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International Color Guide

Colors mean different things in different cultures. Black, for example, signifies death and is worn during times of mourning in Western countries; black in Egypt, however, represents rebirth.

As companies continue to become more global, and products and messages cross national borders, it is important to familiarize yourself with the symbolism of color.

To help you use color accurately and effectively for different cultural audiences, we've developed the following International Color Tips, based on the research of Surya Vanka, associate professor of art and design at the University of Illinois. Vanka is an expert on the international attributes of color and is author of the multimedia software "ColorTool: Cross-Cultural Meanings of Color." The software allows designers around the world to inquire, specify, and evaluate color choices for products that will be marketed internationally.


The Chinese have a classic love of color and have used it abundantly throughout their cultural history.

  • China has its own alchemical tradition linked to color: yellow for earth, white for metal, blue-green for wood, red for fire, and black for water.

  • Red is an especially significant color used in wedding ceremonies, during revolutions, and in everyday life to promote good luck and joy.


In Colombia, colors connect the physical world and the people who occupy it through long-held traditions.

  • The colors of the country's Liberal and Conservative parties - red and blue - are represented in the flag.

  • According to Colombian folk beliefs, illnesses also have color. "Light" colored illnesses - white, red and yellow - are curable, while "dark" illnesses - black, blue and green - are incurable. 


Egypt is an ancient land with rich and powerful traditions.

  • The flag's use of red, white and black reference Egypt's revolution, its promising future and the dark days the country has left behind.

  • Green, a sacred color for Muslims, is now viewed as the national color of the country.


Ethiopian colors are so provocative, they have come to mean African identity as a whole. 

  • The red in its flag stands for faith and power; yellow stands for peace, church, love and natural wealth; green stands for land and hope.

  • These colors have become symbolic of independence on the continent. 

Great Britain

British color tradition is rooted in the country's rich history and culture.

  • "Royal" colors, influenced by British royalty are deeply saturated colors such as purple, blues, reds and greens. The have found their way into all corners of British life.

  • The colors royal blue and red in the flag speak both of the monarchy and of Britain's democratic government.


Vibrant colors in art, crafts, clothing, and more are a hallmark of everyday Indian life.

  • Colors have religious meanings that are strictly respected. Green is sacred for the Muslim and Parsi religions, while orange or saffron is meaningful for the Hindi.

  • Red symbolizes sensuality and purity, yellow is associated with the god Vishnu, and green is a festive color representing life and happieness. 


In Iran, color and its associations are taken very seriously, as they are firmly tied into religious traditions.

  • White is believed to be the main color worn by the Prophet Mohammed, red represents the red of sunset, and green, the most sacred, is the color of the Prophet's turban.

  • Color must be used with care in Iran, as it stirs strong emotional and political feelings among the country's citizens.


The use of both soft and intense colors are visceral signals in the Japanese color tradition.

  • Red is probably the most meaningful color in Japan.

  • The use of red in the flag represents life and vitality. Symbolically, the color is also regarded to have the power to ward off evil.


Color symbolism in warm, tropical Melanesia is a reflection of the area's environment.

  • Red and yellow are the primary colors of celebration for this area; black and white are ritual colors.

  • A person's face painted red is a sign of status and power; black speaks of beauty.


Mexico's color palette is a mix of historical associations and the environment's deeply toned offerings.

  • The colors of the Mexican flag are all symbolic: green represents independence or hope, white stands for purity and unity, and red stands for the blood of patriots and other heroes. 

  • In genreal bright reds and yellows signal a fiesta, while red and white have religious connotations, symbolic of the passion of Christ and purity.

New Zealand

Ancient Maori culture and art drives the color traditions of present-day New Zealand.

  • Red and green are sacred, powerful colors in New Zealand.

  • Black, red ochre and white or silver are considered to be the country's national colors.


Colors have meaning in nearly every aspect of everyday life in Nigeria today.

  • The Nigerian flag colors symbolize agriculture (green), and peace and unity (white).

  • Red has an entire palette of meanings: prosperity, vitality, and aggression. Black, on the other hand, is almost universally considered a frightening color.


The color traditions of Peru's indigenous people drive the country's modern conventions as well.

  • White is a color associated with angels, good health, and time. Used with red, white has patriotic connotations.

  • Red can symbolize a healthy soul, and for some native peoples, it is symbolic of the earth. 

South Africa

South Africans refer to their country as the "rainbow nation" because of its many ethnic groups.

  • Black and red are almost synonymous: representing both good and evil.

  • White alone is representative of good.


In Tibet, colors have strong connections to many aspects of everyday life - aspects of nature, human emotions, even the days of the week.

  • The color red in the Tibetan flag symbolizes a male deity, a special guardian of the flag and is related to light, fire, anger, and the complexion of fierce gods.  

  • The color blue in the Tibetan flag symbolizes a female deity, a special guardian of the flag.


Ukrainian Pysanky Easter eggs, the colorful, patterned shapes known around the world, contain much of the country's color traditions.

  • Yellow on Pysanky eggs stands for light and purity; orange, strength; black stands for, fear and death; brown, the earth; blue, good health; white, innocence; purple, faith and trust; green, fertility or hope; and red, represents action or awakening.

United States

The combination of the colors of the country's flag, Old Glory: red, white and blue stand for patriotism.

  • The red and white, equal-width stripes on the American flag are representative of the country's original 13 colonies.

  • The blue square and white stars represent the government, uniting the 50 states. 

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