Progressive palettes: How pace and politics are influencing colour trends

In just a decade the biggest driver of colour trends for branding and packaging has moved from fashion to social media, according to UK designers, with technology predicted to become the biggest influence by 2030.

This rapid pace of change has been identified by 500 designers who were questioned by industry experts, customers and fellow creatives on what determines colour trends today.  

The Progressive Palettes Report by specialist papermaker and experts in colour James Cropper, found that just ten years ago designers considered fashion to be the key driver of colour trends, but today they say social media is now the driving force

Looking to the future, thirty per cent of designers predict that technology will be the foremost influencer within a decade.

Exploring the more shortterm influences currently impacting colour choices for brand identity and packaging, designers cited personalisation, Brexit and the Trump era, the unboxing trend, sustainability and the gender debate as the top five. 

Phil Wild, CEO for James Cropper, said: “What can’t be overlooked is the pace at which influence changes when it comes to colour, or the impact of external factors such as politics or an increased consciousness of the environment. 

The Industry has so far successfully shifted on its axis to stay ahead of the game, whether it be through design, methods of bespoke colour creation, sustainable materials or manufacturing processes. To keep momentum, it’s essential we continue to invest and innovate.  

Mark Starrs, Master Colour Blender at James Cropper adds: The narratives expressed by the design community, in our experience, are spot on. Palettes are now progressive, political, environmental, and as ever, personal.

The research also revealed that for the majority of designers (80%), consumer desire for individuality and personalisation is having a significant impact on the colour choices brands are making today.  

Mark Starrs comments: Brands are using personalisation to connect to consumers and attach more meaning to their product or offering. Whether it’s monogramming at the point of purchase or tailoring colour on demandthere are more bespoke options than ever before. Our colour lab holds around 4,000 live shades that can be produced with some 200,000 colours stored electronically in our database, so we create  almost any colour. We’ve had designers come to us with jewellery, wedding dresses, leaves and even a skirting board for us to colour match – and it’s entirely possible. 

It doesn’t stop at colour. Paper and packaging can be entirely bespoke toofrom the individual fibres selected to create a paper recipe to the ways they’re engineered, coloured, converted and embossed.  The creative possibilities are endless, enabling us to take our bespoke solutions to the next level.”

Phil Wild concludes: “We work with a multitude of designers directly, but the nature of our business means that we don’t always get the opportunity to talk to every creative that uses our product; which is why we’ve invested in asking the design community for their opinions. To hear directly from them on what is driving colour trends now and in the future, along with insights on how the landscape is changing is invaluable and industry-defining. We’ll be sharing our extensive findings over the coming months, exploring topics in greater detail.”

James Cropper’s PROGRESSIVE PALETTES REPORT will be free and released in full at the LuxePack Monaco event in October 2019, as well as being available to pre-order here from May 2019. It will include insights from leading peers, customers and industry experts across a range of topics exploring the modern context of colour. 

As well as curating questions for designers as part of the research, experts from multiple industries including Tracy Sutton, packaging design and sustainable brand expert, Lee Carpenter, packaging lead at ethical cosmetics company Lush, Vincent Villiger, former Burberry creative director, Elayne Cousins of the IDP group and Darren Seymour, head of creative at Keenpac, will also contribute in a series of opinion pieces.  

Other topics the report explores include: 


For 80% of designers, sustainability is having an impact on colour trends. It’s therefore no surprise that the plastic crisis is the thing that resonates the most amongst designers (73%).   .

Sustainability goals was a key consideration for three quarters (76%) of creatives when it comes to choosing colour, and a fifth (20%) predict that in the next ten years the impact of sustainability on colour trends will grow. 

The impact of ecommerce 

Just under two in five designers (38%) agree that colour is key to creating a brilliant customer experience with online purchases, believing that the packaging replaces the in-store purchasing experience.


A third of designers (35%) agree that the need to take cultural influences into account means that brands are moving towards a palette of colours to allow for more fluidityA third (33%) also agree that colour consistency across markets matters more for luxury brands than for high street brands. Whilst the majority confirm (79%) that achieving colour consistency across regions greatly affects the design process.


On average, 34% of briefs that designers receive include the requirement for the design to be ‘Instagram-able’, citing characteristics of this to be about colours that stand out, are trend setting, distinctive, bright, bold and consistent with branding

Colour and storytelling 

Almost half (44%) of designers agree that colour is essential to effective storytelling, and that effective storytelling requires more than just one colour. Perhaps indicating a trend away from a set palette, a third (36%) of designers agree that new brands are much less tied to set colours, instead favouring brand stories.    

Colour in a digital world 

Almost half (45%) of designers agree the digital world has allowed brands to play with colour, mix things up and tailor brand experiences for particular markets or sectors, opening up a world of opportunity because things can be so easily changed (43%).