Here’s why all your favourite cartoon characters are yellow

The reasons are threefold

One of the first shows to introduce an entirely yellow cast was The Simpsons, and their colour was chosen to differentiate them from all the normal-coloured cartoon characters on TV: when you’re flipping through channels, you’ll always instantly know that The Simpsons is on. But it also happens that yellow is important in colour theory. Even discounting the cartoon characters that only have a little bit of yellow in their colour palette, there’s still a massive list of exclusively yellow ones. Winnie The Pooh, Tweety Bird, Spongebob, the Simpsons, Mr Peanutbutter, Jake the Dog… the list goes on. And there’s three good reasons for this phenomenon, which have been highlighted in a new video by ChannelFrederator’s Jacob Atkinson.

1. Colour theory

The first thing to note is how colours affect one another. If you make a colour wheel out of primary colours (red, blue and yellow) and then add in secondary and tertiary colours (the shades that you create by mixing primaries in different combinations) you end up with complementary colours that would pit yellow against purple. In real life, these colours make each other stand out the most.

TV has a different colour wheel that works with red, green and blue as its primary colours – you’ll probably have seen RGB on your computer or TV monitor’s settings. In RGB terms the complementary colour for yellow is blue – these colours make each other stand out – and since backgrounds are commonly blue skies or seas, yellow is an eye-catching choice for character design.

2. Colour psychology

There’s also the question of colour psychology. Atkinson notes that cultural context determines exactly what colours do to your brain, but yellow in animation commonly expresses energy, activity, and joy – think Despicable Me‘s Minions, or Inside Out‘s Joy.

3. Colour visibility

Ever noticed how much yellow sticks out to the human eye? As the video points out, warning signs, barriers and taxis are commonly yellow to attract your attention – and interestingly, yellow is also ‘colourblind-proof’, so it always stands out.

Now we know.