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From Color to Brand

Contact Author Jeff Falk, with contributions from Brian Budzynski and Kim Jednachowski
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  • In order to translate a color concept into a successful plastic bottle, color must be defined by characteristics, each separated into chemistry that works with the layers to be built.
  • One of the most difficult things we do is interpret an idea of a color.
  • The success of a color in packaging comes down to a visual impression that leads to success of the brand.

The rate of very cool looking plastic bottles, with a rainbow of amazing colors and effects, hitting the shelves seems to be on a constant rise. It’s a scenario written about in these pages monthly. There are more and more brands with growing lines competing for less shelf space and less consumer cash. Though it’s easy to appreciate brand and supplier efforts realized in finished bottles, it’s also easy to take the importance of color and effects, and their impact on brand success, for granted. GCI magazine had a chance to spend a day working with Clariant ColorWorks at its McHenry, Illinois facility on a faux project, creating bottle colors (really, brand identity) for an imaginary shampoo and conditioner line.

Let’s Begin

Len Kulka, director, creative development, consumer packaging, ColorWorks, Clariant Masterbatches, and his team took on the challenge of creating brand impact through color and effect based on a favorite pair of shoes. Sounds weird, right? But these kind of inspirations happen all the time, and have led to some pretty successful brands. So, GCI magazine’s Kim Jednachowski offered up her favorite flats, and Kulka and team got to work.

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To take full advantage of the visit, staff members sent Pantone reference color numbers ahead of time. Typically, brand owners and their design teams begin their work with ColorWorks by going through a color library and exploring color trend forecasts. But by the time we arrived on-site, work was underway.

Kulka had created a project name, Twitter Me, for an imaginary hair care brand—Timeless Radiance. The project brief noted that the shampoo and conditioner were for an upscale market, and intended to be a “friendly” option for colored hair. It was important that the color conveyed luxury and communicated an upscale impression on shelf.

The First Iteration

ColorWorks molds bottle samples in a modified Boston round shape. Its simple, concentric design virtually eliminates color variations related to the bottle shape and allows brand owners to concentrate on color, effects, opacity, etc., without getting hung up on aspects such as shape.

“The customer sees color in the mind’s eye, but what we want to do is define color by its characteristics and then bring those characteristics into chemistry that works in each layer of the structure,” says Kulka.

It is also, then, important for the color experts to understand and be able to explain what happens to color (or the perception of that color) as it translates from the mind’s eye—or pair of shoes, in this case—to the bottle. And when the first Timeless Radiance shampoo bottle comes off the mold, customer Jednachowski is not thrilled. The color matches the Pantone sample and the shoes, but it doesn’t translate to the bottle. The luster and gloss of the shoes, something the customer took for granted as an element of the color, wasn’t there in the first bottle iteration. This was the first lesson: expressing details, desires that influenced the attraction to the color but wasn’t necessarily the “color.”

“It’s a physical manifestation of color. One of the most difficult things we do is interpret an idea of a color. Your interpretation of the color and my interpretation of the color are clearly different,” says Philip Ksiazek, color development specialist. This, too, was a good jumping off point to talk about materials, layers of a bottle, balance of color and the impact on the overall color.

Materials, particularly PCR, can impact the visual aspects of a package in a negative way. Yet, when included as a component of the “background” in the layer structure of the bottle, these same materials contribute to the overall color creativity, and can be used to help control the brightness or darkness of the color contrast in a container.

“Any mixture of PCR, trim scrap and virgin resin isn’t pristine—and is somewhat dingy,” says Kulka. “We want to move that mix into the inner layer where it actually contributes to the opacity and color strength. In effect, it becomes our background, a functional ‘primer,’ and once we can pull it into the customer’s desired range of color, it becomes a positive component in the overall structure. Then we can come over the top with an outside layer that’s clean and brilliant. All pigments that have great reflectivity [such as pearlescents] are moved into the outside layer. The result is that the two layers work together to create a look that can’t easily be achieved in a single layer, and we can still use the PCR that is such a high priority for the big-box retailers.”

