What Are Neutral Colors? Why Should You Be Using Them?

Neutral color palette with hex codes

Most people have heard of neutral colors and may have a vague idea of what they are. Think about the colors that come to mind when you hear the words “neutral colors.” You might be seeing light brown or light gray.

It’s that perfect background color that isn’t loud, but accentuates the rest of the colors in the foreground. Sometimes we pick neutral colors when we don’t know which colors to choose, but they can in fact be very powerful when used in decorating, design, painting etc.

You’re going to learn all about neutral colors and why they’re more important than conventional knowledge leads you to believe.

Digging Into Neutral Colors

Paint chip samples for redecorating in neutral colors

The first thing you should know is the definition of a neutral color. When someone talks about a neutral color, the person is referring to a shade that lacks color. This is the official description of a color that’s neutral, but it doesn’t quite do it justice.

When you think of a neutral color, black may not come to mind because it is powerful and bold, so a better way to define neutral colors is to say the colors aren’t strong. In essence, you are trying to describe a color that doesn’t compete with other colors.

The reason why neutral colors are confusing has to do with the fact that they’re subjective.

It’s true that neutral colors are white, beige, brown, gray, and even shades of black, but variations of these colors are neutral as well. This is why, no matter how precise this definition is, you may still find it somewhat vague.

Why Are Neutral Colors So Useful?

Cloth samples in neutral shades

Neutral colors do their background job so well that people sometimes don’t pay attention to the benefits of using them. The following are some perks linked to neutral colors that you may be overlooking:

Visually Restful

One might think, why would a color need to be visually restful? Your eyes did evolve to absorb the beautiful colors out there, but strong colors do more than you might imagine.

Consider that the color red can fire up all sorts of neurons in your brain, making you feel more energetic and maybe even a little fiery. However, it can be mentally and visually exhausting if you see too much red. Every strong color you can think of creates a reaction in your mind, but neutral colors aren’t like that.

What you’ve got here are colors that lack saturation. This means observing these colors won’t require much from you. The neutral color is there to blend into the background. You’ll feel at peace if the color in a space is mostly neutral.

Won’t Interfere With Decorations

Scandinavian living room decorated using a neutral color scheme

A reason folks love neutrals is that they aren’t combative. These colors allow others to get their chance to shine. This is an important feature for interior designers, painters, and anyone else that deals with color placement.

The right neutral color creates more depth, especially compared to stronger colors. This makes an area look bigger or deeper, which is usually a good thing. If your goal is to create layers, a neutral color can help guide you in the right direction if you pay attention to the hue present in what you choose.

Fights the Busyness Effect

Textures and patterns sometimes come in strong colors.

When you first look at these patterns or textures, you might fall in love, but you’ll feel overwhelmed if these patterns or textures are in an area void of neutral colors. As a side note, some people generally become uncomfortable with patterns, so try to keep these at a minimum, or just stick with geometric lines rather than erratic patterns.

Remember that your mind can only handle so many powerful colors at a time. Giving your eyes some peace by providing them with neutral colors makes it easier to appreciate patterns and textures.

Works With All Decorating Styles

Interior design dining room in neutral colors

Everyone who works with colors in design, photography, painting, or other forms of artistry, usually have a preference when it comes to style. Some designers, for example, love minimalism while others love something a little more traditional.

No matter the kind of style you love, these neutral colors should work for you. A strong color can easily clash with a decorating style. You don’t want to look at your finished product and realize something sticks out like a sore thumb.

Silently Helps With Coolness or Warmness

Coolness and warmth have their place. Warmer spaces feel cozy because these colors remind people of things like fire or sunlight. For something warmer, you’ll have to choose a hue with red, yellow, or orange.

If you wanted something cooler to help an area feel peaceful, you want to choose light shades of purple, green, or blue.

A Timeless Option

When designing or creating something with colors, there are times when people use one color more than another. Trends regarding colors have existed for a long time. The problem with trends is they tend to lose their popularity after some time.

If you choose a trendy color, you’ll be stuck with a noticeably outdated design. You can solve this by simply going with a neutral shade. Here’s the opportunity to make your piece or design as timeless as possible.

Timeless is not only evergreen, but it also means you don’t have to worry about spending more time and money to update.

Resale Value Increases

Yarn in beige, brown, gray and white neutral colors lying on wooden table next to knitting needles

Sure, trendy colors could make your piece pop. While a color is trending, you’ll definitely be able to ask for a higher price, but, as mentioned above, this perk goes away quickly.

Once the trend dies down, the design is no longer valuable. If you want to make sure you can always get your money’s worth, then highlighting neutral colors is your best bet.

It is important to say that trendy colors aren’t loved by everyone. A timeless choice is appealing to more people, and that’s a good thing.

Alternations Made Easy With Neutrals

Everyone gets that itch to change things around at some point. When this happens, it’s better to have that neutral foundation to work from. As you already know, neutral colors work well with the focus of your design or piece.

This perk makes it easy for you to make alterations if you ever want to. If you don’t choose a neutral foundation, you’ll have to start from scratch. So choose a neutral color to save yourself a lot of extra work.

Are There Any Drawbacks Linked to Neutral Colors?

Chalk drawing of closing program window with caption drawback

You’ve learned why you should work with neutral colors more often than not, but are there any reasons you shouldn’t?

It’s better to know the pros and cons before using a particular set of colors. The following are some reasons why people avoid working with neutral colors:

They Are a Bit Boring

You’ve probably heard this at some point in your life. Saying that something is a bit boring can get folks to go another direction.

No one wants to appear boring, so it’s okay to step away from using a neutral color. The truth is that neutral colors can seem a bit boring, especially if no other colors are being used.

Neutral colors are universally accepted as safe colors, so they’re used virtually everywhere.

If you see something everywhere, then it starts to lose its uniqueness. This is what’s going on with neutral colors and why they appear boring to some. You can always add a hue that’s a little unconventional to solve this, but it’s up to you. You can choose ivory, turquoise, or even peach hues.

Ivory, peach and gray colored minimalistic art
Turquoise, peach and gray hand painted drawings

Complexity of Shades

So you can solve the monotony of a neutral color by adding an unconventional hue, but this can lead to another problem. The potential hues start to feel overwhelming and you may have a hard time narrowing them down.

Choosing the right shade can cause you to waste a lot of time. Consider the colors you’ll be using in your piece to help you narrow down your choices. You can also work with a color expert to find the perfect match of colors.

Blandness is Bad

You can easily make a mistake with neutral colors. If you don’t know how to use the rest of the colors to bring some life into the design, you’ll end up with something bland. Your piece must contain statement colors rather than colors that retreat into your background.

This doesn’t mean you should be afraid of layering colors hinted in your neutral background. You just need to keep those additional colors fresh rather than one shade. For example, if your background color has a little blue, go ahead and use stronger blues to make it all come together. The only thing you want to avoid is using the same shade of blue too often.

Pairing Neutral Colors With Other Colors

Stylish decoration in gold and black on white, high gloss console table

It’s important to learn about the types of neutral colors out there before making your choice, but finding colors that pair well with neutral colors is just as important. Like mentioned earlier, neutrals work well as background colors for accentuating bolder and more powerful colors in the foreground.

Gold-like shades may seem unconventional at first, but neutral colors really allow gold or other metallic colors to shine. The main reason for using neutral colors is to help other colors pop, which is definitely the case here.

The point is, don’t be afraid to experiment with neutral colors, and you’ll see why they can be exciting – even if people tell you they’re boring. No color is really boring. It comes down to your attitude and ability to have a little fun with your color choices.