Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Yellow?

Consider the associations with yellow. Perhaps you immediately thought of the sun, falling autumn leaves, or something more abstract, such as the feeling of joy or optimism. Well, if you keep thinking about it, some cartoon characters will definitely come to your mind, simply because there are so many of them, like Pikachu, SpongeBob, The Simpsons and so many others. Cartoonists seem to love yellow so much, and there are reasons for that. Why Are People With Blue Eyes So Unique?

It’s all about contrast.

Being one of the primary colors (along 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 main colors used on the screen (TV, of course, is included in this) are red, green and blue.

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


Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Yellow
© Inside Out / DISNEY / PIXAR, © Inside Out / DISNEY / PIXAR

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%) reported yellow as positive, and only 0.5% of respondents thought it was negative. This characteristic of yellow makes it a great choice for happy and relaxed characters in cartoons.

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You can’t miss it.

Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Yellow 1

As we have already mentioned, primary colors are very distinct. However, even among them, yellow is considered the most visible color in low light and the second most visible during the day. It can even be distinguished by people with some forms of color blindness.

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It is special for children.

Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Yellow
© bennymarty /

The color yellow is often used in advertising for children, as they associate this color with positive feelings, so you can see it in logos for Lego, Hot Wheels, Crayola and others. This is no accident: in marketing, yellow is usually used to package “fun” products.

Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Yellow
© Despicable Me / Universal Pictures, © Pokémon / The Pokémon Company, © SpongeBob SquarePants / ViacomCBS Networks, © The Simpsons™ / Fox Media LLC, © Winnie the Pooh & Pals / Disney, © The Lion King / Disney, © Mickey Mouse / Disney, © Looney Tunes / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., © X-Men / Disney, © The Angry Birds Movie / Rovio Animation Oy

In one study, children were given a choice between yellow and brown crayons after hearing a happy or sad story. The majority of the group with the happy story chose the yellow crayon, and most children from the second group preferred brown, proving that the association of colors with mood is important.

Draws attention.

Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Yellow
©, ©

However, the color that appears in many cartoon characters does not have an entirely positive meaning. It’s highly visible, which was mentioned earlier, making it a good choice for different kinds of notifications 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.

Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Yellow
©, ©

In addition, this is one of the colors that nature uses to send a “stay away” signal: yellow can be seen in stinging insects (bees, wasps), poisonous snakes (rattles, copperheads, etc.) and other dangerous animals. However, this still makes us pay attention, which is used in many fields, including animation.

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Why Are So Many Cartoon Characters Yellow
© Pokémon / The Pokémon Company, © SpongeBob SquarePants / ViacomCBS Networks, © Despicable Me / Universal Pictures

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