What are “summer colors” to you? Are they warm, saturated shades that echo the heat and bright light of the season? Maybe they’re aquatic-inspired colors that remind you of a day at the beach or by the pool.
While it’s true that no color is officially a summer or winter color, there are some colors and color palettes that we generally connect more to summer than other seasons.
What Are Summer Colors?
In some cases, the colors of summer are closely associated with elements of the season. Bright yellow reminds us of the sun, and shades of blue make us think of oceans and pools.
But sometimes, a color’s vibrant energy is enough to make us think of summer. For instance, there aren’t a whole lot of things in nature that are hot pink. But because hot pink is utterly bursting with warm energy, you’d probably associate it with summer before you’d connect it to winter, spring, or fall.
Want to tap into the energy of summer shades for your next design? Here are nine versatile picks.
Yellow is a color that’s virtually synonymous with summer. From the yellow sun to vivid yellow wildflowers like the ones in the photo, this shade embodies the warm, positive energy that seems to abound in the summer months.
Color psychology research has consistently shown that yellow is linked to playfulness and happiness — two elements that most people want to be a part of their summers! Vincent Van Gogh was a fan of this bright shade, too. As he once said, “How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun.”
RGB 255, 249, 23
CMYK 0, 2, 91, 0
To many people, the colors of summer are bright and lively. Lime green is exactly that. Although it’s technically a cool color, it’s light and vivid enough to be incredibly energetic. Like the fruit it’s named for, lime green is zesty and refreshing, too.
Like many similarly bright colors, lime is often just used as an accent in designs. But as you can see in this example image, it also does well if it’s the central shade in an otherwise neutral palette.
You might associate green more closely with spring than with summer. But just as spring is a season of renewal, summer is revitalizing in its own way. Lime green captures this balance beautifully — the fresh energy of green gets an uplifting boost from sun-touched yellow.
RGB 50, 205, 50
CMYK 76, 0, 76, 20
Whether you always spend a portion of your summer at the beach or just live vicariously through pictures, you probably associate lovely, deep blues with the summer season.
These shades of blue are especially summery when they’re placed next to bright, cool white. That juxtaposition creates a striking, high-contrast look that’s ideal for creating stripes and other patterns.
Most colors that we associate with the warm summer season are warm colors themselves. Even cooler summer shades (like lime green) tend to have a near-neon energy. In any summer palette, the deep, cool nature of marine blue is ideal for grounding the look and creating a base for contrasting colors. And just as cool water gives you a refreshing respite from the heat of the sun, this color helps to balance out the energy of warmer shades.
RGB 16, 30, 74
CMYK 78, 59, 0, 71
Whether you spot it in the form of a vivid summer sunset or a collection of blooms like the one shown above, hot pink commands attention. While it may not be the most common color in nature, its warm and almost neon energy echoes the spirit of the summer season.
In the culinary world, a little bit of a powerful spice can transform a dish for the better, but too much can overwhelm your senses. In the world of design, hot pink (and similarly energetic colors) are treated in much the same way. Shades of hot pink can add a burst of vitality to any kind of design, but too much can make things look unbalanced.
RGB 255, 22, 148
CMYK 0, 91, 42, 0
Orange isn’t the only color you’ll see in summer sunsets, but it’s certainly one of the most memorable! This shade has an effect on us that mirrors the general mood of the summer season.
As you know, orange is a color made by mixing red and yellow. Red is an intense shade closely associated with energy and activity. Yellow is associated with happiness and optimism. Together, they form a shade that perfectly captures the happy energy of summer!
RGB 253, 94, 83
CMYK 0, 63, 67, 1
Swimming pools come in many shades of blue. But bright, vivid aquas (like the one shown above) are classic summer colors. Aqua is captivating even on its own — especially when you can see the sun dancing over it like in the image above.
This energetic, green-tinged blue also works beautifully with most other summer shades. Blue and orange are complementary, so combinations of aqua and various shades of orange really pop! Aqua is also a great companion for hot pink, and it makes a lovely background for sun-inspired yellows, too.
RGB 0, 255, 255
CMYK 100, 0, 0, 0
Shades of cool white might seem better suited to winter than to summer. But this versatile neutral is ideal for creating high-contrast designs — you’ve almost certainly seen at least a few beach towels with stripes of white and blue, yellow, or pink.
