Red – The Color Of Love & The Devil

Author: Shoshana Burgett,

Audrey Hepburn once said, “There is a shade of red for every woman.”  Red is a go-to lipstick / nail polish color; it’s the color of love (and the devil); it’s a patriotic color, and it’s the color of Dorothy’s shoes.  It’s also a popular color used in logos and packaging, think Coca Cola, Target, Levi’s, Lego, Netflix, Kellogg’s, Toyota, etc. The human brain is so pliable to the color red that a red room will make you feel warmer.

The color red has the ability to sway our decision and critical thinking. Human brains react faster, and the color almost comes at us with a force. It is one of the reasons stop signs are red. Red literally makes us go fast, and it’s why that ‘little red Corvette’ costs more. Teams whose uniforms are red tend to score better when competing with teams with non red uniforms. Red pushes and drives us. It’s a color full of energy, excitement and action.



Love is passion, heat, and in some cultures, the color of the wedding dress. Red is a symbol of love,  desire, sexuality and dominance.  I think Christain Lubitan’s shoes evoke all of those emotions at once. Even during economic downturns, women will buy that red lipstick; red is a ‘pick-me-up’, and lipstick is a small luxury item. If your waitress serving you dinner this weekend is wearing a red uniform, be careful, a study found men tipped higher when female waitresses wore red. Red raises our pulse rate; it stimulates the fight or flight mechanism.



From Snow White’s Red apple, to the red stripes on a snake, red is also a warning sign for danger or poison. In fact,  the pigments, Vermilion and Cinnabar, which produce a brilliant red are highly poisonous. These mercury based pigments were once known as ‘Dragon’s Blood’. Red 40, a red food coloring used today, has been linked to hyperactivity in children and physical and behavioral toxicity in rats.

For millions of years, red stood for poison. The animal kingdom has a term for it, Aposematism, the use of color by animals to communicate to predators to stay away. The Red-Head Poison Dart Frog of Peru, may be tiny but its skin contains pumiliotoxins, a poison that interferes with heart and skeletal muscles. Some animals, like the Sonoran coral snake, even incorporate red into their skin pattern to create that perception and keep predators away.

The material is as critical to the design as the color, and both must work together.


Humans are very sensitive to the color red. Have you ever gone to the store to buy a matching red lipstick or tie only to bring the item home to realize its the wrong shade.  It’s easy to see color variations in red. The color red looks brighter in bright light because the wavelength distribution is not as visible at low light levels.  In fact,  some reds can appear almost black at night.  This is one of the reasons fire engines have begun shifting to the color yellow.

Getting the perfect red in production can be challenging. The type of media used has a dramatic effect on reds. A red logo printed on corrugated will look very different than on coated paper or uncoated paper.  The variations can be substantial. This is true for paper, textiles, or vinyl, where one small tip in a yellow or blue of the base material can swing that final red in a very different direction than the designer intended. The only way to ensure the red you specify with your printer; dye house or manufacturer is with a formula and material specification.

To ensure an accurate red, designers should also consider the paper/substrate brightness. The International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) paper brightness measurement system, as defined by ISO 2470-1 and TAPPI T 525, is used to specify paper brightness throughout Europe and in many other parts of the world. When measuring ISO brightness, a paper sample is measured with a device to simulate daylight and measure the UV Energy.

If your supplier says they have a comparable media to the one you specified, then ask them to provide the brightness measurements for the new media and compare it to the one your client wants. Leading paper brands like Sappi, Domtar and many others all publish their brightness levels on their websites.

Red can project love or anger, Sex or Danger

How we specify the color red is also essential. Take Pantone 185, a bright fire-engine red. In RGB, it is 228 Red, 0 Green, and 43 Blue; the RGB colors make color on your monitor, screens, and tablets. For print productions, it would be in CMYK, 0 Cyan, 100 Magenta, 89 Yellow, and 0 Black. For website designers, it is HEX/HTML E4002B. As a Pantone spot color, the red is very vivid and bright, but when it moves to CMYK, it turns a slightly orangey color. From a design perspective, is your client going to accept the CMYK version? If your client is expecting the Pantone Spot color, a CMYK proof will likely not line up with their expectations. It may be better to align expectations or speak to the client about the costs associated to produce specific spot colors.

For textiles, one must consider the dye and materials. A red dye on a heather material will produce various depths of red due to the mixed colors of the fiber. Coloro, a textile reference system based on Munsell, uses Hue, Lightness, and Chroma to categorize their colors. Coloro has no equivalent to Pantone 185, its closest color is 014-48-36, which can be found in their Coloro Workspace. This color is so close to the orange line; an apparel designer would want to work with their color and material specialist for help getting the spectral data for the color and material. This would ensure the textile meets the client’s needs.


As Christian Dior said, “There is a red for everybody”.  For designers, take the time to consider your materials, inks, dyes or pigments used in formulating your perfect shade of red. Don’t waste valuable time and budget circling back and forth with your supplier, work with them to identify and align on the red upfront. It will bring passion and success to your project, and your client will love you.


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