Is Yellow a Happy Color? Shades, Meaning and Facts

Yellow is a complex color with many meanings

Yellow, one of three primary colors, used in painting or color printing, is associated with cheerfulness, amusement, spontaneity, jealousy, jaundice, cowardice. In Asian countries, yellow is the color of happiness, harmony, and wisdom.

The color yellow is a conflicting color. On the one hand it is bright and it can be intense. But it can be abrasive when too much of it is used. Yellow can appear warm and bright, yet it can also lead to visual fatigue.

yellow dot

Yellow Color Codes

Hex Code and Web Safe#ffff00
RGB255, 255, 0
CMYK0, 0, 100, 0

The Psychology of the Color Yellow

  • Yellow is associated with being cheery and warm.
  • The color is hard to read and tires the eye
  • Yellow can inspire feelings of frustration and anger. Babies cry more in yellow rooms.
  • Yellow can boost metabolism.

History of the Color Yellow

Yellow has a long and varied past beginning in ancient times.

The color yellow, made with yellow ochre pigment, was one of the first colors used in art.

The Lascaux cave in France has a painting of a yellow horse 17,000 years old. Ochre and other pigments were used to represent gold and skin color in Egyptian tombs, then in the murals in Roman villas. 

In the 20th century, Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were forced to wear a yellow star.

In China, bright yellow was the color of the Middle Kingdom, and could be worn only by the emperor and his household; special guests were welcomed on a yellow carpet.

Yellow in Printing

In color printing, yellow is one of the three colors of ink, along with magenta and cyan, which, along with black, can be layered to print any full-color image. This is the CMYK color model. Process yellow also called “pigment yellow,” “printer’s yellow,” and “canary yellow” is used in color printing.

The yellow on a color television or computer screen is created in a completely different way; by combining green and red light at the right level of intensity. This is the RGB color model. The CMYK and RGB models are not interchangeable. In other words, you can’t use process yellow in the RGB color model.

Complementary Colors for Yellow

Complementary colors for yellow are indigo, violet and purple.

Traditionally, the complementary color, or the opposite color on the color wheel, of yellow is purple. Indigo is also considered a complementary color. Newton’s own color circle has yellow directly opposite the boundary between indigo and violet.

Because of the characteristics of paint pigments and use of different color wheels, painters traditionally regard the complement of yellow as the color indigo or blue-violet.

Yellow in Nature

Autumn leaves, yellow flowers, egg yolks, bananas, oranges and other yellow fruits all contain carotenoids, yellow and red organic pigments.

Xanthophylls are the most common yellow pigments that form one of two major divisions of the carotenoid group. For example, the yellow color of chicken egg yolks, fat, and skin comes from the feed the chickens consume. Chicken farmers add xanthophylls, usually lutein, to make the egg yolks more yellow.

Fishing enthusiasts know that yellowtail is the common name for dozens of different fish species that have yellow tails or a yellow body.

Yellowfin tuna has bright yellow fins. It is found in tropical and subtropical seas.

The yellow-fever mosquito is a mosquito so named because it transmits dengue fever and yellow fever, the mosquito-borne viruses.

Yellowjackets are black-and-yellow wasps. They can be identified by their distinctive black-and-yellow color, small size.

The Color Yellow Facts

Yellow is a fascinating color
  • The color yellow has been historically associated with moneylenders and finance. The National Pawnbrokers Association’s logo depicts three golden spheres hanging from a bar
  • The painter Vincent van Gogh was a particular admirer of the color yellow, the color of sunshine.
  • Mickey Dugen, more commonly known as the Yellow Kid for a yellow nightshirt he wore, was one of the first comic strip characters featured in the newspaper.
  • Yellow can be seen from far distances and at high speeds and is frequently used for traffic signs.

20+ Shades of Yellow

Light Yellow #FFFFE0


Lemon Chiffon #FFFACD

Yellow #FFFF00

Xanthic #EEED09

Process Yellow #FFEF00

Yellow Pantone #FEDF00

Yellow Crayola #FCE883

Unmellow Yellow #FFFF66

Lemon Yellow #FDFF00

Maximum Yellow #FAFA37

Mellow Yellow #F8DE7E

Royal Yellow #FADA5E

Golden Yellow #FFD700

Cyber Yellow #FFD300

Safety Yellow #EED202

Khaki #C3B091

Goldenrod #DAA520

Hunyadi Yellow #E8AC41

Bright Yellow (Crayola) #FFAA1D

Greenish Yellow #EEEA62

Symbolism and Associations of Yellow

Yellow is often an overlooked color because not many people in western cultures like the color. Yellow is the color of ambivalence and contradiction. The color is associated with optimism and amusement, but also with betrayal, duplicity, and jealousy. But in China and other parts of Asia, yellow is a color of virtue and nobility.

What Yellow Means to China

In China, yellow is the color of happiness, glory, and wisdom. In China, there are five directions of the compass; north, south, east, west, and the middle, each with a symbolic color.

Yellow signifies the middle. China is called the Middle Kingdom; the palace of the Emperor was considered to be in the exact center of the world.

In Chinese symbolism, yellow, red and green are masculine colors, while black and white are considered feminine.

In the traditional symbolism of the two opposites which complement each other, the yin and yang, the masculine yang is traditionally represented by yellow.

Just as there are five elements, five directions and five colors in the Chinese world-view, there are also five seasons; summer, winter, fall, spring, and the end of summer, symbolized by yellow leaves.

Yellow the Color of Sunlight

Yellow, as the color of sunlight when sun is near the horizon, is commonly associated with warmth.

Yellow combined with red symbolized heat and energy.

A room painted yellow feels warmer than a room painted white, and a lamp with yellow light seems more natural than a lamp with white light.

As the color of light, yellow is also associated with knowledge and wisdom.

In English and many other languages, “brilliant” and “bright” means intelligence.

In Islam, the yellow color of gold symbolizes wisdom.

In medieval European symbolism, red symbolized passion, blue symbolized the spiritual, and yellow symbolized reason. In many European universities, yellow gowns and caps are worn by members of the faculty of physical and natural sciences, as yellow is the color of reason and research.

Visibility and Caution

yellow means caution

Yellow is the most visible color from a distance, so it is often used for objects that need to be seen, such as fire engines, road maintenance equipment, school buses and taxicabs.

It is also often used for warning signs, since yellow traditionally signals caution, rather than danger. Safety yellow is often used for safety and accident prevention information.

A yellow light on a traffic signal means slow down, but not stop.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration uses Pantone 116 (a yellow hue) as their standard color implying “general warning,” while the Federal Highway Administration similarly uses yellow to communicate warning or caution on highway signage.

A yellow penalty card in a soccer match means warning, but not expulsion.

Idioms and Expressions

  • Yellow-belly is an American expression which means a coward. The term comes from the 19th century and the exact origin is unknown.
  • Yellow pages refers in various countries to directories of telephone numbers, arranged alphabetically by the type of business or service offered.
  • The Yellow Peril was a term used in politics and popular fiction in the late 19th and early 20th century to describe the alleged economic and cultural danger posed to Europe and America by Chinese immigration.