How To Master The Color Theory in Book Cover Design

How To Master The Color Theory in Book Cover Design

Do you judge a book by its cover? What about its color?

Have you ever wondered why most business books use dominant blue or orange colors? And why is there often a pink or red element somewhere around when it comes to romance books?

What does color theory have to do with professional book cover design in general?

Keep reading to find out more about colors in book cover design, and how to use them to promote your book effectively.

The importance of colors in book cover design

Color in the modern technology-oriented world is not only an effective means of composition but also a significant factor in quality. Just think of your everyday life, and let’s say of all the brand logos that you stumble across. Why do you think McDonald’s uses yellow and green without any exceptions? And why does Starbucks have a green and white combination, and a beige paper cup holder? The mix of those three colors hint to relaxation and coffee- break.

Impressive, right? There’s a whole science behind colors, tones, palettes, and color combinations.

Stuart Bache, in his interview with Joanna Penn, shared an interesting point regarding the color theory: 

“You have the design perspective, and then you have the motive.”

And your book cover is exactly the place where those rules should be applied.

How to choose a color for your book cover design

The color isn’t something that you can think about later on. It’s an essential element that you should choose consciously. Even in the first sketch stages, it’s necessary to build a balance in color and tone. It helps to detect statics or dynamics. It gets a bit more complicated since color perception is mostly formed on a subconscious level. Thus, it may be challenging to follow the rules and “guess” what a potential reader has in mind.

Guess? Who said guess? Rewind that.

No, we are going to study color theory in all its details to help your book cover serve as a great marketing tool and attract the target audience.

How the book cover colors communicate with the audience

Before the potential readers even open a book, there’s something in the colors on a book cover that gives them a first impression. And we all know that one matters a lot. The thing is that when visitors search for books in the store, they subconsciously react to a specific visual pattern. We strongly recommend following the color design adopted in your genre to meet the expectations of your target audience.

Pro-tip: When choosing a color palette to design your book cover, do proper research. Concentrate on colors that create the emotional response you are looking for in your audience.

color theory book cover

That is one side of the coin. Another factor is this color psychology deal, and that’s when the marketing alarm goes off.

Colors as a marketing tool for a book cover

Colors that you use on a book cover communicate some message. And the main idea of that message is to evoke certain emotions to make people want to grab the book. Different colors stimulate the brain and provoke mixed emotions from excitement to frustration. Using this psychological factor, brands have learned how to engage their target audience.

People have strong emotional reactions and associations with colors. This concept is called color psychology. And if you understand it well enough, you can use it as a marketing technique to get readers’ attention.

Enough theory and empty promises. Now, let’s take a closer look at its majesty, color psychology.

Book cover color psychology

The idea is simple: every color represents and evokes a certain feeling. Color is a powerful communication tool that influences psychological reactions in the human body.

So how exactly does this work in book cover design? Let’s take a look.


Red is all about the active lifestyle, energy, confidence, and enthusiasm. It immediately attracts attention, sometimes signifying danger (think about all the warning signs). As a result, red color increases heart rate and boosts up the energy level.
Dark red, however, is associated with anger, rage, and prestige, also passion and dominance.


Orange characterizes the maturity of personality. It is the color of joy, pleasure, the pursuit of achievement (Does it ring a bell? Think about all the self-made success books!) and self-affirmation, the color of energy and strength. It has a beneficial effect on human psychology, relieving tension in conflicts.
On the other hand, it displaces other colors, which can be associated with the shock effect. In this case, orange symbolizes the passion of the struggle, and the demonic beginning of the war.


Yellow stimulates brain activity and imagination. Pale yellow is the color of a good mood; it eliminates apathy and anxiety. Bold yellow provokes ambition, motivation, and creativity. It influences the left side of the human brain, which is responsible for logic.


Light green goes along with nature, vitality, environment, and health.
Dark bright green, though, is associated with magic, mysterious light, and paranormal phenomena (greetings from Harry Potter and Hobbit book covers).


Blue stimulates longing for travel, miracles, and magic. It is a color of peace, relaxation, and meditation. Blue color calms, balances, reduces pain and provides a sense of relief. When the reader detects blue on the cover, they may expect mental tension and involvement. The book might give them a lot of food for thought.


Light purple is about sensuality and spirituality. It enhances self-esteem and gives a harmonious feeling.
At the same time, one of the most mysterious colors, no doubt, is dark purple. It is associated with abnormal activities, fantasy, and magic.


Grey communicates the message of sophistication, knowledge, prestige, and wisdom. Think about images of architecture, strong urban and industrial vibe.


Pink brings youth, playfulness, emotion, innocence, dreams, and desires. It is considered to be a classic feminine color. However, different shades of pink can seem weak, vulnerable, and a bit silly. It can be associated with the refusal to face real-life challenges (remember that rose-colored glasses proverb?).


