The contrast between the foreground and the background is one of the most important factors in determining how easy a sign is to read. If colored text is used on a bright background, the contrast, and the readability of the message will be weak. That is why the use of white lettering on a dark or contrasting background is usually the most effective and clearest way of presenting text. It is easy to read and allows the memory to be easily retained. This is why highway signs typically use white typefaces against a dark green or dark brown background. The Outdoor Advertising Institute says that reverse lettering in this manner can make a sign up to 40% more visible. The power of colors as a marketing tool can be easily understood by the fact that big businesses pay millions of dollars to psychologists to find colors that will elicit an emotional reaction from potential customers. Did you know that prison cells are often painted in special calming colors to make the inmates less violent?
There is a simple test to prove how important this is when a business is using signage to promote itself. When driving down a main road during the day or night, pay special attention to the signs and billboards that line the way. It soon becomes apparent that white lettering is more easily read than dark ones, especially at night. On the other hand light backgrounds tend to blend in with the sky, making the sign easy to miss.
The use of colored borders in signs is another issue that needs careful examination. In general a border tends to make a sign look smaller than it really is. Borders may also clutter up the signs with features and colors that distract the eye away from the main message that the sign is supposed to convey.
The Correct Use of Colors
A businessman considering the use of signage to promote his business should not allow personal taste to dictate the colors used in the signs. While individual reactions to different colors can vary, here are a few of the generally accepted reactions to common colors used in signage.
- Green is among the most prevalent colors in nature and is the preferred color for companies and products that want to be seen as environment friendly.
- Blue is a color typically related to trust and one which a company wants to be known as being trustworthy will use. It is the most common color used in the logos of Fortune 500 companies.
- Yellow is a color that stands out, but that is not always a good thing. Black on yellow signs are highly visible which is why these are the colors used in highway caution and danger signs. It may not be in the best interests of a business to have their signs use a color with a negative image – yellow is the color of lemons, bananas, jaundice, cowardice and so on. An exception is the use of gold which denotes wealthy and prosperity. However, it should be clearly differentiated from just yellow.
- Red is a color that is used a lot in food packaging. This is because psychologists say that it is associated with excitement and nervous energy which are both associated with hunger.
- Brown is thought to be a bland dull color that is associated with sadness and melancholy. These are not associations that will promote a product.
These are only general observations. Each business and product are different. The way a sign is designed and the wording used on it can modify or even reverse the normal associations of the colors. When planning to use signs to promote a business or an event, a signage professional will be able to offer invaluable advice on what needs to be done to maximize the impact of the message that the sign conveys.