When I first started my design career 13 years ago, I had the incredibly good fortune of working for iota, a brilliant little stationery company that is all about color. I spent my days staring at color as I designed patterns for gift wrap and surrounded by color once all of the product was printed and in stock. I never got tired of it though, and pretty much from that moment on, I was in love with color. To this day, creating color palettes remains one of the things I love most about graphic design!
Now that I focus mostly on designing visual brands for online businesses, color is still a huge part of what I do. Truthfully, it’s one of the best ways to distinguish your brand from everyone else’s out there. Color creates emotional reactions and can shape how people think about you and your biz.
@@According to research, color can increase brand recognition by 80%! And people make sub-conscious judgments about an environment or product within 90 seconds of first impression. Between 62% and 90% of that assessment is made based on color.@@
Suffice it to say that color is hugely important to the success of your business! The colors you choose can help attract customers or not, so it’s important to choose carefully.
Fortunately, choosing a color palette to represent your business is not rocket science. It might seem scary at first when you’ve got the entire color wheel staring you in the face and questions filling your head, like: How many colors should you pick? How do you make sure they all work together? How do you select colors that are distinctive and help your brand stand out instead of blending in?
In the end, though, I’m here to tell you that it’s really not that hard. With a basic grasp of color psychology and the 6 steps outlined below, you'll be on your way to kicking butt with color! I've answered those questions, too.
Having a basic understanding of color psychology can be immensely helpful to this process. If you’ve been following my posts, you might have a fairly good grasp of this already. If you haven’t, you can go to my original blog post here.
I've also included a quick recap below. It doesn't include all of the nuances though, so I strongly recommend going to my original post.
Yellow says caution, cheerfulness, cowardice, curiosity, happiness, joy, playfulness, optimism, sunshine and warmth.
Blue is associated with authority, loyalty, success, security, confidence, trust, serenity and calm.
Green symbolizes freshness, serenity, harmony, health, growth, healing, nature, money, and inexperience.
Purple communicates royalty, luxury, extravagance, creativity, fantasy, mystery, and sophistication.
Red is all about energy, action, aggression, blood, danger, power, passion, excitement, desire, and love.
Orange is energetic, warm, joyful, playful, lighthearted, youthful, and affordable.
Pink is associated with innocence, delicacy, nurturing, softness, gratitude, and romance. Bright shades of pink are bold and modern.
Brown indicates depth, earthiness, roughness, richness, simplicity, seriousness, subtlety, and utility.
Black is associated with intelligence, power, elegance, and authority, along with mystery, secrecy, evil and grieving.
STEPS TO CREATE YOUR COLOR PALETTE
Step 1 - get a good handle on your brand personality
First things first – remember why you’re creating this color palette. The colors you select are meant to represent the mood and personality of your brand (how you show up in our biz). You also want to distinguish your business from everyone else’s out there. You want to pick a set of colors that your prospects and customers will remember and eventually come to connect with you and your business.
So, what is the personality of your brand? What do you want people to say about your business, or, frankly, you, if you’re a solopreneur? If you can’t come up with this fairly easily, now is a good time to delve into who you are, what you stand for, and what all of your business materials should communicate about you.
A good place to start is to write down a list of words that you want people to use to describe your business. Write down as many as you can and then pick your top 5. Then post them prominently someplace and circle the most important 3 of the 5.
Step 2 - get inspired, baby!
Your next step is to find some colors that speak to you. Make a secret Pinterest board and select images that you love and that you think represent the mood and essence of your brand. There are loads of color inspiration boards on Pinterest that can be super helpful, but I’d also recommend going to some free stock photo sites (a few good ones are Pexels, Pixabay, Unsplash, Burst, and Death to Stock) and use that list of brand descriptors to search photos. You can also browse photos on Pinterest. Designspiration is another good site to check out.
I try to find a good mix of color palette graphics (the ones with a photo on one side and then color blocks on the other) and lifestyle photos that say what I want to say about the brand I’m developing working on.
Once you’ve got a good selection of images, go through and pick the ones that speak to you the loudest. Pick your favorites - the ones you could see putting on your wall for inspiration while you build your business. Then place them all together in a document. I usually do this in InDesign, but you can use Photoshop, Illustrator or even Word if you don’t have any design software. The point is to get them close to each other to see if there’s a color theme that's starting to develop.