White is clean, straightforward, self-sufficient, and simple. It correlates with spirituality, energizes, and purifies. However, white color can get the opposite value. By its nature, it seems to absorb, neutralize all other colors, and correlate with emptiness, icy silence, and, ultimately, with death.


Black evokes the feeling of authority, power, and a sophisticated lifestyle. Dark cocktail dress, black suit, and tinted car windows. And of course, black is also associated with the dark side and depression.

We hope you found the color psychology idea interesting. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get creative and combine different colors. But knowledge about color theory and psychology can become your game-changer.

How to choose a color for your book genre

Now let’s learn what colors typically associate with certain genres. Here we are going to combine the knowledge of color psychology and color grammar in genres.

When choosing a color palette, take into account the following details:

  • color psychology;
  • the individual’s assessment of the harmony in colors based on a specific object ( e.g., green makes sense as the color of grass, but not human skin);
  • do not to use more than three dominant colors on the book cover;

Non-fiction: blue, yellow (or golden), orange and sometimes red

For non-fiction book covers, designers prefer to use yellow, orange, blue, and red colors based on the meaning they communicate and feeling they might evoke. If you are a proud author of self-help motivational books, success stories, or thought-provoking non-fiction, this is the palette you might be looking for.

By the way.

Don’t be afraid to use white space in non-fiction book covers. It has proven to make a book cover more scannable and prioritize the focus element for the audience.

Now, let’s take a look at the most common colors for fiction book cover design.

Science fiction: Blue, Black, Green, Red, and Grey

Many sci-fi books take place in dystopian societies, hard times or rebellion. Cool blues, purples, and some metallic greys are going to lead the audience to feel tense and unsettled.

There’s an interesting theory of impossible fictional colors, which are the ones that can not be seen in nature under normal circumstances. Some sci-fi books use these colors on their covers.

Romance: Pink, Purple, Red, White, Blue

Let’s go by the common stereotype and assume that women are the target audience for romance books. As a result, it is a good idea to use the feminine color palette for book covers in this genre.

If your book falls into the category of historical, contemporary, erotic, or paranormal romance, you might want to go with pink, purple, red, white, and blue combinations.

Fantasy: Bright Green, Purple, and Yellow

What about fantasy book cover design? Since this genre quite often involves paranormal activity, the combination of green, purple, and yellow will highlight the mood of the book. It is also a great trick to draw attention. And an excellent way to represent different aspects of the unreal worlds, mystic creatures, and scenes.

Thriller: Red, Black, and Blue

If you are working on a psychological, action, crime, or mystery thriller, you might consider using red, blue and black in your cover design.

I mean, think about blood, aggression, fear, power. What message do you encode? The combination of red and black communicates the idea that the book is about violence and mystery.

Blue is an interesting cookie, though. It is sometimes present on thriller book covers since quite often the plot involves water (bodies in rivers, bathtub scenes, etc.)

As a cherry on top, we would like to keep you updated on color trends in book cover design in 2020.

So enjoy our little book runway show.

Color trends in book cover design

Always chasing rainbows

Take some notes from this inspirational rainbow and technicolor style book cover.

Pink is the new black

Pink keeps having strong leading positions in book cover design.

Completely black and white book covers

One needs to be extremely careful and create a stunning design to pull this one off.


Now you know how to use color theory in book cover design.

Finally, we’ve prepared a little surprise for you.

color theory book cover design

Take a look at the color wheel above, choose one color, and start freewriting a bit. It literally means what the name suggests: writing without constraint (almost, the color you’ve selected is your constraint). 

Now start a 10-minute timer and write non-stop, using that color word as a central element of the plot, creating your character around it, describing the scene, etc. This exercise is excellent to boost up your creative thinking; there are no limits or restrictions, just your own imagination.

Post your results in the comment section below. Let’s try to keep it below 500 words.

Ready. Steady. Go.

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    1 year ago

    This was so helpful. I have so many directions for my cover design idea this really helped organize things. Thank you

    1 year ago
    Reply to  Gale

    Glad to hear you found it helpful!

    11 months ago

    Hi there,
    I am just wondering who the author is for this article as I would like to properly cite this article for an essay I am working on

    11 months ago
    Reply to  ghalia

    Hi! This article was written by Anastasiya Lototska 😉

    Leon King
    Leon King
    8 months ago

    Thanks, this was a great article.

    7 months ago
    Reply to  Leon King

    Thank you! We’re glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    3 months ago

    Thank you so much for this! Great article! I appreciate you and your staff. I submitted to receive your suggestions, I can’t wait!

    2 months ago
    Reply to  DWoods.Advisor

    Thank you!

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