Business cards are all about making connections. Much more than simply eye-catching, the right color combinations on business cards are invaluable tools for visual communication that work subconsciously to reinforce your brand, foster an emotional connection with the viewer and bolster that all-too-important first impression.
But the wrong color combinations not only make a card look unprofessional, they could also make it illegible. When it comes down to it, picking the best color combination is part intuition, part science. It’s ultimately about who you are and what you want the reader to feel. To help demystify this process, we’ll walk you through every consideration for finding the best color combination for your business card.
Can’t wait to put these principles into practice? Start exploring color combinations on business cards with VistaPrint—and get them printed when you find the perfect pair.
The science of business card color combinations
The color wheel is a pictorial representation of how colors appear in light. Essentially, it’s the rainbow rendered in circular form. Designers create color schemes using the relative location of each color on this wheel. This approach takes the guesswork out of finding color combinations—the results are mathematically assured!
[Image needed: color wheel diagram showing the various schemes]
Here are the most common color wheel schemes:
- Analogous colors are next to one another
- Complementary colors are opposite from one another
- Triadic colors are three colors equidistant from one another
The color wheel is made up of primary hues—that is, the pure version of the color. When crafting unique color combinations, be sure to consider saturation (adding brightness, or tint, to the hue) and value (adding darkness, or shade, to the hue). With digital color wheels (like Adobe Color), saturation and value are usually represented by depth, with the center being pure black and the outer rim being pure white.
Pro tip: With a single hue (or an analogous color scheme), you can vary the saturation and value to give your business card a soft gradient.
By Jecakp via 99designs by Vista
Color psychology describes the way that colors make viewers feel. Through experience and cultural reinforcement, we subconsciously associate each color with an emotion. Designers choose color combinations with these associations in mind to strategically communicate. For business cards, choose colors whose associations support one another and speak to your brand values.
[Image needed: something representing color psychology]
Some common Western color associations are:
- White – neatness, purity
- Black – power, seriousness
- Gray – formality, convention
- Brown – honesty, dependability
- Red – danger, passion
- Orange – creativity, safety
- Yellow – happiness, unpredictability
- Green – nature, life
- Blue – security, stability
- Purple – royalty, spirituality
Warm colors vs. cool colors
In addition to emotional associations, colors have a temperature, and contrasting or harmonizing these temperatures is another way to come up with dynamic color schemes. This can be literal (red for fire, blue for ice), but a more helpful way to think about temperature is energy. Bright, high energy colors read as warm, whereas mellow, muted colors will read as cool.
[Image needed: the below colors split up into warm and cool, maybe in another wheel shape]
- Warm color examples: orange, red, yellow
- Cool color examples: blue, purple, green
Natural colors are those we associate with specific imagery in our everyday world. By drawing on the power of the environment, natural colors give a visceral, material sense in addition to emotional associations. Consider how an environmental brand uses green to symbolize earth whereas a luxury brand might use another shade of green to symbolize money.
By HYPdesign via 99designs by Vista
Tips for effective color combinations on business cards
How many colors to use
There is an infinite variety of colors you can potentially combine, but space on a business card is limited. Because color is a supporting player—the actual information is the star—using too many colors can distract.
By conceptu via 99designs by Vista
Many businesses pair a single color with neutral tones like white, black or gray. With two colors, one main color does the heavy lifting while a secondary, accent color highlights important details. Even for expert designers, three or more colors on such a small space is difficult to pull off. For your first business card design, we recommend color combinations of no more than two.
Using color for contrast and emphasis
Beyond emotional communication, one of the most important jobs that color does is aid readability through contrast and emphasis. Contrast makes sure that design elements are visually distinct by setting dark colors against light colors—or vice versa. Consider how hard on the eyes sunny yellow text on a lime green background would be!
By Rose ❋ via 99designs by Vista
Emphasis involves using color as visual landmarks to draw the eye to important details first. A common strategy is to color the icons next to the contact information so that readers can quickly find an email or phone number when they need it. This is where an accent color comes in handy—the eye naturally picks out what is rare.
Which business card elements typically receive color
Any part of a business card can receive color, but there are some common areas designers typically choose for better visual communication. First and foremost, color should be placed in a way that enhances the reading experience.
By Bojana. via 99designs by Vista
- Background – As the biggest canvas on the business card, the background can establish the overall mood. Designers will often color the whole background (especially on the back of the card) or will craft abstract background shapes out of solid colors, gradients, patterns or other techniques.
- Text – Text is usually given color to stand out from the background or to distinguish other, lower priority text. Unless color is specifically needed for either of these reasons, it’s usually best to stick with plain black or another dark color.
- Icons – Icons are often given an accent color to draw the eye quickly to them.
- Graphics – Graphic elements like a logo, photo or illustration will come with their own set of colors. To avoid excess colors, it’s best to reuse logo and brand colors.
Logo colors and branding
If you’re an established business, you may have created a logo and brand identity (if not, we’ve got you covered). In this case, your color combinations are already decided—reuse those colors for your business card to foster brand consistency. In cases where your brand colors may be too bold to adapt in large portions to a business card, introducing neutrals like black, white or gray is a great alternative.
