopher, he influenced some of the most famous philosophers we know of today, including Plato and Aristotle.

We’ve got him to thank for discovering the Pythagorean theorem, the sphericity of the Earth, and identifying the morning and evening stars as Venus.

Pythagoras
Pythagoras designed by Oleg Tischenkov. Connect with them on Dribbble; the global community for designers and creative professionals.

Like any mathematician, this guy loved numbers. But he had a special interest in the number 7.

Pythagoras had a theory that 7 is a magical number. According to him, it is the sum of the 3 spiritual (father, son, holy ghost) and the 4 materials (earth, wind, fire, water).

He also discovered that the 7 musical notes could be transformed into mathematical equations. Keep this in mind- we’ll circle back to it later.

And if you think about it, 7 really is a number that pops up everywhere. The 7 deadly sins, the 7 days of the week, and the 7 wonders of the world, to name a few.

As a big fan of Pythagoras, Newton was undoubtedly aware of the magic of the number 7. He actively agreed with the concept of the magic of 7.

When Newton set out to separate the colors of the rainbow, he initially selected only 5 colors to define the spectrum of colors. These colors were red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. But, to honor the magic of the number 7, he went back and added two more colors: orange and indigo.

He did this to acknowledge and confirm Pythagoras’ theory that there is a link between colors and music. Because there are 7 musical notes, Newton thought there should be 7 colors to match each musical note.

And thus, the 7 colors of the rainbow were born.

Let’s talk a little bit about the color spectrum and how it can be broken down.

The Color Wheel

Now that we’ve covered the history lesson, let’s talk about how this impacts us in the 21st century.

The color wheel is an essential part of design and art. If you went to design school, this might be a bit of a recap, but if you’re a DIY designer looking to brush up on your design knowledge, this is invaluable information.

Knowing the connection between color combinations and the way that specific colors complement or clash is a fundamental skill for designers.

So, let’s talk about the color wheel.

Image Source: Copic Marker Tutorials

You probably remember this image from school, be it design school or art classes growing up.

Also created by our good friend Sir Isaac Newton, the color wheel made it easier to find relationships between colors. Because the light spectrum is a straight line, it needed to be amended to create what we now know as the color wheel.

Newton arranged the 7 musical notes and placed corresponding colors next to their respective musical notes to create the color wheel.

Fun fact: If you spin the color wheel quickly enough, you will see only white.

Quick physics lesson for you: colors are visible light that has a specific wavelength. We see all colors in light waves. Black and white are not considered colors because they do not have their own wavelengths.

Simply put, white light comprises all color wavelengths, while Black is the absence of light. So, when you spin the color wheel and see white, it is because your eye is picking up all color wavelengths simultaneously.

In the color wheel, there are:

  • 3 primary colors: red, yellow, and blue
  • 3 secondary colors: orange, green, and violet
  • 6 tertiary colors: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet

Primary colors cannot be produced by mixing other colors. Secondary colors are created by combining two primary colors. And tertiary colors are formed by mixing a primary and secondary color.

You might notice one color of the rainbow is missing from the primary and secondary colors: Indigo. Indigo is a blue-violet color. Its absence from the color wheel and its similarities to blue and violet make it the most controversial rainbow color. We’ll talk more about that later.

It’s also important to note the connection between colors that are opposite from each other on the color wheel. These are called complementary colors.

These are the three sets of basic complementary colors:

  • Yellow and purple
  • Blue and orange
  • Red and green

Now that we’ve covered the history of the rainbow colors and their relationships, let’s talk about each color individually.

What are the Seven Colors of the Rainbow?

The 7 basic colors of the rainbow are the main colors used in design and art.

Colors all have their own connotation and subconscious connections. They vary from person to person, but there are some overarching themes that each color represents.

Having a grasp on these colors and their meanings is crucial for graphic designers, interior decorators, artists, and more.

There is a rare condition called Synesthesia that creates an effect in which interacting with something (music, food, colors, etc.) can stimulate several senses at once. This condition impacts a small number of the population but is nonetheless fascinating regarding how we perceive color.

People who have color synesthesia (the most common form of this condition) can perceive color as connecting to a certain number, letter, or feeling. There are many famous artists and musicians who experience this condition, including Vladimir Nabokov, John Mayer, and Billy Joel.

People without synesthesia experience this on a smaller scale. They may not actively connect colors with a feeling or sound, but they likely feel it subconsciously. Many connect a particular color with their own memories or collective memories of a season, feeling, or piece of media.

Colors can impact moods both positively and negatively, as we discussed before, it can even impact one’s willingness to spend money or return to a certain place. And you don’t need to be a synesthete to feel it.

This is something designers can use to their advantage when creating art. But keep in mind, colors might mean one thing in Western cultures and an entirely different thing for another culture. We’ll try and give you an overview of what these colors mean, but we encourage you to do your own independent research.

Let’s take a look at the most common interpretations of these colors and the common feelings and thoughts associated with them.

Red

Image Source: (Left) Alexander Mils | (Right) Daniele Levis Pelusi

Red is the color of passion, fire, and love. However, it is also a color that can represent blood, gore, and war. Either way you look at it, this is a powerful color.

