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Why do we call it pink and not light red?

Why do we call it pink and not light red?

The Distinction Between Pink and Light Red

Pink and light red may appear similar, but they are considered distinct colors in language and culture. There are a few key reasons we refer to the pale, rosy hue as “pink” rather than simply calling it “light red”:

Different Wavelengths

Pink and red sit next to each other on the visible color spectrum, but they have slightly different wavelengths of light. Red has wavelengths around 625-740 nanometers, while pink is 500-700 nanometers. This subtle difference in wavelength causes pink to have more of a purplish-blue tint compared to pure red.

Cultural Associations

Over time, pink has developed distinct cultural connotations from red. While red is often associated with power, aggression, and urgency, pink is associated with femininity, innocence, and playfulness. Referring to the color as pink rather than light red fits with how it is used in society.

Distinct Dye Colors

When producing dyes, pink requires different formulations from red. Early pink dyes were made from flowers or plants such as roses, apple blossom, cherry blossom, and hollyhock. Red, on the other hand, was often made from crushed cochineal insects. Having distinct words for the colors matches their distinct sources.

Filling a Perceptual Gap

Having a distinct name for pink fills a gap in how we perceive colors. Red, purple, and blue are all named colors in the rainbow spectrum. Pink sits between red and purple but needed its own distinct classification.

The Origins of the Word “Pink”

The word “pink” has its roots in the flower of the same name. Here is a brief history:

  • The flower “pink” originated in the 14th century from a Dutch word “pinck” describing a small flower.
  • The color sense of “pink” came from the flower name in the late 17th century.
  • By the 18th century, “pink” was being used to describe pale shades of red in fashion.
  • The adjective “pink” became common in the early 20th century.

Interestingly, while “pink” now seems distinctive from red, early uses of the word were simply referring to light or pale red shades. But over time, pink developed its own identity as a color name.

Gender Associations with Pink

Today pink is strongly associated with femininity, but this has not always been true. Here is how the gender connotations shifted over time:

  • Before the 20th century, pink was actually more associated with boys while blue was associated with girls.
  • In the 1940s, retailers began promoting pink for girls and blue for boys.
  • By the 1950s pink had become a signature color for women’s fashion.
  • Marketers amplified the association between pink and femininity in the 1980s-1990s.

This shows how color meanings can change over time based on social conventions. The strong modern association between pink and femininity developed fairly recently.

Psychology and Perception of Pink

Psychological studies have explored why the color pink has distinct effects from red:

Appeal and Preference

Pink is hypothesized to be pleasant and non-threatening, explaining its wide appeal, especially among women and children. Red is seen as more aggressive.

Calming and Soothing

Pink environments have been found to have a calming and soothing effect compared to neutral environments. Red, on the other hand, heightens stimulation.


Pink is strongly associated with sweetness. Red is not triggering of sweetness perceptions.

Taste and Flavor

Adding pink coloring or lighting can enhance the perception of sweetness in food. Red does not necessarily affect taste perceptions.

This illustrates why pink distinctly triggers pleasant, sweet associations compared to red on a psychological level.

Pink in Nature vs Synthetic Pink

Pink appears in many flowers and plants, but synthetic pink dyes have different properties:

Natural Pink Synthetic Pink Dyes
Rose petals Phloxine
Cherry blossoms Rhodamine
Pomegranate juice Fuchsine
Pink orchids Flamingo pink
Watermelon flesh Amaranth pink

While natural pink provides beauty, synthetic pink dyes allowed humans to produce the color on textiles and objects on a mass scale.

Key Uses of the Color Pink

Here are some of the most notable uses and associations of pink today:


Pink dominates women’s fashion, especially for dresses, blouses, and accents. It connotes femininity, sweetness, playfulness.

Breast Cancer Awareness

The pink ribbon symbolizes breast cancer awareness. The color provides warmth and hope.


Pink makes a playful accent color in home decorating, especially in bedrooms for women and girls.


Pink appears in icing, candy, cake decorations, and more. It boosts sweetness appeal.

Toys and Games

Pink features heavily in dolls, stuffed animals, board games, and children’s toys. It marks innocence.


Pink conveys romance, love, and femininity. It appears at weddings and on Valentine’s day.

Pink vs. Red in Branding

The choice of pink vs. red makes an important difference in branding:

Pink Branding Red Branding
Feminine, playful, sweet Power, urgency, aggression
Lower perceived risk Higher perceived risk
Calmer, more relaxed Exciting, stimulating
Youthful, innocent Dominant, confident

Pink makes brands feel friendly, approachable, and light-hearted. Red makes brands feel bold, intense, and powerful.


Although pink and light red may appear similar on the surface, cultural, psychological, and contextual factors make them markedly different colors. Pink connotes femininity, sweetness, playfulness, and romance in a way the red does not. Pink emerges from distinct natural plant dyes and occupies a special place on the visual spectrum between red and purple. The soft, calming effects of pink differentiate it from the stimulation of red. Examining the history and uses of pink makes it clear why it merits its own unique name.