The Color Red — History, Meaning and Facts

Humans have a strong connection to the color red. As the color of blood and fire, it’s integral to life. Red is also a primary color that can create many other colors in the spectrum. Over time, the color red has taken on several meanings across cultures. Let’s look further into the history, meaning and facts of this bold color.

Facts About the Color Red

Here are a few facts about the color red:

  • Red is the first color babies can see after black and white.
  • Because red grabs attention, it’s used to warn people of danger. That’s why it’s on stop signs, traffic lights and fire engines.
  • Kings in the Middle Ages wore red to display their God-given right to the throne.
  • In fashion, the designer brand Christian Louboutin is known for its red-soled shoes.

The History of the Color Red

More than 40,000 years ago, hunters and gatherers used red clay to make paint. The Paleolithic people buried their dead with red powder for protection from evil spirits. Red is also common in ancient art, with cave paintings across continents created by red ochre. Ancient Romans favored cinnabar for decorations, and Renaissance painters used vermilion paint.

What Is the Meaning of the Color Red?

The color red is significant in many cultures. It is associated with love in Western culture, and it symbolizes good fortune and joy in Asian cultures. For this reason, it’s a prominent color in Asian weddings to bring love, fertility and good luck.

Many world leaders have worn red to symbolize their power. Princess Elizabeth I wore a red dress and coif in her portrait to symbolize political and moral strength. In Chinese philosophy, red is associated with fire and connected to aggression, confidence and leadership.

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The Psychology of the Color Red

Red provokes strong, often opposing emotions, such as love and anger. It conveys literal danger, such as stop signs and traffic lights, and metaphorical danger, such as “red flags” or being “in the red.” Exposure to the color red can cause increased blood pressure, respiration rate, heart rate and metabolism.

How Is Red Dye Made?

Red pigment comes from the deep red ink gathered from cochineal insects. Farmers in Central and South America harvest these bugs from the prickly pear cactus and smash them into a grainy red substance. This substance is processed into a powder or liquid. The Aztecs invented this technique in the 15th century. This practice is one of many organic and synthetic methods of making red pigment.

Since the bugs are so small, nearly 70,000 of them are required to produce one pound of dye. This dye appears as carmine, natural Red 4 or cochineal extract in ingredient lists on food labels. It’s also common in cosmetics.

Measuring the Color Red

At one of the longest wavelengths, red is easy for humans to identify. A color spectrophotometer measures the color red by using sensors to separate transmitted or reflected light beams into their component wavelengths. These numerical values for the red shade determine if the production processes create consistent results.

Contact HunterLab to Learn More

HunterLab has more than 65 years of experience in spectrophotometer solutions for analyzing red shades and many other colors. For more information about our services, contact us.