Warm and cold colors: what are the differences

warm and cool colors

When you work on creative and design topics, illustration, etc. There is certain knowledge that you should always keep in mind. One of them is Know what warm and cold colors are and the differences between them.

Do you know which ones they are? And tell us a warm color and a cold one? Don't worry if this topic is still not clear to you. We have prepared this article to make it much easier for you to distinguish them, know the differences and, above all, use them in the best possible way. Shall we start?

What are warm colors

illustration woman warm colors

Before talking about the differences between warm colors and cold, it is more important to take into account what we are referring to with each of them.

In the case of Warm colors are conceptualized as colors that convey a sensation of “warmth.” In reality, they evoke a high temperature. They are colors that are characterized by being strong, stimulating, vibrant, etc.

In other words, more technically, they are all those shades that are in the red, orange and yellow spectrum. Of course, there are many more: gold, brown... and their stronger or weaker shades.

For example, a sunrise would be a warm color, because the tones that can be seen are mainly red, orange and yellow. The same thing would happen with a sunset.

What are cold colors

cold colors illustration

Now that you understand warm colors better, you will see that cold colors are the complete opposite of the first ones. That is, they are colors that convey a feeling of "cold." They evoke a low temperature and are characterized by being dark and creating a feeling of calm, relaxation and serenity when viewing them.

In a more technical way, cool colors are all shades that are in the violet, blue and green spectrum.

The color wheel to differentiate between warm and cold colors

As you know, one of the essential tools for any illustrator, designer, creative... is the color wheel, also called the color wheel. If you see it, you will see that, by drawing an inclined line that divides the circle in two, leaving the red, orange and yellow on one side, and the violet, blue and green on the other, it marks both the warm colors and the cold colors.

Visually it can help you distinguish all the range of colors and tones that are considered warm (even if they are pastel or very light tones), and the same would happen with cold colors.

What are the differences between warm and cold colors?

mix of warm and cold colors

If you keep in mind everything you have read so far, you will know that there are big differences between warm and cold colors. However, let's analyze them a little more.

Color temperature

Color temperature is what differentiates warm and cool colors because the higher the temperature, the warmer the color.

In the case of warm ones, The temperature is usually quite high and decreases as the color becomes lighter, hence certain tones can be neutral, that is, both warm and cold.

With respect to cold colors, the temperature is very low and increases as the color lightens.

What does this mean? Well, on both sides there will be colors that can be taken as warm, neutral and cold at the same time.

Color psychology

Another difference between these two types of colors is the sensation they transmit. While the Warm colors make you feel joy, enthusiasm, energy, happiness..., cold colors are the opposite, they evoke sadness, calm, discouragement, loneliness... Be careful, because it does not mean that they are depressing colors, but rather that they seek a more relaxing and calm sensation, more to pause the body.


We continue with more differences. And in this case we focus on the effects that they will produce in the illustrations, photos or images. And it is that, When warm colors are used, it is normal for them to evoke closeness. and make the images seem closer, like you can touch them or even warm you just by looking at them.

For their part, cold colors do the opposite, they evoke a distance, as if the image were given depth but inwards, not outwards. Furthermore, as with warm-colored ones, these give a feeling of cold, mystery, calm... when you look at them.

How to combine warm and cold colors

Really the challenge you can face is to combine warm and cold colors. And before you wonder, yes, they can be combined and in fact there are many illustrations, paintings, etc. who stood out because they perfectly mastered the use of these two types of tones.

But to do so, certain keys must be taken into account. We reveal some to you:

Give prominence to a color

It is important that, when creating an illustration with warm and cold colors, you give prominence to one of them, warm or cold. But not both because then it won't look good.

The only way they look good is splitting the image. For example, imagine a sheet of paper that you fold in half. On one side you work with warm colors and on the other with cold colors. The union (where you have folded it) should make the difference between one side and the other (using white or black, which are achromatic colors).

Use a neutral color palette

When you need to create an image with strong and soft colors, sometimes it is better resort to the most neutral or light tones of both types so that they balance much better and leave the warmest or coldest ones aside. In this way you tend to achieve a better result.

For example, if you are going to make an illustration of a baby's room and the sunrise coming through the window, instead of using very strong colors for that sunrise, it would be best to use more pastels that match a blue, green or violet of the room itself (also in pastel tones).

Another option would be to choose a warm tone as the protagonist and combine the others in cold but soft ones.

As you can see, there are several differences between warm and cold colors. Knowing them helps you apply the correct colors in your designs and also know how to combine them so that everything matches. Do you have any doubt left?

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