Colors that Scare

5 min readOct 21, 2020


Who likes a good scare? Maybe you like the classic ghost story, vampires, Salem witches or a good old slasher movie. But if you’re looking to scare your printer or supplier this Halloween, just ask them to produce a vivid orange such as PANTONE Orange 021.

That’s right, traditional Halloween colors are frighteningly hard to produce.

A woman dressed in day-of-the-dead makeup holding red roses. Painted bars on the left show a fall Halloween mood board.

Colors We Fear

Before I get into why Halloween colors are so hard to produce, let’s take a look at how people perceive fear and scary in color.

Typically the color orange symbolizes energy and joy as seen in things like a sunset or the fruit. However, during the fall, we associate it with seasonal objects like leaves, pumpkins, and harvests. The fire lit within the Jack-o’-lanterns reflect and dance, creating life, warmth, and energy.

But Halloween is about warding off darkness. The actual day originates from a Celtic festival called Samhain, where people light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. This makes the connection to the color black which is often associated with death/mourning, dark as night, spirits, and the unknown.

In many ways, orange and black are yin and yang colors that contrast with each other. It is when we pair these colors together that we get the story of Halloween -harvest and spirits.

But these are not the only Halloween colors.

Red may be for love, but with Halloween, we think blood and the devil. (In February, we asked if Red was the color of love or the devil). Red is used for the blood from the bite of a vampire, or a red poisonous witches’ brew. Green becomes something supernatural; a greenish alien glow or a green ogre or goblin. White as a ghost, the white moonlight, and white of bones. More recently, purple has become a Halloween color. This child-friendly color helps soften the spookiness of black.

When put all these colors together in a mood board, it becomes a frightful story. Designers and brands routinely use this color pallet throughout the fall and Halloween mood boards. It helps tell a brand story that aligns with a consumer holiday.

Wicked Production Challenges

What makes these colors so scary for printers and other suppliers?

Traditionally, orange and purple are two of the most challenging colors to print using conventional Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) methods. Orange can quickly run too red or green and with the shade too dark or light. Meeting a brand specified ‘orange’ can be challenging. Many orange colors run out of the normal range of a CMYK device are referred to as ‘ out of gamut.’

For a typical offset press, a spot color, like PANTONE, would be required to achieve a bright orange. The limitations of ink and production technology make it nearly impossible. However, some toner-based devices, though CMYK, can reproduce shades of orange quite well. This is because toner does not have the same contaminants as ink. It can achieve a larger gamut than conventional printing methods. There are also toner-based devices that support a spot color, like HP’s Indigo and their Electroinks. But be forewarned, the costs are not amicable unless you are a big client with a long term contract, think brands like Orange Mobile, or the printer specializes in running 5-color jobs on their Indigo.

CMYKOGV or Extended Gamut Printing

Over the decades, there have been various attempts to increase the color gamut. PANTONE’s Hex system is one, and early inkjet used light cyan and light magenta.

Today, many printers leverage automated workflows, direct to plate printing, and processes that allow designers to test those color limits again. For example, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black, Orange, Green, and Violet, often referred to as CMYKOGV or extended gamut printing, is growing in popularity. So much so, that PANTONE ended its HEX system but took those lessons to create their Extended Gamut Color Fan Deck.

A color gamut that shows where a bright Pantone orange may place outside a normal CMYK color gamut.
Printing CMYKOGV (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, Black, Orange, Green,, Violet), can produces a larger color gamut, and achieves more colors than CMYK alone.

Many of the new production presses are more than four colors. They support six, eight, or ten colors. Instead of running CMYK and two or three process colors, printers can now run CMYKOGV and get a vastly larger color gamut without much change in costs. This means that brands and designers can achieve more colors with a CMYKOGV process than a four-color and three spot color process.

For brands and packaging designers that need to produce Halloween color (or any brand color), extended gamut printing has some advantages. As one brand owner said, “The quicker we can launch a new packaging the better, and there’s no question that the speed would improve with fixed sets of inks (used in extended gamut printing). Also, we would know at the design stage which colors are achievable. We expect a certain quality standard, which spot colors bring today, but with the increasing need for more colors and speed to market, together with the future integration of digital printing, ECG (extended color gamut) is something to investigate further.”

Mischievous Media

Not only can Halloween colors be challenging, but the media-type you select can be just as mischievous. Your base material or substrate has a direct impact on the appearance of inks and toners. If you have ever used a Pantone book, you may have noticed a U or C. The U stands for Uncoated while the C stands for Coated. Coated paper is calendared, making it smooth. Inks will absorb differently across different media types. The calendaring creates a smooth sheen or gloss on the paper, making it hold ink better than its matte counterpart.

Bright colors, when produced on corrugated packaging can lose their vibrancy.

Today’s marketers, designers, and e-commerce leaders focus on the unboxing experience. And the first box is the shipping box which is usually made from corrugated cardboard. This brown matte material is far from ideal for printing and producing bright colors on. A simple yellow can get lost in a sea of brown, and orange looks like a wannabe orange. For this type of material, designers should consider a white underprint first. This will reduce or remove the brown and enable the orange to be its intended, vibrant self.

Boo-tiful Results

For designers and brands working with Halloween colors, remember that you don’t want to spook your printer or suppliers. Oranges, purples are not as easy to reproduce. You may need a spot color, or talk to your printer about extended color gamut printing. Either way, by working with your supplier and understanding what is achievable on the media-type you select, your design or package will come out looking boo-tiful.

Shoshana Burgett / About Author

Originally published at on October 21, 2020.




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