One of the most amazing things about modern, Christmas light pixels is that you can make them almost any color you’d like.
But, when you sit down to sequence, you realize that having so many options can actually be really limiting, and you might find yourself asking “What colors should I use for my Christmas light show?”
When choosing colors, it’s important that you don’t make each and every song feature every color of the rainbow. As you go through your entire show, you want to take the viewer on a journey, stopping along the way through different colors. You also want to feature colors that go well together, using color scheme types such as complimentary, triadic, and analogous.
Don’t worry if this sounds like a mix of technical and art-class mumbo-jumbo – while the words may sound fancy, the principles are simple.
In this article, I’m going to share with you how pixels make color, and how you can find the perfect colors for each moment in your Christmas light display!
How Do Christmas Light Pixels Make Color?
Starting at the base level, we’ve got to discuss how the lights we use make colors.
Pixels, the most popular lights for Christmas lighting, contain 3 tiny, colored LEDs within their casing.
These LED’s are most commonly colored Red, Green, and Blue, and can be controlled independently. This allows us use 1 or multiple colors at a single time to mix the colors we desire.
In lighting, the color mixing works in an RGB format, with Red, Green, and Blue being the primary colors.
From there, we can take any combination of these colors at full to mix the secondary colors:
- Red + Green = Yellow
- Red + Blue = Magenta
- Green + Blue = Cyan
Already, this gives us 6 unique colors to work with. Adding all 3 colors together at full makes white.
When we experiment with varying the amounts of these 3 colors, we get considerably more shades and mixes of colors!
How Do Colors Affect Us?
Now that we understand the basics of how these lights work, let’s talk about color, and how it makes us feel.
If this seems unimportant to you – don’t let it be! Color is one of the most powerful tools available to the light artist, and with Christmas lighting, it’s the one that we use the most.
Every color makes us feel a different feeling. And, for the most part, these feelings are shared among people of similar cultures.
Red = Anger, Jealousy, Fear
Pink = Love, Light and Airy
Yellow = Poppy, Bright and Happy
Amber = Awakening, Rootsy and Raw
Green = Rootsy, Organic, Calming, Earthy
Aqua = Gentle, Simple, Water
Blue = Water, Night-time, Calm, Sullen
Violet = Royal, Magestic, Quiet
White = Open, Raw, Unfiltered
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of the feelings that people associate with colors, it’s a good start and a great reference for when you’re stuck trying to find “just the right color” for a song.
Of course, colors don’t exist by themselves, they are shaped by the other colors around them. When we use colors in combination, we get a mix of their emotions, and often we can also trigger memories common experiences, all by using color!
Types of Color Combinations
Color combinations are a way to look for and to find colors that go well together. These are based on the color wheel – remember that from art class?
The simplest color combination isn’t much of a color combination at all – it’s monochromatic – or “one color”, as it’s roughly translated.
The cool thing about monochromatic color schemes is that it doesn’t have to be simply (1) color over the whole house. You can start everything at the same color, and then tweak different parts of your display with different shades and brightness levels.
All of a sudden, your display is no longer 1 flat color, but it’s a stained-glass-like work of art, yet still simple at the same time!
When most people think of a “color scheme”, they’re most likely picturing complimentary colors.
Complimentary colors are opposites on the color wheel, like Red and Green, or Blue and Yellow. They tend to “neutralize” each other, so when you use compliments in your display, it doesn’t feel moody in any particular direction.
Most often, when we think of “holiday colors” they are complimentary colors.
These colors go well together, but be warned – when we are working with light, sometimes the colors bleed in to each other if they are too closely packed together. To the viewers eye, your lights can then begin to appear brown or dull – and nobody wants that!
Triadic color schemes are similar to complimentary, except instead of opposites they are 1/3’s around the color wheel – like a peace sign!
Red, Green and Blue or Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are both examples of great triadic color schemes.
Like complimentary color schemes, triadic color schemes feel very balanced across your display.
On the other side of the coin, we have analogous, or “close-together” color schemes.
These are combinations of colors that are close together – like Red and Yellow, Blue and Violet, or Cyan and Green.
Analogous color schemes are very passionate and definitely echo the emotions presented by the colors. For this reason, they should be used sparingly, so that they stand out against the rest of your show!
Color Combinations that are “Christmasy”
When we think about Christmas, usually the first color combination that comes up is Red and Green. But, as I discussed above, it can be difficult to make Red and Green look good because they mix to brown!
Luckily, this isn’t the only color scheme that is good for Christmas. In fact, one of my favorites to use is Red and White – candy cane colors which are fun and whimsical!
Another great combo is Blue and White. This softly gives a nighttime feel or the impression of snow!
Gold and Violet also go together, and put off a royal, or magisterial glow.
Red and Orange can bring the warmth of a flame to your display.
How To Choose the Right Colors for a Song
You don’t have to stick to just the “Christmasy” colors for your display. Any color can work with the right song and changing up colors during your display helps keep things feeling fresh!
When I am charting out the colors that I want to use for a song, I start with the imagery of the song itself.
Many Christmas songs has very vivid imagery, and even mention colors. You don’t have to use a color just because a song mentions it, but it often makes sense.
I like to switch what color scheme I am using for each major change in the musical sound of a song. For some songs, that is multiple times during a song (i.e. Verses, Choruses, and Bridge). For simpler songs, I will stick to the same color scheme for the whole song.
While this goes deeper than just color, I think it’s just as important to have slow lighting for slow songs during your display as it is to have fast-paced, quick changing animations.
The slow times give the audience a break, and prepare them to be amazed when the next fast song arrives!
Examples of Great Use of Color in Christmas Lights
Last, I want to highlight some really great examples of color that I found in Christmas light shows on Youtube. You’ll see my comments below each video, as I share how color was used.
The Trista Lights 2016 Christmas Show features a number of great uses of color.
For example, in the introduction they keep it to a simple blue with white for the whole segment. Then, for “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, they transition into a nice gold/violet scheme, and the entire song makes the majority of it’s looks from those colors.
Later, we see them pull off red and green by keeping each color to fairly large blocks that are separated by blank space.
If you watch until the end, you’ll see a variety of the other color schemes that we’ve discussed in this article – see if you can find the blue/violet song!
In his sequence of Harry Potter, Tom BetGeorge does some really interesting work with color.
Notice how he switches from a blue-center palette during the slowest portions of the song, and then ramps up to a vibrant red and green! Again, notice how he keeps his red and green separated on areas of dense pixels to keep them from looking brown!
Then, as the medley continues, note how the colors change for each song to move the viewer along through the show. I appreciate this “slow and moody” light show!
Another “Let It Go”, this show features actual video projection alongside the light show.
Take note of the transition form blue and violet to the inclusion of white and cyan. I especially enjoyed how they took breaks to turn off many of their lights during some of the spoken parts!
Let’s Use Color in Your Christmas Light Display!
Color is our biggest tool in creating great Christmas lighting. Let’s use color to make your display awesome!