What Are Dark Colors and How Do You Use Them to Set the Right Mood?

Dark colors in abstract drawing

One study found that even saying the name of a color produces a strong emotional response. Visual stimuli have an even stronger connection when it comes to color and mood. Dark colors are sometimes associated with seriousness and somberness, but they can also have other psychological associations. For example, burgundy often evokes feelings of sumptuous comfort, while purple may make some viewers think of royalty.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what constitutes a dark color and how dark colors are used to set the mood in a variety of frameworks. You can find tons of advice on how to use bright colors to draw attention and set a tone or mood in advertising, decorating or dressing. However, using darker colors to persuade or draw out an emotion is a bit of a black box. Fortunately, you can deepen your understanding of color theory by spending some time on the dark side in the sections below.

What Is a Dark Color?

Black is probably the first color that comes to mind when you think of dark colors. Technically, black refers to an absence of light or hues that reflect very little light. While some may argue that black isn’t a color at all, you can choose black furniture, black paint and black sweaters at the furniture store, paint shop or from your closet. Therefore, arguing that black is not a hue at all is an esoteric exercise.

Mixing black paint into other colors makes them darker and changes the brightness of lighter pigments. However, you can also choose dark tones such as browns and grays to darken a color and achieve different effects. Combining gray, black or brown with bright colors, for example, gives us burgundy, hunter green, russet, charcoal and other shades.

In fact, early cave dwellers used black paint to depict scenes from their life and mythology as far back as the Stone Age.

Ancient stone age painting in a dark cave

Examples of Dark Colors

There are so many shades of dark colors it would be nearly impossible to mention all of them, but here’s a list that includes a few dark color names, along with their hexadecimal code if you want to use them in a design:

  • Black | Hexadecimal Code: #000000
  • Charcoal | Hexadecimal Code: #36454F
  • Gray | Hexadecimal Code: #808080
  • Russet | Hexadecimal Code: #80461B
  • Tyrian Purple | Hexadecimal Code: #66023C
  • Navy Blue | Hexadecimal Code: #000080
  • Burgundy | Hexadecimal Code: #800020
  • Hunter Green | Hexadecimal Code: #355E3B

In order to fully understand the technical definition of dark colors, it’s helpful to understand color qualities such as hue, value and chroma.

Qualities of Color

Illustration of hue, value and chroma color qualities

Hue, value and chroma influence the impact of dark colors. Here’s a quick explanation of what these terms mean.

Hue (Basic Color)

Hues are based on the primary colors of red, yellow and blue (RYB) or red, green and blue (RGB). Under this theory, other colors created are a mixture of these three base tones. Some artists, designers, decorators and inventors use the colors around them to motivate color choices for design elements.

The most common neutral colors are arguably gray, black and white. Using black and darker grays can help you achieve shades that soften achromatic colors. So, let’s say you want to use black to convey formality but also want the viewer to feel welcome. Instead of using a stark monotone black, you can soften the shade with darker grays, avoiding whites and yellows that move the color toward another palette.

Similarly, you can add black to other colors to make them darker and convey a more serious tone.

Value (Lightness)

Value describes the darkness or lightness of a particular color. Within each section of the color wheel, you can expand colors to different shades or values. For example, you can add white or black to red to move the color towards pink or burgundy, respectively. The value of a color depends on the system used and there are several. However, assigning values allows designers, customers and creators to define their preferences very explicitly.

Chroma (Color Intensity)

Chroma or intensity is another important characteristic of color. It describes whether a color is dull or bright. Technically, it describes the distance from the outer edge to the center on the color wheel. Therefore, colors with high chroma compares to pure hues that you can find on the wheel. Adding gray muddles a color and lowers the chroma, softening it and typically making it darker and less saturated.

Dark Colors in Your Home Interior

Luxury bedroom interior design using dark colors to set the right mood

People love to use color to add personal touches to their homes. Nowhere is this truer than in decorating interior spaces. Going with purely dark colors can create drabness or dreariness. However, with a little creativity and a lot of thought, you can intermix darker colors on walls, floors and even ceilings.

Decorating your bedroom in a darker color conveys confidence, dignity, refinement and individuality. You can create a luxurious bedroom that stimulates both relaxation at night and invigoration in the morning. It’s all in the details. For example, you can offset dark gray walls with gray linens for a masculine effect. Similarly, you can add darker furniture to offset light or neutral wall colors.

In recent years, dark grays, blacks and other darker colors have dominated in bathrooms. These colors are typically offset with white or pale gray to bold effect. You can create an elegant effect in powder rooms and half baths. Even if you have a smaller bathroom, breaking up dark walls or floors with area rugs or artwork can help you retain a clean, formal vibe without making the room appear too subdued.

If you have a lot of natural light in your living room, sunlight will mute dark hues during the day for a softer feel. When the room is illuminated at night, you can create a sophisticated space to entertain friends and family. Use lighting, texture, artwork and furniture placement to achieve the vibe you want in a living room that is dark by nature or design.

How Dark Shades Can Be Used to Convey Mood

Color palettes with light and dark shades

Whether you’re creating a masterpiece or redecorating your home, dark colors have an integral role in creating the perfect atmosphere. They can have a big impact but may be intimidating if not integrated into your interior or exterior design. So, the key is to make a room look cozy and chic rather than shabby and bleak.

Here are a few tips to help you get there:

  • Combine darker walls and floors with lighter cabinetry, furniture and accessories.
  • Use a muddled paint color rather than sheer black or other dark hues. So-called dirty hues with a hint of black or gray can create a muted look that’s more welcoming. It won’t be as crisp or clean as pure black or gray, but it might make a room more appealing. Muddled and mid-tone reds, grays and blues are currently trending and make a great alternative to typical neutrals and brighter colors.
  • Some people feel the need to create a contrast to mute darker colors. However, that’s not always necessary. Particularly in smaller places such as foyers or hallways, you can use lighting and artwork to break up dark spaces without using multiple tones in the walls or ceilings.

As mentioned before, consider how much light enters the room through natural sunshine or multi-layer lighting. You can add track lighting, sconces and lamps to create a layered effect that softens and brightens darker tones without losing their boldness.

What Statements Can You Make With Dark Colors in Clothing?

Serious professional businessman in a formal black suit

Here are some ways that you can incorporate dark colors into your wardrobe to achieve different effects:

  • Dark suits for men or women show seriousness, determination and stability. This is particularly effective in a professional environment. So, go ahead and wear that dark suit to your important client meetings or job interviews.
  • Some people choose dark, muted tones such as browns and grays when they want to blend in rather than stand out. If you are a leader trying to relate to employees or colleagues, toning down your wardrobe can make you seem more approachable.
  • Pairing black or other darker colors with white or brighter colors creates a bold contrast.

In general, darker tones do convey a formal, more serious mood. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate grays, browns and blacks from your casual outfits. It’s a matter of balance and choosing pieces that reflect your personal aesthetic.

Darkening Colors to Deepen Connection in Marketing and Advertising

Women's cosmetics on a black and red background

Black, white, red and yellow are prominent colors in marketing and advertising. When you use darker hues, you can create a particular mood not possible with brighter colors alone. For example, adding black or gray tones to red can convey feelings of passion and love, which are very effective in selling cosmetics, clothing and perfume, for example.

Adding black to yellow creates a gold-tone that evokes curiosity and helps to solidify your brand as the premium standard. Meanwhile, purple is close to blue but conveys a subconscious message of mystery, luxury, and elegance.

Read Next: 31 Dark Color Palettes for Dramatic Designs