Every season has its colors. But few of them are known for those colors in the same way that fall is. At least in temperate areas, the autumn season brings in flame-colored foliage: the green leaves of deciduous trees turn red, orange, yellow, and even purple before falling to the ground.
These shades have become emblematic of the season, so it’s not uncommon to see them incorporated into clothing, decor, and digital designs. And as you may have noticed, the “fall colors” of today’s design world extend beyond the colors of the changing leaves. Here’s a closer look.
What Are Fall Colors?
Some fall colors are directly inspired by the colors of changing leaves. Others are shades that we’ve come to associate with fall. These associated colors are generally those that make us think of warmth — shades of cream, soft taupes, and earthy browns come to mind. Many of them are saturated jewel tones that seem to exude a warmth of their own.
Of course, the other shades that appear in a palette play a major role in our perception. For instance, if you see burnt orange used with shades of golden yellow and cranberry red, you might instantly connect it to fall. However, if you see that same burnt orange used as an accent color in a mostly gray palette, you probably wouldn’t think of it as a fall shade.
The best way to understand the essence of fall colors is to check out some examples. Here are some common fall colors along with suggestions for using them in your own designs.
Golden shades of yellow capture so many of our favorite features of fall: the glow of autumn sunsets, the skin of some species of squash, and of course, the changing leaves.
Many tree species have at least some of their leaves turn this lovely shade each year. But aspen trees like the ones in the picture turn a bright, uniform shade of yellow. As the picture illustrates, vivid shades of yellow are perfect for contrasting with cooler fall colors like sky blue.
RGB 255, 223, 0
CMYK 0, 13, 100, 0
Olive green has become steadily more popular when it comes to decor. As a result, there are seemingly endless shades of green being labeled “olive.” The picture above shows the color’s true source — the famous green olive.
Whether your preferred olive green is the color of a true olive or something a little different, there’s no denying that this earthy color is right at home in an autumn palette. It goes nicely with most typical “fall” colors, but it also does well as an accent color in a room with lots of light neutrals.
Dark Olive Green
RGB 85, 107, 47
CMYK 21, 0, 56, 58
“Aubergine” is French for “eggplant,” and you often see the word used to describe eggplant-colored walls, furniture, etc. Its rich, dark coloration makes it right at home in any autumn-themed palette.
Of course, deep shades of purple aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re in need of a darker, cooler color to counterbalance fiery autumn shades, this is a good one to pick. You might consider adding a few aubergine accents to ground a digital design or interior design. Or if you want to do something really bold and memorable, consider an all-aubergine backdrop or accent wall!
RGB 71, 44, 76
CMYK 7, 42, 0, 70
Orange is easily one of the most quintessential fall colors. And while bright, fiery shades certainly have their place, the earthiness of burnt orange does the best job of capturing the distinct energy of the season.
As you might already know, some designers strongly suggest steering clear of orange, particularly when it comes to designing interiors. Shades of burnt orange have a muted character that makes them a little easier on the eyes, so they’re often a better choice for any kind of design — interior or otherwise.
RGB 204, 85, 0
CMYK 0, 58, 100, 20
Brown is an easy color to overlook. However, it tends to fit in well with fall palettes. It’s the color of soil, tree bark, and even some fallen leaves, so if you’re in search of a seasonally appropriate neutral, it’s a good one to choose.
So how do you go about incorporating brown into an autumn design? Soft cocoa shades and deeper, darker hues alike can be great backdrops for rich reds, bright oranges, and golden yellows. Because red, orange, and yellow are all warm colors, cooler shades of brown are usually a better fit than warmer shades.
RGB 53, 40, 30
CMYK 0, 25, 43, 79
Red is one of the many warm colors of fall inspired by the changing leaves. Some leaves turn a striking shade of crimson. But others become a darker, more purplish wine red.
The purplish shades tend to fit in better with existing fall color schemes than intensely hot, fire-engine reds.
RGB 114, 47, 55
CMYK 0, 59, 52, 55
Sage green is a versatile shade that never really seems to go out of style. And while it wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a spring-themed design, its muted, silvery character makes it an excellent choice for fall palettes.
This is an especially valuable shade if you’re working on a fall design that’s starting to look a little too warm. As a cool color, sage can quickly bring an unruly design back to order. And as a nature-inspired shade, it goes beautifully with other colors inspired by the autumn outdoors.
RGB 156, 175, 136
CMYK 11, 0, 22, 31
Deep Sky Blues
There’s something almost magical about stepping outside on an autumn day and seeing a deep blue sky like the one in the picture. A rich shade of cool blue makes the foliage on the trees look that much more vivid.
That being said, most people probably won’t think of fall if they see blue skies by themselves. But if you’re looking for a cool backdrop for a fiery autumn palette, this is a great choice!
RGB 18, 115, 206
CMYK 91, 44, 0, 19
There’s nothing quite like a soft, cozy sweater on an autumn day. And while sweaters come in all different colors, few shades capture that soft, warm feeling like cream.
As you can see in the picture, cream is an outstanding color to use if your design involves layering different neutrals. It’s also a great backdrop color if you like white but want something with a little more character.
RGB 255, 253, 208
CMYK 0, 1, 18, 0
Making Color Come to Life: Using Fall Colors in Your Own Designs
Fall colors are beautiful in nature, but they’re equally beautiful when used well in design projects. If you love this season but aren’t sure where to start, here are some suggestions for using fall colors in your own designs.
Don’t Be Afraid of Contrast
There’s nothing wrong with a bright palette made entirely of red or orange. But often, designers want to make sure that the palettes they’re using appear balanced.
More often than not, the best way to achieve that balance is to include a mix of warm and cool colors. For example, let’s say you’re designing a flyer. Right now, the backdrop you have is made up of golden yellow and burnt orange. These two shades go together nicely, but they make the design as a whole lean very warm.
You don’t have to completely overhaul the design to bring things back into balance — if you include a deep teal border, you’ll be adding a shade that’s nearly complementary. Teal’s cool, calming energy can also prevent yellow and orange from getting too overwhelming.
Incorporate the Right Neutrals
Fall colors are often inspired by the natural world, so it makes sense that earthy neutrals would be right at home alongside some of the season’s brighter shades. That being said, there’s an art to selecting the right neutrals for a given design.
Just as you shouldn’t shy away from contrast, you often should select a neutral that balances out the main colors in your palette. For instance, warm and earthy browns often appear in fall-inspired designs. These neutrals go nicely with a range of different colors. However, if most of your design is a vivid shade of cardinal red, adding a warm neutral might make the design look too warm overall. In this instance, it’s probably better to include cool taupe or another cooler-leaning brown.
Consider Autumn Animations
This tip really only applies to website design and similar digital design styles. But if you really want to make sure that your audience notices your fall colors (and also want to give your website a fresh, timely look), try using fall-inspired shades in an animation.
These animations don’t have to be over-the-top to make a difference. For example, if you’re updating the homepage of a website, you might consider including an animation showing falling leaves in various fall colors.
How Can Fall Palettes Transform Your Designs?
Just like crisp fall breezes can make you feel alive and inspired, fall colors have the ability to take your designs to the next level. When you’re willing to follow the beauty of the season as well as your own creative spirit, you’ll be poised to create incredible, memorable designs.
Learn More: Explore the four seasons and find out how seasonal colors affect us.