By Arthean via 99designs by Vista
Understandably, many working professionals won’t go to the trouble of creating a personal logo for their business card. If this sounds familiar, you still have to think of yourself as a brand in order to decide what color combinations will foster the right impression.
Color combinations and black and white
While not technically colors, it’s helpful to think of neutrals like white, black and gray as important to consider for color combinations. Keep in mind that all color combinations will interact with neutrals in addition to each other.
By Hasanssin via 99designs by Vista
Along these same lines is whitespace, sometimes called negative space—the empty parts of your business card. Although whitespace is empty, that doesn’t mean the viewer doesn’t see it, and there’s even a psychology to that emptiness. Large amounts of whitespace (whether or not it’s actually white) creates a sense of lightness and serenity. A busy, full card conveys weight and boldness.
Business card material
Printed business cards are a tactile experience, and there are various textures that can affect how the color is displayed. Foil adds a metallic sheen, embossing creates natural shadows and even the card material can add a roughness that deepens the color.
By hyakume via 99designs by Vista
It’s sometimes tempting to treat these finishing touches as exactly that—last minute purchases. But because they can dramatically change the way color comes across, plan for materials and textures early on in your coloring process. Even after you’ve chosen your color combinations, print out a test card before putting in a full order to make sure nothing gets lost in the translation from digital to physical.
Best business card color combinations
Whites and golds
Ivory and gold are both associated with wealth. Gold itself can be gaudy if overused, so as an accent color, it pairs perfectly with the neutral blankness of white. This combination creates a clean, minimalist aesthetic with a subtle touch of glamor suitable for luxury brands.
By ultrastjarna via 99designs by Vista
Blacks and silvers
In our digital age, black and silver have an immediate correlation with tech devices. This metallic color combination expresses innovation and modernity. While black on its own is somber, silver adds a touch of dashing sleekness. As a subtle pairing—you might not even notice the silver foil until the light hits it—this intentional subversion of attention shows confidence.
By conceptu via 99designs by Vista
Grays and oranges
In the suit-and-tie business world, bold colors like orange get a bad rap as childish. Pure neutrals like gray, while adequately adult, suggest lifeless conformity. But together, orange and gray invite warmth with buttoned-up professionalism, particularly when orange is the accent color.
By Prozmajevski via 99designs by Vista
Blues and greens
Blues and greens have natural associations with the plants and water, making them the go-to combination for environmental brands. But somewhat contradictorily, neon varieties of blue and green are reminiscent of the unnatural lights of computers, making them a popular choice for tech or future-focused brands.
By smashingbug via 99designs by Vista
Reds and blues
The combination of red and blue is reminiscent of childhood, bolstered by its popularity with superhero costumes. In their lighter forms (pink and baby blue), these colors have stronger connotations with babies. Generally, this combination is great for brands whose work involves children or may be going for nostalgic, playful—even sporty—effect.
By pecas™ via 99designs by Vista
Purples and yellows
Even in darker shades, purple has a vibrancy that pairs well with the joyful warmth of yellow. Like most energetic color combinations, it’s easy to go loud with both of these colors, which is why they are useful for bold, risk-taking brands. In the pictured example, these colors grab the viewer’s attention to pique their curiosity with a cryptic logo and QR code.
By bo_rad via 99designs by Vista
Oranges and blues
Orange and blue is a classic and surprisingly versatile complementary combination. While lighter versions of each color come across as youthful, darker versions fit right at home in professional business settings. In addition to offsetting warm against cool, blue’s associations with stability and trust are a perfect counterweight to the creativity and daring of orange.
By Jecakp via 99designs by Vista
Blacks and pinks
Black and pink are a high contrast pair in more ways than one. In terms of their actual color, you have light versus dark, and in terms of their psychology, you have danger versus innocence. The colors are an irresistible pair of opposites, cuteness with an edge, for business cards that want the best of both worlds.
By Yokaona via 99designs by Vista
Reds and browns
Red and brown (especially a lighter beige) reminds viewers of desert settings, lending a rustic ambiance to business cards. For this reason, the combination is useful for brands with a rugged, outdoorsy vibe, like a woodworking business.
By ludibes via 99designs by Vista
Blues and yellows
As a cool color, blue balances out sunnier hues, which is why a yellow accent can add a dose of warmth in a moody sea. Both colors naturally harmonize triggering peaceful associations (that of serenity for blue and joy for yellow) while the temperature contrast creates irresistible visual tension.
By Moxie Mason via 99designs by Vista
Yellows and browns
Yellow and brown are an analogous earth-tone color combination. Because they lack the vibrancy of environmental colors like green or blue, this combination has a muted sensibility that evokes salt-of-the-earth maturity.
By velvetmade via 99designs by Vista
Get started combining colors on your business card
Between visual communication and emotional resonance, color combinations do important work on business cards. While reading and understanding how color combinations work is a great start, there’s no substitute for practice. With tools like VistaCreate, you can quickly mockup business cards to test out color combinations before committing. When you’re ready, you can easily upload, customize and print your business card designs through VistaPrint.