A deep red has a sensual, powerful energy. However, using bright red in a design can create a brilliant pop of color.

When coupled with muted colors, it can stand out and be a statement color. And, when you pair it with green, it can represent Christmas or winter themes.

Overall, using red in your designs is a powerful statement, but it can be overwhelming and overpowering if not used correctly.

Orange

Image Source: (Left) Nico Mksmc | (Right) Oleg Laptev 

The color orange is a vibrant, rich color that vibrates with energy. It is a color strongly associated with youth, flamboyance, and creativity.

Certain orange hues can remind people of the leaves in the fall. Others bring up memories of childhood and summer. It is also the color of a sunset or the afternoon sun.

Orange is a secondary color that comes from mixing red and yellow. It combines the best things about both colors and incorporates them into designs.

Using orange in design can have the same powerful connotations as red without being so sharp. It also has the same exciting edge that yellow has without being too bright.

However, as we learned above, some people aren’t as attracted to this color, so be wary of this when using it in your designs.

Yellow

Image Source: (Left) Jason Leung | (Right) Markus Spiske 

Yellow is a light, fun color that evokes feelings of summer and citrus. It is also one of the three primary colors.

The color yellow is the brightest color on this list and can be used in design to bring up feelings of happiness and warmth. It is the color of sunflowers, citrus fruit, and heat.

Light yellow brings a sense of calm and serenity to designs, and can remind viewers of their childhood and soothing thoughts. Bright yellow is a ray of sunshine that can excite and energize.

Mustard yellow has been trendy in design lately, especially in interior and fashion design.

Yellow has different meanings in different countries. For example, in Japan, yellow is a color of courage. In Egypt, it represents mourning.

Green

Image Source: (Left) Rohit Ranwa | (Right) Ateke Iranmanesh 

Green is an earthy color that fondly reminds people of nature and being outside. Using the color green in a design brings your work down to earth. It has a crisp, relaxing effect on viewers.

This stabilizing color can have a subduing quality when used correctly. It is also the color of money, so it can be a signifier of wealth or luxury.

In 2021, two significant design trends were natural colors and jewel tones. Green fits right into both trends, depending on which hue you use.

Emerald green is a perfect jewel tone that has been trendy in interior design as of late. And for the natural look, lighter greens have an energetic appeal, while dark green is more stable and calm.

Blue

Image Source: (Left) Mathias P.R. Reding | (Right) Alex Shutin 

Blue is the color of the sea, and it brings up nostalgic memories of being near the water. Whether you grew up near the ocean or your local swimming pool, many childhood memories are formed in the water.

It can also be a color that evokes melancholy or sadness. In literature and pop culture, to be blue is to be sad.

The color blue can be used in many different ways depending on the hue. Light blue is refreshing and exciting, while dark blue is stoic and reliable.

Many people are attracted to this color and may be inclined to think fondly of your brand or return to your store when you use it as a decorative color or brand color. Because of this, blue is a popular branding color for social media platforms. We’re looking at you, Facebook and Twitter.

Blue is also considered to be a reliable, trustworthy color which is why it is often used for brand designs. Overall, blue is a great color to use for design and is incredibly versatile. If you’re not already using blue in your designs, it is time to start.

Indigo

Image Source: (Left) Fakurian Design | (Right) FOODISM360

Indigo is a controversial color for this list. It’s somewhere between violet and blue and is the only color in the rainbow that isn’t a primary or secondary color.

So why is it one of the rainbow colors? You’ll need to take that up with Sir Isaac Newton. Some might say indigo doesn't belong in this list, but we’re not going to color bash here.

Sure, indigo might be a bit of a black sheep, but it can be powerful when used in design.

Indigo is the color of blue jeans. And because of the strong connection between blue jeans and American culture, indigo can represent a pure, all-American aesthetic.

The color indigo can also be an opulent, rich color. It’s quite moody and solemn, but it can be an excellent color for graphic design and interior design when used right.

When you can’t decide if you should use blue or purple in a design, you can always go for indigo.

Violet

Image Source: (Left) Daniele Levis Pelusi | (Right) Sharon McCutcheon

Violet is a playful, fun color that has a youthful feel to it. It is a secondary color that we get from mixing blue and red.

You might be thinking, “isn’t this the same color as purple?” And you’re not alone.

Violet is very similar to purple. However violet is a spectral color (like the color spectrum we talked about above), while purple is a combination of red and blue (or violet) light.

If violet were a season, it would be spring. It also has strong connections with spirituality. The color violet can be viewed as a romantic color, much like reds and pinks. It is also the color of valentines and spring flowers.

Fun fact: Violet is both a warm and cool color. Because of this, it will appear differently depending on which colors you place it with.

Wrap Up

And that’s a wrap on rainbow colors! You now know way more about the rainbow than you probably ever thought you would.

Hopefully, this has inspired you to create your own designs using the colors of the rainbow. With Vectornator, creating designs is easy.

We’d love to see the designs you create; follow us on social media and tag us so we can see the work you create. We might even share it on our socials.

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