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How can you tell if a color is warm or cool?

Understanding whether a color is warm or cool is important when designing interiors or coordinating outfits. Warm and cool colors can evoke different moods and affect how spaces feel. Here are some tips for determining if a color is warm or cool:

Look at the color wheel

The color wheel is a useful tool for identifying warm and cool colors. In general:

  • Warm colors are on the red-orange-yellow side of the color wheel
  • Cool colors are on the blue-green-violet side of the color wheel

So if you see a color leaning towards red, orange, or yellow – it’s likely a warm color. If it leans towards blue, green, or violet – it’s likely a cool color.

Consider the color’s undertones

Many colors have subtle undertones that can make them read as warm or cool. Here are some clues to look for:

  • Warm colors often have yellow, peach or golden undertones.
  • Cool colors may have hints of blue, grey or emerald.

For example, a rich burgundy can read as warm because it has golden undertones. A bright purple can seem cool since it has blue undertones.

Think about color associations

We often associate colors with certain images, objects or temperatures. These associations can help give clues if a color is warm or cool:

  • Warm colors evoke images like fire, sunlight, deserts – things we think of as hot.
  • Cool colors evoke things like water, ice, sky – images linked to cold.

So a sandy beige may seem warm because it reminds us of the hot desert. A pale blue reads as cool because its reminiscent of ice.

Observe the color’s temperature

Warm and cool colors can actually seem to emit different temperatures:

  • Warm colors feel heated, energetic and advancing.
  • Cool colors feel calming, relaxing and receding.

For example, a bright crimson red can feel warm, vivid and active. A deep forest green feels cool, tranquil and set back.

Consider light vs. dark values

In general, lighter values of colors tend to read as warm. Darker shades come across as cool.

For example, a pale buttery yellow reads as warm, while a deep golden yellow reads as cool. The lighter value feels sunnier and hotter.

Common Warm & Cool Colors

Here are some typical warm and cool colors:

Warm Colors Cool Colors
Red Blue
Orange Green
Yellow Violet
Burgundy Navy
Beige Turquoise

Using Warm & Cool Colors

Understanding warm and cool colors allows you to use them effectively:

  • Warm colors feel energizing and inviting – great for creating an upbeat, lively mood.
  • Cool colors feel soothing and calming – perfect for creating a serene relaxed feeling.
  • Balancing warm and cool colors adds visual interest and depth.

So if you’re looking for an exciting, vibrant atmosphere, use lots of warm colors. If you want a restful, tranquil space, emphasize cool colors. And combining warm and cool shades creates a colorful, dynamic look.


Determining whether a color is warm or cool is an invaluable skill for designers and anyone who works with color. By understanding where a color sits on the color wheel, considering its undertones and associations, and observing its temperature and value, you can identify if it’s a warm or cool shade. This allows you to choose colors that set just the mood and atmosphere you intend in any context.