Purple as a Halloween color: The science behind this seasonal triad

Sarah Fry

Design Director

Thursday, October 29, 2015

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Quick! What colors do you think of for Halloween? I bet you thought of orange first. It makes perfect sense…pumpkins are orange, leaves are orange and candy corn is orange. Historical credit is given to the Celtics for beginning the Halloween holiday as a festival of the harvest and so the iconic color of autumn was used. The color orange also signifies strength and endurance. Since the Celtics were involved in wars with Julius Caesar, they may have believed orange gave courage to those who wore the color during battle.

Was the color you thought of next purple? But why? Did you think of green as well? These are iconic colors we see associated with every Halloween item out there. Okay, so orange, purple and green are traditional Halloween colors, but there’s more to it than that. Turns out, there is more to it than just design rationale. There are scientific reasons that we pair purple and green together with orange.

For a long time, designers have understood that colors can affect moods and emotions in a major way. Color is a powerful tool for communicating and can be used to indicate an action, affect the mood and cause reactions in people’s minds.

Not only does each of these Halloween colors affect our psyche in unique ways (and each signifies something different), they create a triad on the color wheel, thus making a perfectly harmonious palette. Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then, scientists and artists have studied and designed numerous variations of this concept. If you ask me, any color wheel that presents a logically arranged sequence of pure hues has merit.

There are several techniques for successfully combining colors, and they all go back to using the basic color wheel. These three colors – orange, purple and green – are found equidistant from each other on the wheel, which is what creates the triad.

We usually see a very loud version of this triad in Halloween decorations. To use a triad successfully, the colors should be carefully balanced, letting one dominate (in Halloween’s case, orange) and the other two support as accents (purple and green).

But consider this…when these colors (or any triad, for that matter) are used in different proportion, it could read as a completely different palette. All we have to do is change the proportion of each color to create endless variations and combinations.

I could go on and on about the fun you can have with tint, tone, proportion, accent colors and the fact that even neutrals have color to them…but I won’t completely geek out over here.

Too late? Sorry. I hope this gives you an eye for color, a background on traditional Halloween colors, why we use certain colors together and what the meanings are behind each unique hue. If not, you know where to find me. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter via @IntrinzicSays.