In a previous article, I discussed the powerful role that colour can play in creating emotionally impactful design. This is something that is particularly important for work in the film industry – where our endeavours are part of a wider emotional experience for the audience.

Due to the popularity of that article, I wanted to revisit the subject of colour – diving in a little deeper and offering up some useful concepts for applying colour to your film poster projects.

Let’s take a look.

The Colour Wheel

A colour wheel (or colour circle) is more than just a pretty diagram. Originated by Isaac Newton, colour wheels describe the relationship that colours have with each other. For Newton, the wheel demonstrated the different spectral wavelengths of the colours.

Colour wheel

But for designers – a colour wheel provides a reference point for creating colour schemes. There are six main concepts for this:


A monochromatic colour scheme uses variations on one colour to create a strong look with an intense feel. Oftentimes, an accent colour will be used against a monochromatic look to draw the eye to a specific feature or piece of information such as the title.

Godzilla poster - monochromatic colour example


Analogous colours are those that sit next to each other on the colour wheel. They have a natural harmony – but it is crucial that you balance the use of these colours or the look can become overwhelming. A good starting point is the 60-30-10 rule – describing use of 60% of a base colour, 30% of an accent colour and 10% for colour ‘pops’.

Kung Fu Panda poster - analogous colour example


Complementary colour schemes use colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. We are already very familiar with a lot of these colour combinations – red & green, purple & yellow and of course, the ubiquitous blue & orange. Used together, these colours appear brighter and more striking.

Blade Runner 2049 - complementary colour example

Split Complementary

A variation on the complementary colour concept uses three main colours – a principal colour and the two colours on either side of its complementary colour. For example, blue, red-orange, yellow-orange. There is less contrast in this look, but it can add complexity.

Deja Vu - split complementary colour example


Triadic colours are three colours from an equal distance on the colour wheel. Even when using paler tints, they will generate a naturally vibrant energy.

Superman Returns - triadic colour example


You’ve guessed it – this colour scheme uses four colours from the points of a square on a colour wheel. It’s unapologetically bold and bright – and often used for family friendly fare like animation and superhero flicks.

Wonder Woman 1984 - tetradic colour

Other Colour Considerations

Hopefully you will find colour wheels extremely useful, but in fact, they are mainly focused on just one element of colour usage: hue. Hue describes the basic elements of colour – whether they are red, green, blue or yellow (or a mixture). But colour saturation (how intense or not it is) and colour value (how light or dark it is) – have a big part to play in the mood and emotion of a design.

Paler colours, or tints (hues with only white added to them) feel soft and calming and can create a dreamy quality. Whilst darker colours, or shades (hues with only black added) have a more muted and sombre feel. Tones (hues with both black and white added) are understandably more ambiguous and can create a more intricate and layered world with (literally) more shades of grey.

Making Use of Colour Concepts

Once you have an understanding of colour concepts, you can use them to experiment! These ideas can be combined in all kinds of ways to help move your poster design beyond cliché whilst making use of the knowledge of how colour impacts us on a subconscious level.

It’s easy to subvert the classic colour concepts above through colour saturation and value. In fact, it’s already commonplace to use the Complementary colour combination of Blue & Orange in softer tints for romantic films, and Birdman’s poster makes an unexpectedly effective use of a Tetradic colour scheme.

Which film posters have left a lasting impression on you or made you want to watch the film? How has colour played a part in that? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

If there’s a poster design project you’d like to discuss developing, feel free to drop me a line at