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Why So Many Cartoon Characters Are Yellow

Think about your associations with yellow. Maybe you instantly thought about the sun, bright fall leaves, or something more abstract, like the feeling of joy or optimism. Well, if you keep thinking about it, some cartoon characters are bound to come to mind, simply because there are so many of them, like Pikachu, SpongeBob SquarePants, the Simpsons, and so many more.

We at Bright Side love the color yellow and want to understand why cartoonists seem to fancy it so much.

1. It’s all about contrast.

Being one of the primary colors (together with blue and red), yellow is very distinct. In fact, these 3 colors are extreme examples of contrasting hues, and the further a given color is from the primary colors, the less intense it is. However, the primary colors used on-screen (TV, of course, is included in this) are red, green, and blue.

In this color scheme, yellow and blue are on the opposite sides of the spectrum, making each other stand out the most. And since blue is a prevalent color in many backgrounds (think sea, sky, etc.), it only makes sense to use yellow for noticeable, bright characters.

2. Psychology

Traditionally, yellow is associated with happiness and joy (remember Pixar’s Inside Out?). This has been proven by research, which found that the majority of participants (72%) mentioned yellow as positive, and only 0.5% of respondents thought it was negative. This characteristic of yellow makes it an excellent choice for cheerful and easygoing characters in cartoons.

3. You can’t miss it.

As we’ve already mentioned, primary colors are very distinct. But still, even among these, yellow takes the cake for being the most noticeable, as it’s the most visible color in low light and second-most visible during the day. It’s even distinguishable for people with some forms of color blindness.

4. It’s special for kids.

The color yellow is often used in advertising for children since they also associate this color with positive emotions, which is why you can see it in logos for Legos, Hot Wheels, Crayola, and more. This is not a coincidence: in marketing, yellow is typically used for the packaging of “fun” products.

In a study, children were given a choice between yellow and brown crayons after listening to a happy or sad story. The majority of the “happy story” group chose the yellow crayon, and most kids from the second group preferred the brown one, proving that color association with one’s mood is important.

5. It attracts attention.

The color seen on numerous cartoon characters does not have a completely positive meaning though. It’s very visible, which has been mentioned before, making it a good choice for different sorts of alerts that need to be seen from a distance and grab our attention. This is why yellow is used in traffic lights, road signs, and more.

Additionally, this is one of the colors nature uses to send a “stay away” signal: yellow can be seen on stinging insects (bees, wasps), venomous snakes (coral snake, rattlesnakes, copperhead, etc.), and other dangerous animals. However, this still gets the job of making us pay attention done, which is used in many spheres, including cartoons.

Who is your favorite yellow cartoon character? We’d love to see your opinion in the comments!

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