How to create a color palette – musings of a designer.

Color palettes are crucial to design. From adding energy to displaying emotion, colors set the tone for an entire piece and make your work stand out against the clutter. I notice them in everyday things, such as on food packaging I see while grocery shopping. Shelves may be lined with similar products, but those with an intriguing color palette and captivating design might cause me to stop and take a closer look.

Breaking down a color palette.

When I’m sketching concepts, I prefer to keep everything in black and white so that the focus is on the idea. Once the concept and tone have been chosen, I select a color palette that will match the tone.

I like to create the palette before I move forward with the digital layout because it makes the design process move along much faster. It’s important to break down a color palette by its main colors, then accent colors, and finally neutral colors. Accent colors should be used sparingly and only to highlight and draw attention to certain points while complementing the main colors. Neutral colors are useful when another color is needed but isn’t required to stand out. Separating colors helps establish a clear hierarchy in a composition, strategically guiding the viewer where to look so they notice the most important information.

Learning when to utilize color generators.

I sometimes fall into the trap of using color-scheme generators, which pull colors together in no particular order. When I use these programs, I often find myself flying through different color combinations and choosing one that’s adequate, but not outstanding. The endless combinations can become overwhelming. For me, these color generators work only if I already have a specific color scheme in mind.

Using apps to let your surroundings inspire you.

Personally, I strive to have a collection of color palettes that I can flip through whenever I need one. I take pictures of landscapes, outdoor scenes, and anything else I find interesting. Later, I use an eyedropper tool in Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator to pull select colors from those photos and create a palette.  Certain smartphone apps allow users to point the camera at anything, and then the app pulls colors directly from the scene to be saved as a palette. Using an app like this can be fun because, while you’re still in control, it adds a level of randomness, potentially creating unexpected combinations.

Identifying styles.

When I was studying graphic design at Fredonia, a professor taught us to look at old paintings and pull a few colors from them. Some of my favorite styles are impressionism, Renaissance, and fauvism because so many different color combinations can be created from the layers of highlights and shadows in a painting. The colors translate so well into completely different interpretations. I find this strategy incredibly useful when I am stuck and have no idea which direction to take.

I think it’s also important to note that a few colors can go a long way. A palette doesn’t need 25 different colors to be interesting. Selecting just two or three along with a neutral tone can be plenty, and a lot of amazing work has been done with only one. Get in touch to see how a splash of the right colors can breathe life into your brand!