Throwback Thursday: Why is the colour of a plethora of cartoon characters yellow?


Ever wondered why the colour of the Simpsons, SpongeBob Squarepants, Minions, Pikachu are yellow?  The answer lies at the intersection of psychology, colour theory and of course aesthetics.

A detailed yet entertaining video from ChannelFrederator explains the different colour wheels and palettes that all point to yellow cartoon prominence.


Scientifically, in the RGB palette, yellow’s complementary colour is blue. This makes it stand out nicely against that popular choice for outdoor cartoon backgrounds- the sky.

The Simpsons became yellow just to help their clan be more instantly recognisable to channel flippers. This set them apart from more typically toned families like The Flintstones. The bright tone of yellow even stands out to the colour-blind.

But the popularity of the tone goes even deeper than that- into the emotionality associated with the shade.Any viewer will tell that yellow is associated with joy as well as energy and vibrancy.

As the video points out, these are all excellent traits for cartoon characters. There’s even more info in this 11-minute video. But be warned, once you start noticing the prevalent yellowness of the cartoon population, it’s hard to turn that off.

As  ChannelFrederator finds out that a cartoon character’s colour scheme is usually chosen to complement their background.

Like, in SpongeBob SquarePants for example, the most common setting is the expansive blue backdrop of the ocean.

According to the RGB colour scale used in television screens, blue is in direct contrast to yellow. Hence, bright yellow was the most visually appealing choice for the show’s title character. This bit of colour theory also applies to shows set on land where a lot of the action takes place against the blue sky.

Colour complements are just one part of the yellow character trend. The colour holds a lot of significant connotations too. It’s often associated with feelings of happiness, playfulness and warmth that we see in many of our cartoon protagonists.

Using yellow is also an effective way to grab someone’s attention. That’s the reason why the creators of The Simpsons chose yellow instead of a more natural skin tone for their characters they figured the shade would be instantly recognizable to viewers flipping through channels.

Incidentally, it was ChannelFrederator that had earlier helped explain why some cartoon characters only have four fingers and why so many of them wear gloves.