When it comes to factors that determine and shape the colours used by brands, designers and manufacturers today, the catwalk has fallen out of fashion while social media is now the biggest influence, at least according to a new publication from papermaker James Cropper.
Surveying 500 branding and packaging designers for its Progressive Palettes report, the business found that factors including Instagram influencers taking prime position on the front row at fashion shows and ‘see now, buy now’ shopping have shaped how we consume.
Indeed, 34% of briefs received by designers include requirements for the design to be ‘Instagrammable’, with colours that stand out, are trendsetting, distinctive, bright, bold and consistent with branding.
But colour trend influences are also becoming more complex and fragmented, the report found, with others cited by designers including Brexit and the Trump era, the gender debate, personalisation, the unboxing trend and sustainability.
James Cropper says brands use personalisation to attach more meaning to their offering, often tailoring colour on demand.
“Personalisation is key to how brands connect with consumers these days, it’s becoming more prevalent and it’s going to grow in relevance. It’s not just about colour, it can be about texture and many other aspects,” says James Cropper master colour blender Mark Starrs.
“With our Tailor Made offer we encourage customers to come and work alongside us. We bring them into the laboratory, talk about the make-up of the paper and what types of fibre they want to use, and then they work on the colours, which could come from a variety of different areas.
“It could be a Pantone, a piece of wedding dress or a palette of colours that they’re looking to make.”
Meanwhile, 76% of UK designers surveyed said sustainability is having an impact on the briefs they receive, the materials they use and the colour choices they make every day.
“Sustainability and environmental aspects are key and people are having to react to that,” says Starrs.
“In the past people have associated browns and greens with sustainability, colours that relate to nature and trees, and there might be some blues in there to link to the ocean.
“But in terms of how that’s moving, that can also be to do with texture. It’s not just about colour but the look of that paper and its sustainability.”
Alistair Hall, director of design studio We Made This, agrees that texture is often just as important a consideration as colour.
“Different textures evoke different moods. Designers are always playing with those subtle cues that people might not be picking up on directly as a different way to communicate,” he says.
44% of the designers surveyed by James Cropper said they believe colour is “essential to storytelling”, 38% believe that storytelling requires more than one colour and 43% believe that brand equity sits with either a logo or colour.
Starrs says that while larger brands may tend to stick to a core colour, or colours, the pace of change among smaller brands is happening much quicker.
“They might be changing colours every three or six months, or it might be seasonal.”
But while some colours rise and fall in popularity, others never go out of style. Black is a staple in the packaging industry, and is still growing, according to Starrs, who says James Cropper has also recently started to see a lot of requests for bright blue shades.
“Black lends itself to any further logos that could be printed onto it, as well as so many other different colours, foil blocking and gold.”
Fenner Paper marketing director Justin Hobson concurs: “As a blank canvas black works very well because you can either evoke neutrality or solidity, and luxury. It works in many different ways.”
He adds: “We do see colour trends changing; in more recent years there are more natural colours, but equally that’s not to say that there aren’t bright colours occasionally creeping in. I believe one of the big colours for next year is a sort of teal blue.
“So while people are after natural colours, that doesn’t necessarily mean beiges and off whites, there are also a range of colours that exude a natural feeling.”
Colour touches every part of a marketing campaign and printers now often need to achieve more outside the CMYK gamut to keep up with the evolving and sometimes fast changing needs of their clients.
Pantone references are often invaluable in ensuring that printers, brands and designers are on the same page in colour discussions.
“Pantone is an important frame of reference, particularly with clients who tend to talk about colour in terms of words and descriptions,” says Hall.
“One person’s teal is another person’s aquamarine so you have to have some kind of system that is constant so that you can double check that you’re talking about the same thing.”
But even then, a colour can look different on different substrates, meaning that extra work often needs to be done by the printer if a brand requires a specific corporate colour across a range of varying materials, or if the job is being printed using numerous processes.
“A substrate is the most influencing governing factor on how a colour will come out,” says Paul Harding Print director Paul Harding.
“If you print the same thing onto an uncoated sheet of paper and a coated sheet, because of the way the light reflects off the surface it looks totally different even with the same ink.
“So on occasion you have to use another mix on a coated sheet to make it look similar on the uncoated, or vice-versa.”
Paul Sherfield, managing director of The Missing Horse Consultancy, warns that printers will not get the work if they cannot hit a brand’s colours.
“Brands do not want their colours to look like a chequerboard on a market shelf, they’re looking for prominent colour appearance.
“Within the possibilities of the printing process and the substrate they’re on, they want their brand images and colours to look as consistent as possible across all media.”
Additional print units for spot colours and special inks, such as fluorescents, metallics, golds, silvers and whites, as well as popular corporate colours, are now an essential part of the setup for many printers, helping them to more easily meet their customers’ requests.
But there are also other ways they can achieve specific colours and effects, particularly for litho processes, as Hobson concludes.
“Litho inks are transparent, so if you print a transparent ink on top of a coloured board you get the colour of the board you’ve already got and the colour you’re putting down as well.
“The advantage of doing that, rather than just printing a Pantone onto a white sheet of paper, is that you don’t get the white edge.”