Rainbows symbolize optimism, positivity, and diversity in popular culture. Try these fresh takes on the classic rainbow palette.
With Apple having just released a rainbow-tinted range of new iMac models, an optimistic and ultra-colorful approach to branding and graphics is set to be a huge trend in 2021. Here, you’ll learn more about the fascinating symbology and science behind rainbow color schemes, and discover ten contemporary rainbow palettes to use in your designs.
What Is a Rainbow Color Palette?
Rainbows are an optical illusion, a result of the reflection, refraction, and dispersion of light in water droplets. A multicolored arc appears in the sky, showcasing a breathtaking spectrum of colored light.
While a rainbow features the whole spectrum of color in a smooth graduation, to the human eye, a rainbow appears to be made up of bands of color. The most commonly cited sequence of colors are the seven hues identified by Isaac Newton—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet—made memorable by the mnemonic Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain (ROYGBIV).
While traditional rainbow color schemes follow this seven-color sequence, you can also apply the rainbow principle to a variety of different palettes, giving a fresh twist on multicolored, sequential schemes.
Alternative rainbow palettes generally range from warm to cool colors, building a graduating rather than contrasting sequence. Rainbow palettes also usually incorporate more colors than a standard scheme, to achieve a completely multicolored effect.
Scroll down to discover ten palettes that offer a new twist on the traditional rainbow scheme—from sugar-sweet iridescents to tropical and Modernist-inspired rainbow palettes.
What Is the Symbolism Behind Rainbow Schemes?
Rainbow color palettes have been highly symbolic throughout recent history, from the rainbow icon adopted by supporters of the National Health Service in the UK during the pandemic, to the “rainbow nation” slogan given by Nelson Mandela to the newly democratic South Africa.
Famously adopted by the LGBTQ+ community as a symbol of diversity in the 1970s, rainbow palettes are now omnipresent during gay pride events worldwide. With each color symbolic of an aspect of the queer community, the Pride rainbow flag uses six colors—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
In the design world, the optimistic appeal of rainbows has led many businesses to adopt a multicolored approach in their branding and products. Apple’s first incarnation of its iconic logo featured a rainbow palette, chosen for the fact that the Apple II (released in 1977) could display color images, a rarity for the time. Apple has revisited its multicolored past with the recent release of the new twenty-four inch iMac in seven colors.
Other brands that have used rainbow palettes in their brand identities include NBC, IBM, Polaroid, and (of course) Skittles, who use the slogan “Taste the Rainbow” in their marketing and advertising.
10 Fresh Rainbow Palettes
Multicolored sequences can lend a fun and friendly feel to a variety of projects, from packaging design to children’s branding. Below, discover ten palettes that give a contemporary spin on rainbow schemes, from retro-inspired, dusky hues to eye-popping neons.
Of course, the edit wouldn’t be complete without a classic seven-color rainbow scheme. For authentic rainbow styling for illustrations, logos, packaging, or websites, look no further than the first palette.
Save your favorite palettes to Pinterest, use in Shutterstock Editor, or save to your computer for using in future projects.
1. Classic Rainbow
This palette is taken from the seven-color rainbow sequence that can be perceived by the human eye. This graduating scheme moves from red through the warm area of the spectrum, ending in cooler hues of blue, indigo, and violet. This versatile palette can inject positivity and creativity into any project.
2. Neon Rainbow
3. Retro Rainbow
Multicolored palettes were a hallmark of 1970s design, with muted, earthy tones instead of brighter primary colors. This palette pays tribute to the trippy, groovy color schemes favored during the Summer of Love. Plus, it’s perfect for summer branding projects or vintage-infused illustrations.
4. Iridescent Rainbow
Inspired by surfaces that reflect a multitude of colors, creating a mesmerizing iridescent effect, this palette is a soft and ethereal take on a rainbow scheme. These colors look particularly effective when blended into a gradient design, and can give a dreamlike effect to packaging, stationery, or social media posts.
5. Modernist Rainbow
If you prefer bold color-blocking to a traditional rainbow palette, this scheme blends the two approaches together, creating a bold and painterly effect that wouldn’t look out of place on a Bauhaus poster. Limit your hues to just this bold group of four to achieve more contrast and, therefore, a stronger color-block effect.
6. TV Rainbow
Although color technology has developed in leaps and bounds over the past few decades, at its core is the simple use of red, green, and blue light, combined to create a full color spectrum. This palette is inspired by the TV-friendly colors that characterized the style of the 1980s. Punchy, graphic, and rich, these have a more contemporary edge when teamed with black or white.
7. Sunset Rainbow
Perhaps you’re looking for a more chilled-out alternative to a high-octane rainbow palette. This dusky, sunset-inspired scheme combines a graduation of cool and warm hues, but the colors are deeper and richer. This is an atmospheric palette that would work well for social media, events branding, or cosmetics packaging.
8. Pastel Rainbow
Sugar-sweet and surprisingly modern, pastel rainbows don’t have to be limited to children’s branding alone. A rainbow of pastel tones combines an innocent, nostalgic mood with the upbeat personality of multicolored palettes. Although this candy-hued scheme would be a natural fit for children’s designs, it would also be an effective palette for summer-themed marketing.
9. Getaway Rainbow
Many individuals associate rainbow color schemes with childhood, with one reason being that colorful palettes are often the backdrop to summer vacations and family resorts. When teamed with crisp white, pastel pink, red, orange, golden yellow, and turquoise blue are reminiscent of happy, sun-filled days by the pool or at the beach. This palette would be a cheerful scheme for tourism businesses, cafés, or holiday activities.
10. Tropical Rainbow
The tropics are where rainbow schemes are realized on the forest floor—from multicolored macaws to resplendent quetzals. A tropical rainbow scheme incorporates more green and jade tones, with a sharp burst of yellow and red, mimicking the bright coloring of birds of paradise. This palette is summery and soothing, and would make a lovely match for nature-inspired designs or eco branding.
Seeking more color inspiration? Color can be so transformative in projects, from website layouts to packaging designs. Below, discover more cutting-edge palettes for design projects, as well as amazing insights into the psychology and history of some of our most beloved colors.
Cover image by contributor KRIACHKO OLEKSII.