But in the clothing world, white has traditionally been one of the quintessential colors of summer. For decades, fashion-forward people have followed a well-known general guideline: only wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Why only wear white for part of the year? There are a few different theories. A plausible one notes that in the past, wealthier people saved their white clothes for summer vacations. White clothes could easily get dirty in the city, but at the seaside, they remained pristine. Unsurprisingly, being able to afford to purchase a whole separate wardrobe of vacation clothes was a signifier of wealth!
RGB 244, 245, 240
CMYK 0, 0, 2, 4
Corals come in all kinds of exciting colors, and the web color coral is a shade of orange. But the shade we know as “coral” is a bright, orange-hued pink that perfectly captures the summer spirit.
Of course, because coral is such an energetic color, it can be overwhelming when used in very large amounts. As a result, you’re more likely to see it used in patterns than you are to see it used by itself. It pairs especially well with shades of teal, turquoise, and cool white.
RGB 248, 131, 121
CMYK 0, 47, 51, 3
In some parts of the world (especially areas close to the equator), turquoise is the color of the ocean. But even if you’re somewhere where the sea is less bright, this shade still reflects summer’s intense energy.
Turquoise is surprisingly versatile when it comes to the world of design. You’ve likely seen turquoise jewelry set in sterling silver. In this particular case, the cool blue undertones in turquoise pair nicely with silver’s cool metallic hue.
You also might choose to pair turquoise with bright, cool white. A design like this will almost certainly remind your audience of the tropical ocean. Or if you want to create energetic contrast, try placing vivid coral or bright orange against turquoise.
RGB 64, 224, 208
CMYK 71, 0, 7, 12
Capturing the Summer Spirit: Using Summer Colors in Your Own Designs
Even if you aren’t a designer by trade, knowing a little about color theory can be incredibly helpful. You use concepts of design when you’re putting together an outfit, picking out furniture, or even deciding what color accent pillows would look best in the living room. Whatever you’re designing next, it may help to keep a few tips in mind.
Contrast Is Your Friend
The high heat and bright light of summer mean that it’s generally regarded as being the most energetic season. If you want your design to make your audience think of summer, the way you deploy those colors is almost as important as the colors themselves.
High-contrast designs will often seem more energetic, so if you want to make sure your audience connects the design to the season, more contrast is generally better.
For instance, let’s say you want to create a design that prominently features blue. If you put swirls of different blue shades together, that gradient effect may look rainy or wintery. However, if you put blocks of cool white against deep navy blue, the nautical-inspired contrast is more likely to make your audience think of warm sunny days at the beach or the pool.
Pick a Muse
“Summer colors” include an enormous range of different shades. So if you just need to choose a few of them to put together, it’s hard to determine where to start.
One way to do that is to choose a summery item or scene as your inspiration. For instance, you might start with an image of a sunny day at the beach and craft a design with yellow, deep blue, white, and shades of sandy beige.
Don’t Overwhelm Your Audience
Once you’ve chosen a color palette, it’s easy to get excited and use each shade as much as you can. However, if you use equal amounts of each color in a multicolor design, your audience is very likely to get overwhelmed.
So how do you know how much of each one to use? This is a situation where it pays to use the 60-30-10 rule. This is a general rule of thumb many interior designers follow, although the concept works for digital design as well.
When you use this rule, you want to start with a neutral or another relatively inoffensive shade. You use this color for 60% of your design. Then, you choose a second shade to make up 30%. Usually, you’d pick a shade that’s a bit more intense than the 60% shade.
Finally, you add touches of the 10% shade. This is usually a very bright color that could start to overwhelm your audience if it were used as more than an accent. For example, you might make your living room mostly beige, add a navy blue area rug and navy blue accent pillows, and then add a small orange wall hanging.
Revitalize Your Summer With the Right Colors
Whether you’re working on a seasonal digital design, creating an interior, or just picking out some new additions to your summer wardrobe, having a basic understanding of summer colors and their effects on us can help. This summer, keep your eye out for deep blues, bright yellows, and hot pinks in nature and beyond!
Learn More: Explore the four seasons and find out how seasonal colors affect us.