At the same time that the bottles were being produced and those colors evaluated, polypropylene (PP) overcaps were being produced for evaluation with both bottles. The first caps produced were dark brown, intended to complement the bottles, but customer Jednachowski was blunt: “I don’t like brown.”

It’s About the Brand, Not the Color

Something happens along this journey. As the iterations of bottles progress (see Project “Twitter Me” Technical Specifications), the discussions about color are no longer really about a “color.” The discussions become “What color is really saying about my brand, and what brings these bottles and caps together to communicate a message.” “All we’re doing is creating an easel and we’re putting a picture over the top,” says Kulka. “It’s the visual impression—that’s what it comes down to.”

The GCI magazine group’s requests for changes are met by the ColorWorks team, and options begin to emerge. We’ve moved away from looking for the “perfect” color, and have begun to explore complementary colors and colors that tell a story. It’s true that the bottles become more and more beautiful as the technicians work their magic—tweaking, looking for specific glows and highlights, and the working toward that “pop” to make the brand jump off the shelf.

When we’ve gotten to a point in which the bottles shimmer, that brown cap dismissed earlier in the day (and nearly supplanted by caps that were deemed attractive solely based on their color and not their role in the brand) is seen to clearly tie a line together. They’re not simply capping the bottles, they “cap” the brand.

Special thanks to Clariant ColorWorks for its time and for sharing project notes.

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The Color/Effect Iterations

The Bottles

Red Bottle #1 (first iteration, shown on far left): Pantone 491C was used as a color starting point. For the bottle, the color was created using a combination of red, brown and black pigments to create a red-shaded brown that was used in the base layer. In the surface layer, a small amount of red pearl was added to heighten gloss and reflectivity. Although the color matched the initial reference (the shoes), this bottle was deemed “too brown.”

Red Bottle #2: The level of red was increased and the level of brown used in both layers was decreased, while keeping the black loading the same as #1. The amount of red pearl in the surface layer was increased by a factor of 2.5. This bottle was “better, but still too brown.”

Red Bottle #3: The level of red was increased by 40%, and brown was reduced by 50%, while keeping the black loading the same. This color was again used in both layers, and the red pearl in the surface layer was increased by a factor of 4.5 over #2. This bottle was “really getting there.”

Red Bottle #4: Technicians switched to a different red (a blue-shade red) in both layers, and brown was eliminated completely while the black and the pearl loading remained the same.

Red Bottle #5: The only difference in this bottle versus #4 was a switch to a different, high-intensity red pearl. The result was “very good just a bit too yellow.” Red Bottle #6: Blue was added to the formulation used in #5, which decreased the yellow and made the whole effect deeper and richer. This was the final formulation chosen for the shampoo bottle.

Pink Bottle #1: (not pictured) Pantone 493C was used as a color reference. The outer layer combined white and red with a silver pearl, while the base layer used the same white and red but no silver. Color loading in the base was higher overall in order to mask the shade variation of the postconsumer resin. This effect was “nice, but a bit dull.”

Pink Bottle #2: (not pictured) The formulation of the outer layer was changed to reduce white by one-third and reduce the red by 10%. A white pearl was added—along with a small amount of red-copper pearl to tone the flash (the light reflected off the bottle) toward pink and to warm the color. The inner layer remained the same. Ddecreasing the color loading in the surface layer had the effect of moving pigment out of the outer layer so that the color strength comes out of the inner layer. More clarity in the surface layer allowed light to work with the pearl much better. This was the final formulation chosen for the conditioner bottle.

The Caps

Brown Cap #1: Pantone 4975 was used as the reference color. The ratio of brown to black was 5:1 and no pearl was used.

Brown Cap #2: The ratio of brown to black was reduced to 3.5:1 to create a darker brown. No pearl was used.

