Many brands, particularly luxury or vintage brands, heavily use black and white in their marketing materials. Black and white are powerful colors – polar opposites of one another – and when used together can be a powerful combination.

When used poorly, however, black and white signs, brochures and other marketing materials can easily fail to catch people’s attention. After all, color is often the major draw for people in a visual advertisement, and black and white isn’t rich in color.

Nevertheless, black and white can be a great color scheme for use in advertising if it’s used correctly. In this guide, we’ll share four tips to help you design effective, eye-catching and powerful signs and brochures using black and white.

Use gray to balance high-contrast black and white

Black and white are as far apart as any two colors can be. One is light and easy on the eyes, while another is immensely dark and powerful. When used together, it’s easy for black and white alone to seem like too powerful a color combination.

Just like using complementary colors can lighten a bold choice of two colors, using gray in your black and white signs, brochures and other marketing materials builds a visual bridge between the two colors that reduces the level of contrast.

This is a great way to make your designs feel more welcoming and less extreme than they would be using only pure black and white. Use gray to bridge these two colors in the same way you’d use green to create a visual bridge between blue and yellow.

Focus on simplicity – don’t make your design too cluttered

Black and white is the most simple color scheme in design, and as such it works best when paired with an equally simple design. The most iconic and memorable designs that use black and white tend to be straightforward and visually uncluttered.

From solid black backgrounds with small, centered white text to gray scale images on a plain white background, think of ways to use black and white to create a high contrast design that’s amazingly simple.

Since black and white are such a high-contrast combination of colors, using them in a cluttered or busy design can often reduce visibility and make it hard for people to work out which part of your design is its focus.

Use white on black for better readability and visibility

Although white on black generally isn’t the most readable choice for paragraph text on the web, it’s one of the most eye-catching and readable color schemes for text in print and in visual advertising.

Light text on a dark background – for example, plain white or light gray text on black – is ideal for headings, subheadings and other text that people are likely to skim past quickly while navigating through store aisles or walking past your retail store.

Use dark text on a light background for small text, such as paragraph text in a sales brochure. However, light text on a dark background almost always offers the highest level of visibility for use in signage, brochure headings or other skim read text.

Use black and white to draw attention to a product

Do you remember the Volkswagen ads from the 1960s? Volkswagen, then a small car manufacturer with little popularity in the United States, used simple black and white advertisements to market its at-the-time new and innovative Beetle.

The advertisements had an incredibly simple design: the black and white Beetle sat in the center of the advertisement, with a large heading and a couple of paragraphs of copy at the bottom.

The reasons Volkswagen’s advertisements were so effective was because they put the product at the center of the ad. Use the contrast of black and white signage to draw attention to a product, your brand’s logo or a powerful visual metaphor.