Many distinctive brands are known for their colors and fonts.

Target is famous for its bold red bullseye. Starbucks is inextricably linked with a deep forest green. Coca-Cola has a script font that generations have grown up with.

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The famous Coca-Cola logo

It may seem like these colors and fonts are randomly chosen, but usually there is a deliberate and careful planning process that leads to the selection and design of brand colors and fonts.  

What’s most important to realize when you’re choosing your brand colors and fonts is that you’re building a system that needs to work together harmoniously.

You’re also delivering a message to your marketplace. Make sure your colors and fonts enhance your core values and underlying personality, as opposed to working against them.

Given that you probably don’t have a Fortune-100-company-sized budget, how do you pick the right colors and fonts for your company? The ones that represent who you are and what you stand for, and help you stand out in the marketplace? Below are some tips to consider as you start building the framework of your brand—namely, your colors and fonts.

First, let’s look at colors.


Find an inspiration

Colors can evoke powerful reactions. From an early age, we’ve all had our “favorite” colors. We even make classifications according to color; girls are typically associated with pink and boys are associated with blue. Studies show that people’s emotions are deeply impacted by the colors of walls or even by the colors in nature.

So how do you tap into that power? Look for photographs that grab you. Then go to an online color generator (one of my favorites in Pictaculous), and plug in your photo. These generators will automatically produce a color palette for you based on the colors in your favorite photo.

Look at paintings. Which colors evoke the mood that you want your customer to feel? If you want them to be excited about your product or service, perhaps you should choose a bold palette with hot colors. If you’re hoping to calm and nurture your customers, perhaps a more soothing palette of pastels and neutrals is a better option.


Think of the whole palette

Colors exist in the context of other colors. McDonalds is a bold interplay of red and yellow. Pepsi is a blend of red, white, and blue. Dr. Martens is a tapestry of deep black with pops of neon yellow. To be most effective, colors need to operate as a palette, and not as single colors.

Ideally, your palette will have a few bold “driver” colors. These colors will be the driving force behind your logo and other core brand elements. Your palette will also include more neutral colors to ground these driver colors. A turquoise blue is so much richer when it’s used as a “pop” color against an ecru background.

Be cognizant when you’re creating your branding and marketing materials to use your driver colors sparingly. The majority of the colors in these materials should be more neutral: black, white, or tan. The driver colors should be used to call attention to a few key elements such as your headline and sub-headlines.

Be consistent

Once you do choose your brand colors and fonts, make sure you stick to them religiously. Know your Pantone colors or your CMYK builds and make sure you use the same ones throughout all of your digital and print materials.

In today’s digital age, color consistency can be a challenge and there will be some unavoidable discrepancies. Inherently, colors display differently in digital environments than in printed environments. Different people’s monitors can be calibrated differently. But as much as you can, make sure you use your defined brand colors throughout.

And now, let’s take a look at how to choose your fonts.

To serif or not to serif?

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Example of a serif font.

Serif fonts are fonts that have a small line extending from each letter.

In the past, all fonts were serif fonts. Serif fonts are usually easier for the human eye to read, so this font will often be used for large blocks of text. Most novels you read are written in serif font.

Traditional brands like law firms and medical offices tend to use serif fonts to convey experience and professionalism.

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Example of a sans serif font.

Sans serif fonts are those without the small lines, coming from the French word “sans” which means “without.” Sans serif fonts are viewed as being more modern. Younger, hipper brands such as tech startups and digital agencies tend to use sans serif fonts to convey innovation and bold ideas.

Serif and sans serif fonts can live together in the same font system. For example, a company may use a sans serif font in its logo, but use a serif font in the body copy for its website and email newsletter. It’s fine to mix these different fonts, just make sure you have a plan in place, as opposed to randomly putting them together.

Choose different fonts for different tasks

It’s best to divide and conquer when it comes to fonts.

First, decide what font to use for your logo. Then, decide what font to use for your headlines, sub-headlines, and finally your body copy.

Make sure these fonts don’t compete with each other, but rather support and enhance each other. Also, remember what role the font should play in each category. For example, the role of a headline font should be to draw attention; the role of the body copy font should be legibility.

One quick thing to note: The font that’s in your logo is a special font that should only be used for the logo. Often business owners assume that the font of their logo should be used everywhere. But the net effect is that the logo will stand out less if it sits in a sea of the same font.

View our Business Branding Guide today!

Finally, have fun!

Just like all branding exercises, you’re playing in the sandbox of emotions when it comes to choosing colors and fonts. So it’s most important to have fun when building your color and font systems. Also, trust your gut. If the color doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. If the font feels off, it probably is.

Now, go find the colors and fonts that make your heart sing.

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Elicia Putnam
Elicia Putnam

Elicia Putnam believes in brands. After running a boutique branding agency for 12 years, she's now turning her attention to Small Business, USA and how to bring them branding services in a way that's affordable and fun. She and a group of really smart co-founders have started Brand Genie, the world's first fully automated branding agency.