Many e-learning designers struggle with choosing color schemes for courses. With so many potential combinations, the decision can seem overwhelming. Of course, if your organization has strict branding guidelines or style guides that dictate which colors you use, this issue is likely less of a problem. Still, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of popular color palettes and when to use each one.


Bright colors are exactly how they sound: bold and vibrant! They’re typically vivid, from sky blue to sunshine yellow to fire-engine red. These fun colors make quite the impact, so use them sparingly. Think small pops of color here and there to capture interest or highlight information. Brights tend to work well across a broad range of subjects; however, they might not be your go-to for more serious or somber topics.

blue purple red orange yellow






Jewel Tones

Jewel tones are deep, lush color tones that resemble the colors of well-known precious and semiprecious gems—for example, ruby red and emerald green. Jewel tones are a bold, classic palette often associated with luxury and richness. If you’re looking to incorporate color in your design, but aren’t sure about using brights, jewel tones might be the palette for you. The colors are easier on the eyes, so you can use them more freely throughout your design.

Rose pink mustard yellow dark green dark purple maroon






Earth Tones

Earth tones include a warm palette of shades consisting mostly of browns, tans, grays, and greens. They’re inspired by, you guessed it, the planet: moss, rocks, trees, dirt, plants, etc. This is a great color combination to consider when your subject matter is nature, the environment, or the earth. Choose shades that contrast well with each other to avoid a bland look and feel.

medium green dark green cream light brown brown







Pastels are light colors with very low saturation. Pale pink, baby blue, and mauve are examples of popular pastel shades. These color schemes work best with courses that have “calming” or “soothing” content. Remember, this color scheme is neither bright nor bold, so it might be hard to highlight information or call attention to certain items unless you use a more vivid color.

bubblegum pink light pink light grey mint green blue







Grayscale is also known as “black and white.” This color combo consists of black and various shades of gray—from dark to light. Grayscale is a versatile neutral palette to fall back on time and time again. For serious subject matter, grayscale might be the way to go, as it provides a colder, more impersonal feel. But consider including at least one bright color or jewel tone to keep your course visually interesting.

light grey medium grey grey dark grey black






In Summary

And there you have it! The next time you design an e-learning project, consider one of these popular color palettes. And remember these contrast guidelines to ensure all learners can read and understand your content. 

Want to learn more about using colors in e-learning? Then check out these additional resources:

Did I leave out any colors or combos you love? Let me know in the comments below!

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Sharon Gregerson