I’ve had a lot of feedback about my previous article on Sci-Fi Colour Palettes so it seemed like the time was right to explore some other genres. 

Colour is important wherever you use it (or don’t), but in the horror genre in particular, colour has a long tradition of playing a powerful role in evoking emotions and setting the right tone of fear and suspense. If you take a look through horror film posters since the 1980s, then you’ll see a number of trends that haven’t ever really gone away.

In this article, I’ll delve into some popular horror colour palettes and their impacts, as well as looking at some more unconventional – but perhaps even more effective – approaches.

Embrace the Darkness 

Horror is, understandably, a dark genre – so using a literally dark palette is a classic and obviously powerful choice. It immediately immerses us in the world of the film, and often utilises large amounts of negative space – hinting at the unknown horrors that lurk in the blackness.

Washed Out

This style is almost the inverse of the dark palette. But a desaturated or muted colour palette, of washed-out grays or faded browns – does a great job of conveying a sense of bleakness and despair. This approach often works well for atmospheric horror films, especially those set in desolate or abandoned locations – where the absence of vibrant colours adds to the overall sense of isolation and fear.

As Red as Blood 

Red, and its associations of blood and danger are another classic horror choice. A predominantly red palette immediately captures the viewer’s attention and promises a gory ride! It creates a sense of urgency and, almost unbearable intensity making it a powerful choice for slasher films or anything nihilistic.


Perhaps even more common than the others, a colour palette that uses the contrast of a vibrant pop of colour (usually red) against a predominantly dark or muted background can create a striking visual contrast and draw the viewer’s eye whilst also stoking the emotions with its colour choices. It should be noted, though, that this palette has become very overused, so it’s worth thinking about ways to subvert this idea – for instance, by changing up the traditional colour pop of red to something a bit more unusual such as in the ‘Prey’ poster.

Chilled Out

Icy blues and eerie greens create a sense of alienation and distance that is ideal for films featuring supernatural phenomena or the sinister side of our subconscious. These colour palettes create a sickly sense of unease and discomfort as the audience finds themselves in a strange new world.


Perhaps surprisingly, a sepia palette featuring sallow yellow, wan beige or rusty brown can be a standout choice for a horror poster. These hues can evoke rot and decay behind their initial warmth, this unsettling quality making them ideal for films where the threat lies beneath the surface of a seemingly optimistic everyday life. 

Hellfire and Damnation!

Taking a warm colour palette a step further – these posters burn with shades of orange that convey the metaphorical or literal fire that the characters will have to walk through to get out of the film alive! Often popular with films that have a creepy religious element such as ‘The Pope’s Exorcist’.

Pastel Hues

Some brilliant examples of horror posters in recent years have utilised a pastel palette to great effect. These hues are brilliant at creating a ‘too perfect to be real’ veneer, creating the anticipation for this illusion to shatter when watching the film. This approach is often highlighted by featuring something ‘off’ about the seemingly perfect image – for instance, Florence Pugh looks perfectly pretty in the poster for ‘Midsommar’ but her facial expression and the cropping of her face indicates the sinister element lurking beyond our gaze.

Neon Demons

In recent years, there’s been a real resurgence in using 80s style neon palettes in horror. This approach is used not just to emphasise a retro setting as in ‘One Night in Soho’ and ‘Fear Street: Part One’ (the sixties and the nineties respectively) but also to channel a psychedelic feel that is perfect for psychological horror by giving the audience a glimpse into the chaotic inner world of the characters.

When it comes to horror film posters, considering your colour palette is essential for creating the right atmosphere and capturing the essence of fear. Understanding the impact of colour and its relationship with the horror genre will allow you to craft visually compelling posters that leave a lasting impression on the audience and ultimately get them booking tickets and stopping scrolling to press play. 

So, what do you think of these palettes? Did any stand out? Or made you go ‘meh’? What other genres would you like me to share my thoughts on? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

If you have a question or there’s a poster design project you’d like to discuss developing, feel free to drop me a line at adam@strelka.co.uk.