Brown Cap #3: The ratio of brown to black was reduced to 2.15:1 to go darker still. Again, no pearl was used.

All of these test caps were dark black/brown and totally opaque. Next, a series was made to create caps that were “more” red.

Variation Cap #4: The same color combination as the outer layer of Red Bottle #2 (developed from Pantone 491C plus higher levels of red, lower levels of brown with added red pearl) was used.

Variation Cap #5: Loading of all color and pearl was reduced 20% to allow for greater translucence.

Variation Cap # 6: (not pictured) This iteration has 25% less pearl than in #5, with the addition of the blue shade red that was used in Red Bottle #4.

Variation Cap # 7: Increasingly red, this cap had 33% more of the blue-shade red, along with magenta. Pearl was reduced 33% compared to the levels in Variation Cap #6. The result was a translucent red.

Project “Twitter Me” Technical Specifications

Both the shampoo and conditioner bottles were bi-layer extrusion blowmolded for economy and for maximum color effect. The surface layer was 20% of the total structure; the base layer was 80%. Caps were monolayer injection molded. Resins used were:

  • Polypropylene (PP) was used in the shampoo bottle for its clarity and high gloss, and the fact that PP takes maximum advantage of reflective elements of pearlescent colors. These characteristics were chosen both for aesthetics and to suggest the bright clean look that the shampoo brand would provide for hair.
  • For the conditioner bottle, 100% virgin high-density polyethylene (HDPE) was used in the outer layer, and the inner layer included postconsumer-recycled (PCR) HDPE in combination with virgin so that the PCR constituted 25% of the total bottle weight. HDPE has a softer character than the PP, intended to suggest the soft manageability provided by the faux conditioner brand.
  • The injection-molded caps were 100% virgin PP.


So, we spun the color wheel, and discovered our brand. Any brand owner would feel good at this point, but the lessons of the day did not end there. Some of these lessons (e.g., manufacturing our bottles) will have to wait for another article, but GCI magazine will share a lesson from the day on partnership—not dissimilar from another regular theme explored monthly—from Len Kulka:

“Where I think we distinguish ourselves is in our understanding of what’s out there in the marketplace, what’s available on the technical side, what the brand owner is trying to achieve and that reconciling all those different influences may require some compromise. If we can get all that information on the table early in the package-development process, we can eliminate surprises down the road as the package moves to launch. Color development then becomes an evolution of ideas, art, chemistry, physics and budget. Our customer is integrated into the process, and all the color options that have the potential to satisfy the customer’s expectations are explored. Unfortunately, design concept does not always translate into manufacturing reality. If we’ve pushed the creative envelope as far as it can go and find that there are areas of compromise, at least we have that knowledge early. The customer knows what the compromise is and what additional options may be available. From that point on, going to the manufacturing process, there won’t be any additional compromise. Everyone can pretty much buy into that.”

The 2010 Color Palette

According to Clariant Masterbatches’ ColorForward 2010 color forecast, as international tensions and economic troubles make life ever more complicated and uncertain, consumers around the world seek simplicity, harmony and tranquility. They attempt to break stereotypes, form new connections and create their own sustainable environment. They yearn for authenticity, functionality and personal luxury.

“In general, the colors for 2010 are soft and understated,” said Cristina Carrara, designer at Clariant Masterbatches’ Clariant ColorWorks Europe division. “Only the organic colors from the 2009 palette become deeper and more complex in 2010, with beige and brown colors coming into focus. The bright primary colors that were popular during the past few years are disappearing. Yellow will remain bright, but it is trending a bit greener, while blues are lighter and fresher. The reds are moving more toward the pink and also deeper, with coral red becoming popular. Purple, which made its appearance in 2008, is still present, but now it has a new soul, trending toward violet and lilac.”

Pink/orange coral and turquoise are considered semiprecious stones and coral, in particular, is under increasingly ecological pressure as pollution and global warming limit the growth of reefs. “Their connection to nature makes these colors attractive alternatives to green for customers who want to follow an ecology theme,” said Carrara.

