Identifying general patterns of adaptive coloration in animals can help to elucidate the evolutionary processes that generate them. We examined the evolution of colour patterns in Australian agamid lizards, a morphologically and ecologically diverse group that relies primarily on visual communication. We tested whether certain types of colour (yellow–reds and black) were likely to be used as sexual signals, as indicated by their association with indices of sexual selection, namely, sexual dichromatism and sexual dimorphism in body size and head shape. We then tested whether sexually dichromatic colours are associated with specific patterns (uniform, mottled, striped, blotched, reticulated) or ecological variables such as habitat openness, arboreality, and substrate type. The presence of yellow–red on lateral and ventral body regions and black on ventral body regions was significantly more common in males than females. Lateral yellow–red in males was associated with the total extent of sexual dichromatism and size dimorphism, whereas ventral yellow–red was associated with sexual dichromatism. Both lateral and ventral yellow–red were associated with uniform patterning, suggesting that sexual signals in male agamid lizards may often comprise uniform patches or flushes of yellow–red. Although ventral black coloration was more prevalent on males (i.e. strongly sexually dichromatic), it was not associated with indices of sexual selection, suggesting that, in agamid lizards, yellow–red coloration is more likely to be sexually selected than black. Sexually dichromatic coloration was not strongly associated with any of the ecological variables measured. We found some associations, however, between female dorsal patterns and ecological variables, suggesting that female patterns are influenced by natural selection. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 109, 101–112.