Step 3 - pull colors from your inspo board
Once you’ve got all of your inspiration in one place, look for colors that show up over and over. Then pull up to six colors from them. I use the eyedropper in InDesign or in Photoshop to do this. If you don’t have design software, this is where those color images can be super helpful. Try to find some that include your six selected colors. You can also go to some of the sites out there, like Coolors, Adobe Color CC, Design Seeds, and The Color Collective, that are specifically designed to help with color palettes.
Once you’ve got all 6 selected, go back to your list of brand characteristics and make sure that the colors you’ve selected are in line with your brand personality. If you’ve picked mostly cool colors (blues, greens, greys) but “warm” and “friendly” are high on your word list, you need to either rethink your brand personality, choose some warmer blues (ones that have more red and yellow in them, giving you more purple-ish or teal colors than blue) or add in some warm (reds, oranges, yellows) colors to balance out those cool colors.
Step 4 - determine your primary and secondary colors
I recommend starting by picking your top 2 colors. They should be colors that you absolutely love and that you feel represent who you and/or your business are really well.
These are the colors that you will use the most. They should be in your logo and included on pretty much everything you do either in print or on the web to promote and represent your business.
Then pick one more that you really like. If you want, it can contrast with at least one of your first two picks, so if you ever want to put type on these colors (which, in all likelihood, you will) you’ll be able to. It's not absolutely necessary though. You can also pick three colors that are similar in value (the relative lightness and darkness of a color), but you'll definitely need to pick some lighter and darker colors as outlined below.
If you want, you can stop here. I’ve created many brands with only 3 colors. One way to make it work is to use tints of the three colors you selected. Tints are created by adding white to colors, or lightening them.
If you’d rather have more colors than just 3, move on to selecting your secondary colors.
Take a look at your 3 primary colors and determine which of the following color schemes you’ve leaning towards:
A MONOCHROMATIC COLOR PALETTE uses one specific color with various shades (black added to darken color) and tints of that one color. Monochromatic color palettes can be very subtle and understated. They’re also easy to create since they use one color.
ANALOGOUS COLOR PALETTES use colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel. They will probably include all cool colors or all warm colors. Depending on the colors themselves, the impression can be really nice and relaxing with this color scheme. If your analogous color palette feels too quiet though, you might need to add a stronger color within your secondary colors to add a pop that’ll help you stand out.
COMPLEMENTARY COLOR PALETTES pull colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, which means you’ll have a combination of both warm and cool colors. This is a pretty common choice for businesses, as this type of palette will have more dimension and balance than either of the above-mentioned palettes.
Once you’ve determined whether you’re starting with a Monochromatic, Analogous, or Complementary color palette, it's a good idea to check back in with your list of brand descriptors to be sure you’re still heading in the right direction. If you’ve started to stray from the mood and personality of your business, make adjustments now.
LIGHT & DARK COLORS
Regardless of what kind of color scheme you’re using, it’s important to have both light and dark tones in the mix for contrast and versatility. I always try to have at least one dark neutral that I can use for copy and one light color that will show up on some of the other colors in the palette. By having both a light and a dark color you’ll be able to do just about anything you want when you apply your colors to your collateral and website.
Step 5 - test those puppies out
Before you finalize your color palette and get attached to it, it’s a good idea to try it out on something you will actually use to promote your business. Try creating a social media header, a blog post cover, or even a business card to be sure you’ve got all of your bases covered and that your colors will work well together.
Step 6 - create brand standards and follow them
Once I’ve got a palette finalized, I make sure I’ve got the HEX colors and CMYK builds recorded with a swatch of each color. I include that information in the Brand Style Guides I create for my clients to be sure they can maintain consistency if they ever work with another designer or take things over themselves.
Even if you’re the only one who’ll be using the colors, it’s a good idea to do this. It’s incredibly easy to start straying and find you’ve accidentally diluted your brand by using the wrong color builds or introduced too many additional colors.
Pinterest is a good source for determining the HEX colors of your selected colors. There are tons of color palettes with HEX codes included that you can either use to match your selected colors or pull colors from directly. Another good resource is the site rgb.to, where you can see all of the color builds you could possibly ever need for your palette.
LAST STEP – TAKE YOUR NEW COLOR PALETTE AND GO MAKE YOUR MARK ON THE WORLD!