A color palette is a selected set of colors that are used in a particular design project. They are like the rules of the game when it comes to color.
Their main function is to ensure consistency and harmony throughout the design. By using the same palette, the elements feel united and everything flows better visually. You can see it in brand design, web design, product design, and more. Choosing the right palette can make the difference between a design that feels cohesive and one that feels out of place.
So, you know, it’s time to get a thorough understanding of what a color palette is and how to create it in the most professional way.
What elements are included in the color palette
Primary Colors: These are the base colors of your design. Generally, they are the strongest and most representative of the brand or theme.
Secondary Colors: They complement the primary colors and add variety. Secondary colors are usually softer or neutral.
Accent Colors: These are the ones that give life and sparkle to the design. They are the finishing touches that make everything pop.
Background Colors: Usually neutral, they are the ones that hold everything together without stealing the limelight from the other elements.
Combination Rules: Sometimes, a color palette comes with certain rules about how colors should be combined to maintain coherence.
Values and Formats (RGB, CMYK, HEX, Pantone, etc.) to make sure they reproduce consistently in different media.
A well-designed palette also takes into account the emotions and psychology of colors. Choosing the right shades can convey the exact message you want, whether it’s confidence, energy, calm, or any other feeling.
How to design a color palette
Designing an effective color palette is as much a creative process as it is a technical one. I’ve tried to simplify the process into the exact 10 steps to creating a color palette:
1. Understand the Brand or Project: Know what you are designing. What is the message? What emotions do you want to evoke? It all starts here. Don’t move on to the next point until you know exactly what the brand is and what your ideal customer is.
2.Research and Take Inspiration: Watch the competition, explore trends and find inspiration in nature, art or culture. A personal tip is to take references from different places, the more disparate the better. Then forget everything and start without looking at anything else.
3. Start with Base Colors: Choose one or two main colors that represent the core of the brand. This will give you a solid direction. I personally like to design single-color brands and logos. I do the client a big favor. Keep in mind this detail: screen printing a t-shirt with a logo in 4 colors means making 4 different plates and doing the screen printing 4 times. This means that it costs 4 times more.
4. Add Secondary and Accent Colors: These complement and enrich the base colors. Think about harmony and contrast.
5. Consider the Psychology of Color: Remember how each color can influence emotions and perceptions. use that power wisely! We’ve written a good article on color psychology in the past.
6. Test Compatibility: Make sure colors work in different contexts and media. Web, print, etc.
7. Accessibility: Think about legibility and how the colors will appear to those with visual impairments. Contrast is very important, there is almost nothing as ugly as black letters on a full-color, high-contrast photograph. Even someone with no visual problems would have difficulty.
8. Tools and References: Use tools like Adobe Color, Coolors, or Material Design palettes to help you with the choice and combination. There are also online color palette generators that I have tried and they work really well. If this interests you let me know and I’ll create an article about generators.
9. Iterate and Refine: Test the palette on different designs, adjust and refine as needed. It is often necessary to make changes 4 and 5 times before finding the final color palette. Ask print experts, ask web designers, ask advertisers…. You will get different but very useful points of view.
10. Document: Create a clear guide for yourself and other designers who may use the palette in the future. Usually this is included in the brand manual of a company, so they will always keep the same line, no matter who they work with.
Designing a color palette is a bit like composing a piece of music: you have to find the chords that resonate together, but also come up with something unique and memorable.
Where color palettes are used
Logically, color palettes are used in branding and in the creation of brands and logos. Let’s say that’s their basic use.
Besides that, in any visual element, well selected colors are a vital factor. I’ll tell you now some projects that often use color palettes and maybe you hadn’t thought about it (if you know more, tell us in the comments).
Palettes in Art History: Artists throughout history have used limited palettes to create masterpieces. Zorn’s palette, for example, uses only four colors.
Palettes in Film: Directors like Wes Anderson are famous for their meticulously selected color palettes to create unique moods in their films.
Palettes in Video Games: Older video games, such as 8-bit games, had extremely limited color palettes. Designers had to be very creative with those few colors.
Web Color Palettes: Studies have shown that colors can influence purchasing decisions. So imagine how much it is worth to have a well-selected palette in an online store and how much it can earn the brand.
Examples of color palettes used by famous brands
Famous brands put a lot of effort into their color palettes. Generally speaking, we know the primary colors they use (the ones we usually see in their logos) but don’t doubt that all these brands also use perfectly selected colors for backgrounds, for their websites, even for the wardrobe that appears in their TV commercials.
The Coca-Cola logo
- Red (#FE001A): Main, energetic.
- White: Purity, cleanliness.
- Black: Sophistication, elegance.
- Gray: Neutral and background colors.
- Blue (#4285F4): Confidence.
- Red (#DB4437): Energy.
- Yellow (#F4C20D): Optimism.
- Green (#0F9D58): Growth.
- Gray (#F1F1F1): Neutrality.
- Blue (#00A4EF): Responsibility.
- Red (#F25022): Energy and passion.
- Green (#7FBA00): Growth and freshness.
- Yellow (#FFB900): Warmth
- Green (#00704A): Naturalness.
- White: Cleanliness.
- Black: Sophistication.
- Gray: Elegance and neutrality.
- Black: Elegance.
- White: Simplicity.
- Gray: Modernity and neutrality.
- Red: Energy and action.
I really hope this article about what is a color palette will be helpful in your design projects. Now tell me if you have ever designed a color palette or if you are going to do it soon;)