Colors Reflect Lifestyles

After determining which cultural and lifestyle trends will have true global relevance, the Clariant color specialists who put together ColorForward 2010 identify colors that convey the same ideas and emotions. For 2010, the team identified four sociological themes that will significantly impact consumer color choices:

Reinventing Happiness:

Consumers are responding to the precarious nature of life by reevaluating their lives to see what truly gives them pleasure and satisfaction. This may lead them to create a peaceful home environment or to seek activities that provide escape and excitement.

Tech It Easy:

Society has never been more open to technology’s ability to serve its needs and simplify modern living. Designers are able to cross established boundaries—embracing new materials and new textures—and creating products outside their usual spheres.

Embracing Gaia:

The ancient Greeks believed in Gaia, goddess of Earth. This ColorForward theme acknowledges how modern material and production technologies allow creative people unprecedented freedom to express themselves through the use of shapes, forms, functions, colors and visual effects drawn from Mother Nature. Colors in this group also feature natural pigments derived from plants.

Age Shock:

Stereotypes are breaking down, and the boundaries between age groups are less distinct. Older baby boomers continue to enjoy a hip, active lifestyle, while affluent young people look for ways to demonstrate their style and sophistication—equating to energy and attitude across the generations.


Ampacet, too, creates an annual forecast—relying on socioeconomic research into the global influences likely to shape future color preferences. The company examines the predicted evolution of colors in a 12–18 month period to create a palette of 16 global colors, supported by four regional palettes 2010 color themes.

It has identified and categorized the following:

Conscious Consumption:

The era of mindless acquisition has ended, redefining consumers purchasing patterns as well as the methods used by marketers to gain attention. The trend of Conscious Consumption has morphed a concept of what is and what isn’t chic.

The range of colors in this palette gives new definition to the “classics,” although tempered a bit through softened undertones—much like global mind-sets.

Engineered Living:

The ways in which we communicate have evolved and become ubiquitous. Resonating the anxiety surrounding intellectual and physical exploration, this palette is expressed in a full range of brights.

A Collective Correction:

Conspicuous consumption led to an erosion of ethics and a crumbling global economy. Its far-reaching impact is one of significant societal reassessment—pragmatism is the new reality. The palette for Collective Correction is overridden by a carefully muted outing of rich neutrals with polarity provided through the grounding value of one purple.


Moving toward more meaningful consumption in their everyday lives, consumers are now evaluating the impact of their actions on the environment at large. There’s a fusion of the internal ego with the external eco, providing a common ground for beauty, thoughtful process, design and spending. The mood is mirrored by the muted and softened palette found in this category.

Thinking of Colors Globally


“[ColorForward 2010] is a global forecast,” said Maurizio Torchio, head of Clariant ColorWorks Europe. “So our team looks for commonalities—ideas and hues that fit any part of the world, regardless of regional circumstances.”

ColorForward 2010 identifies 20 colors—five colors for each of the four societal and lifestyle detailed trends.

The color palette for Reinventing Happiness, for instance, features a warm, dark chocolate brown and a rich, creamy raspberry red. It also includes a soft grayish blue, a pearly champagne color along with a light turquoise blue that is reminiscent of shallow Caribbean waters. People will respond to these colors, the Clariant team feels, because they express harmony and balance, combining a feeling of luxury with the warmth and safety of a cocoon.

The color choices for Age Shock, on the other hand, are bright and fresh, with a hip and trendy appeal. This palette includes an energetic fuchsia as well as a softer red-shaded lilac. A pink orange expresses youthful vitality, while blue connects to the jeans culture. A saturated yellow is both bright and energetic and, at the same time, soft and childlike.

The forecast colors, according to Clariant Masterbatches, should be viewed as points of inspiration and exploration, open to interpretation and adaptation to meet the requirements of specific products and markets. Mixing and matching the colors from all four trends can further expand design concepts.

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