Color is an important aspect to any design project. Without color the design would look dull or boring, and wouldn’t relay the message you wanted the design to make. A great color palette can have a huge impact on a business or organization, for marketing and for branding to make that connection to your customers. Some of the best known logos are remembered because of their distinctive colors (think, Coca-Cola, Google, or Subway). So how does one decide on the proper color palette to use? You want to make sure that the colors you chose are appropriate, but attractive. They should be easy on the eyes, but relay a message. I’m not going to lie, it can be very hard sometimes choosing the right palette to go with. I will list out some tips below that I have learned that may help you.
Know your client and the service or product they provide
You want to make sure the the palette you chose is suitable for the client. If the company sells kids toys, you may consider colors that appeal to a younger audience like bright, bold colors. If your client is a funeral home, bright colors may not be the best choice. Knowing what applications the palette will be used in also helps. Some colors are better suited for bigger applications like billboards or posters, rather than small print graphics like business cards and brochures. I find it helpful, also, to make a list of all the words or phrases that I associate with the customer. Once I have made my list, I will go through and write the colors I best associate with that word or phrase. For example, if the word is an emotion like Joy, I might write down the color yellow. If the word was money or finances, I may write down green. Once I have this written out, I can start putting colors together to build my palette. Here is a helpful pdf regarding Color Symbolism.
Color wheel, color wheel, color wheel
Knowing how to read a color wheel and what the colors mean can be incredibly helpful. In most cases there is a logical combination of colors that are bound to look great together (i.e. color scheme), that can easily be made into your palette. Below are some common color scheme combinations that work great.
Monochromatic color scheme
A monochromatic color scheme is made up of different shades or tints of the same color. This would be the easiest scheme to come up with, because it’s hard to make it look bad. But it does lack diversity.
Analogous color scheme
Analogous colors are colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. A good Example of this would be Blue and Green or Red and Purple. Analogous colors tend to be more pleasing to the eye, because we see these combinations so frequently in nature.
Complementary color scheme
Complementary colors are on opposite sides of the color wheel. Blue and yellow or green and purple, would be good examples. Complementary colors tend to give off a more energetic vibe.
Split-analogous color scheme
Split-analogous colors include one main color and the two colors one space away from it on each side. A good example of this would be red, green-yellow, green (skipping over yellow).
Split-complementary color scheme
Split-complementary colors include one main color and the two colors on each side of the main colors complementary color (opposite of the wheel). So in this case, an example would be yellow, violet, and teal.
Keep in mind that there are endless colors available to you. If a color combination doesn’t look quite right, try using different tones, shades, saturation, tints, etc of those colors to find something that really works for the design you are working on and, more importantly, works for the customer.
Use a picture as inspiration
Inspiration can sometimes come from the craziest of places. You could be walking down the street and inspiration could (sometimes literally) hit you right in the face! Often times, a customer may even provide you with an image, logo, or picture that they feel exemplifies their company. You can pull colors from this image to make a great palette that you know will work great for the customer.
Use color tools to help you
There are countless tools available online that can help you chose the right palette. Personally, I prefer Adobe Kuler. But there are many other great tools out there such as, Color Scheme Designer, Color Palette Generator, and Colors on the Web.
Picking the color palette of your design project can be one of the most difficult processes to master (second only to choosing the right typography!). Do your research, know what direction you want to head in, plan, plan, plan, and use the tools that are made available to you.