Color Associations: The Meaning of Red

“When I gain these ruby slippers, my power will be the greatest in Oz!” 
– The Wicked Witch of the West

Color associations are powerful tools for graphic designers. Whether you work primarily in the digital space, in print or both, it’s vital to understand how the human mind responds to color. Red in particular is a color that requires careful application and precise usage; otherwise, it can overwhelm your audience.

meaning-of-redThere is no greater authority on the subject than Pantone, of course, so we delved into one of our favorite books. The following excerpt was first published in Color: Messages and Meanings by Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. Based on extensive research and filled with pages of luscious-to-subtle hues, photographs, and illustrations, this book is an inspiring resource for designers. 

Color Associations: The Meaning of Red

an excerpt from Color: Messages and Meanings by Leatrice Eiseman

From the beginning of time red has been deeply ingrained in the human mind as a signal to act or re-act, to fight or flee. It is the color of life-sustaining blood or the life-threatening bloodshed as well as the color of enticing, appetite arousing ripened fruit and delicious foots that sustain humans’ very existence.

photo from Shutterstock

Red is an unrelenting hue. As an attention-getter, red can muscle out surrounding colors—whether on a website, in the window of a designer boutique or on a super market shelf. Red’s more aggressive traits have to be handles judiciously so that the viewer is not overwhelmed or antagonized by its demanding presence. But if demanding is what you want, then red is your color.

The most physical color in the spectrum, red suggests the very ebb and flow of life. It is the most viscerally alive hue, the symbolic color of the heart, strong willed and expressing stron emotions. It may command us to stop but at the same time encourages movement. Physiologically, red is a call to the adrenaline glands to get the body and senses activated.

Brick reds are always connected to the earth, bringing the inevitable thoughts of country and warmth, yet not without a bit of the exotic interplay when combined with other unexpected earth tone shades, such as aubergine or vegetal yellow greens.

A selection of Pantone reds and their associations:

Light Pink

Pantone 1895 PC

Positive associations: romantic, affectionate, compassionate, soft, sweet tasting, sweet smelling, tender, delicate, innocent, fragile, youthful

Negative associations: too sweet


Dusty Pink

Pantone 693 PC

Positive: soft, subtle, cozy, dusky, gentle, composed, nostalgic


Bright Pink

Pantone 205 PC

Positive: exciting, theatrical, playful, hot, attention-getting, high-energy, sensual, wild, tropical, festive, vibrant, stimulating, flirtatious

Negative: gaudy


Bright Red

Pantone 186 PC

Positive: exciting, energizing, sexy, passionate, hot, dynamic, stimulating, provocative, dramatic, powerful, courageous, magnetic, assertive, impulsive, adventurous, demanding, stirring, spontaneous, motivating

Negative: overly aggressive, violent, warlike, temperamental, antagonistic, danger


Brick Red

Pantone 188 PC

Positive: earthy, warm, strong, sturdy, established, country


Deep Reds

Pantone 1945 PC

Positive: rich, elegant, refined, tasty, expensive, mature, sumptuous, cultivated, luxurious, robust