A friend of mine told me he was frustrated picking out good color palettes for a new project or website. Creating color palettes is not hard, but selecting one that is fresh and pleasing can be.
You want a color scheme that is fresh, a selection that stands out among the noise of all the other digital content out in the world. The color palettes should look good. They should make the impression that you want to represent your brand. Maybe you want something that is predominantly green, but you remember from art class that it is good to choose a complement or an accent color that stands out. So… red? That is the complement to green, but now your design looks like a Christmas card. Sigh!
Why is it so hard to select just a couple colors to represent my business? The main reason is that there are infinite possibilities, when selecting and pairing colors. Here is a fun process that I use, when I want to quickly land on some exciting new color palettes for my work.
There is an easier path to good color palettes
My advice was in the form of this fun process I use to find fresh, original palettes.
- Get a rough idea of what you want. There are high-key and low-key options. Is the overall design predominantly light or dark?
- Do you have a particular base color in mind? If not, then skip this step. If you do, you can do a Google Image search with some words describing your required photo, “dark, forest, green” or “pale, gray, ocean.” If you see something that lights you up, you can jump to step 5. This is a really good search if you want a selection that is monochrome, small variations around just one color.
- If you don’t really know what you want, you may prefer the surprise me approach. You can again go to Google Image Search. This time search for “award winning photos,” “amazing photos,” “cool photos.” To shake the mix up, you can also add a year, a state, a country or some other keyword to the mix. As before, if you see something that you like, keep it open in a tab. You can right-click on it and save the thumbnail to your computer.
- To play off that photo in search of more variation, you can search using this image. Go back to Google Image Search and drag your chosen photo into the search box. Google will look up similar images to the one you provide. Don’t worry about copyrights yet. We’re just looking for color samples. None of these photos will appear in your work. If you see something you like better, save that one too. You can review thousands of photos this way. If you get frustrated, jump back and try a different year or a different keyword.
- Once you have a good reference photo that has coloring you could see used in your new design, open it up in Photoshop and duplicate the layer, creating a new copy above the original. Now you have two options. For more vibrant swatches, choose Filter > Pixelate > Crystallize. If you want smoother transitions and bands of gradient color ranges, you can also use Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic. Turn on preview, slide the cell size up and down. Your image will be simplified into an abstract arrangement of tiles or shapes. Don’t rush this part, many times dialing back and forth, you will discover little pings of a brilliant accent color that you may not have considered.
- So far, we’ve let the googles and the software do all the heavy lifting. You’ve hopefully now are looking at a varied selection of colors that are vibrant and in the ballpark of what you would like your design to look like. The hard part now is in your hands, editing. Take your eyedropper tool and choose your dominant color. Then pick a light and dark variation of that color. I do a square or rectangular marquis selection in a new layer and fill it with the selected color.
- Be careful here. Even with this small set of samples, this is getting a little too complicated. But you should get the point here, your color palettes should be just a few colors that work well together. Less is more!
Save that image as a reference. You can use your eyedropper to choose the colors and grab the hex code or the RGB for digital graphics and web design. Back before step 5, switch to CMYK to get colors for print. The selection may look a little different if you were to complete the process and then shift it to CMYK. So I recommend shifting it before you get to the crystallize or mosaic steps.
>> If you use this technique to land a great new color palette, share a link to your work in the comments!