The 50 most popular brand colors

An analysis of the 1,239 brand colors used by 456 notable brands

While working on a branding project a few weeks ago, I happened to wonder what colors were most frequently used in brand identities.

I started poking around online, feeling sure someone had already done this research and neatly organized the results. However, I wasn't really satisfied with what I found. I saw a number of eye-catching but generally meaningless infographics that look great on Pinterest but don't really contain any practical information.

Since I couldn't find the quantitative information I'd been hoping for, I took matters into my own hands and started doing some research. (It's not not scientific-grade research, mind you, but at least good enough to help answer my original question.)

I started with BrandColors, which provides the color schemes of 456 different brands. From there, I was able to export a CSS file, which I then stripped down to 1,239 hexadecimal color codes, which I then converted to a decimal RGB format.

To visualize the brand colors, I customized the vis.js library to allow the colors to be displayed on a three-dimension graph. For the sake of simplicity, I used red, green, and blue axes to organize them (since all colors displayed on a screen are made up of a blend of those three colors). Here's what I came up with:

(Click and drag to explore.)

The line through the middle represents all the grays used in brand color schemes. Grays are a mostly-even balance of red, blue, and green, which is why you see them cutting right through the middle of the graph. If you explore a bit, you'll also see the line is somewhat flat. There are some cool grays (leaning toward blue) and warm grays (leaning toward yellow), but not much in the way of greenish or purplish grays.

There's a lot of diversity in the blue areas of the graph. Blue's a nice, inoffensive color that's a popular choice for brand identities, so it's no surprise that there are plenty of light blues, dark blues, purple-blues, green-blues, and so on.

The red/orange/yellow side of the graph is pretty strong as well. You'll notice the brand colors are more focused in that area than they are in the blue area, conveying a general preference for highly-saturated colors on the warm side of the spectrum. You'll see washed-out blues (leaning toward the gray line up the middle), but much fewer faded colors on the red side.

The green side of the graph is interesting, because it doesn't the ride the wall like the blues and the reds/oranges/yellows do. There seems to be a distinct preference for more balanced, naturalistic hues there. With green such a common color in nature, perhaps there's a bit of psychological discomfort associated with the more artificial greens when used in brand colors.

As you can see, the most interesting part of the graph isn't necessarily where the colors are, but where they're not. For whatever reason, certain colors just don't seem work well for branding, and you can clearly see that through the gaps and sparsely-populated areas of the graph.

Top 50 brand colors as Crayola crayons

Beyond visualizing the brand colors in three dimensions, I was also curious to try tallying them along basic color palettes, just to see which specific colors were most popular.

I did this by writing a script that cycled through various palettes, comparing them with each of the 1,239 brand colors to measure the distance between them, and then sorting them by smallest distance to largest to find the nearest color matches.

Just for fun, I decided to use the 163 standard Crayola crayon colors. Here are the top 50 matches, based on frequency:

  Count Name
  79 Outer Space
  60 Midnight Blue
  56 Maximum Red
  48 Black
  47 Mango Tango
  43 Middle Yellow
  40 Cerulean
  32 Yellow-Orange
  31 Eggplant
  28 Red-Orange
  26 White
  24 Manatee
  23 Geranium Lake
  23 Charcoal Gray
  22 Blue (I)
  22 Maximum Green
  22 Green
  17 Inchworm
  17 Denim
  17 Green-Blue
  17 Navy Blue
  16 Razzmatazz
  15 Asparagus
  14 Maximum Blue
  14 Dark Venetian Red
  14 Orange-Red
  14 Gray
  13 Blue-Green
  13 Cadet Blue
  13 Burnt Orange
  13 Tropical Rain Forest
  12 Mountain Meadow
  12 Pig Pink
  11 Scarlet
  11 Sunset Orange
  11 Venetian Red
  11 Fern
  11 Cerulean Blue
  10 Timberwolf
  10 Red
  9 Blue (II)
  9 Blue-Violet
  9 Shamrock
  9 Pacific Blue
  9 Middle Green Yellow
  8 Robin's Egg Blue
  7 Blue-Gray
  7 Indigo
  7 Turquoise Blue
  7 Periwinkle

A particular brand color being common or not common doesn't necessarily mean that it's good or bad in itself. However, this can be useful information to keep in mind when developing color schemes for a new brand. While there's a certain advantage to having a distinctive color scheme, there may also be social, psychological, or cultural reasons why certain colors are seldom used.

There's no disputing that color selection is one of the more complicated areas of design, but hopefully this information helps you with working out the right solution for your situation. At the very least, it satisfied my curiosity, and sometimes that's enough!

James Archer

About James Archer

James Archer is a respected author, speaker, and consultant on the subjects of user experience design, customer experience design, design thinking, marketing, and branding. He has worked on projects for clients like Microsoft, Walmart, Motorola, and Yahoo, and projects he's worked on have appeared in U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, New York Times, AdAge, NPR, and others. Learn more about James