When it comes to choosing colors, people are almost always confident about what looks good on them. After all, they’ve had years to experiment with every shade possible, and know for a fact what works and what doesn’t.
The same can’t be said for picking brand colors. Not only do you not have the luxury of time to experiment, it’s very easy to get things horribly wrong. So we tend to leave color decisions to the experts, ie the agency or the graphic designer.
That said, dabbling in the parts of the color picking process is educational and fascinating, especially if you’re a person who has always been intrigued by colors, color psychology and the like. But if colors bore you, then think of the 5 tools below as simplifiers of irksome tasks, like making your Powerpoint deck look more professional.
Adobe Color Wheel
Think of Adobe’s Color Wheel as the digital version of hand mixing paints on a palette. Move or stretch the arm on the circle to find a shade you like. Choose the color rule — analogous, monochromatic, complementary, etc — from the menu on the left. A palette will be produced showing the right shades.
If you click on the Explore tab, you’ll find palettes that other people have produced, which you can upvote or download. If you wish to save your palette (retrievable in the My Themes tab), you’ll have to sign up for an Adobe ID.
Got a photo with colors that make your heart beat faster? Then you’ll love this neat feature. Click on the camera icon underneath the Sign In link on the right — if you mouse over the camera it’ll say ‘Create from Image’. Upload a photo and the program will extract the colors into a palette based on a color mood you choose. The dropdown menu on the left has five different color moods and one custom which allows you to cherry pick the shades you want from the picture.
In this example, I’ve used a screen grab of a page from Elle Decor France, an interior design magazine that always makes me want to rearrange my furniture and distress my walls. Adobe extracted the greens and chocolates and created a muted palette.
Adobe Color Wheel has so many useful features — it’s like the Swiss Army Knife of color planning — but sometimes you just want to mess around in one area without getting distracted by everything else going on.
Like what if you just wanted to play around with the palettes? This is where Coolors.co comes in.
The only thing Coolors does is spit out palettes. Fool-proof, pretty ones. All you have to do is click on the Generate link, which brings you to a row of five color bars. You can start with one hex code, then tap on your space bar for Coolors to come up with suggestions. You can also lock colors to remember the shades you want, or calibrate a shade up or down until you find one to your liking.
The palette below is the one I built for this website. I started with two shades that I really liked: Blush pink and a blackish purple like OPI’s Lincoln Park in the Dark nail polish. Once I put in the two hex codes, Coolors came up with the three other suggestions.
It’s important to know that each shade must have a role to play and not just be merely decorative. In this informative blog post by Adobe, an ideal palette is broken down by one neutral color, two ‘pop’ colors and one call-to-action (CTA) color. You’ll find that having structure such as this in creating a palette will head off potential headaches in future, eg H1s or headlines that don’t stand out from body copy.
Sometimes you don’t need an entire palette — all you need is a contrasting color that doesn’t look like dreck. You want to achieve what Pablo Picasso once mused aloud in wonder: ‘Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing?’
Hello Color is as minimal as it gets. Just type in the hex code of your preferred color in the URL’s c parameter (see the visual below on where to find it) and it’ll spit out a fine matching color that you’d never have thought of, as well as other shades. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Now that you’ve had a go at creating palettes and seen some not-too-shabby results, you may be interested in replicating the palettes of specific brands. Perhaps you’ve seen the below infographic that spurred the idea, or read up on color theory and want to apply these insights to your own brand. Hey if red works for Virgin and Tesla …
Brand Colors is a library of colors for 600+ brands, with an even spread across US and international names. All the hex codes are spelt out and you can download them for reference. The logos are sourced from official documentation such as identity/brand guidelines of press kits. If you are the steward of your company brand and think it ought to be featured, you can certainly suggest it to the site’s owner, Galen Gidman.
Brand Colors is not perfect — Boise State University is on the list while Apple isn’t — but it’s a great place to start researching other brands’ palettes and noting how they’re used.
Let’s say you’re out and about and saw a very fetching scene, the colors of which are so ravishing you’re inspired to create a palette.
You can take a photo with your iPhone and upload the photo to Adobe Color Wheel. Or you could download the Color Name app for 99 cents and start on your palette right there and then.
What’s neat about Color Name is that it identifies colors by name — what’s scarlet for you could be fuchsia for me — thus minimizing confusion. Just tap your finger on any part of the photograph and the app will provide the RGB specs and its official name for the color you picked. Tap on the color’s name at the top and it will bring you to a screen with RGB, CMYK, HSB and hex codes for the color plus three similar Pantone shades to consider.
All these apps demystify what we’ve always thought of as a skill belonging only to the artistically gifted. Choosing colors that look great is actually much more a science that it is an art.
‘Not only can color, which is under fixed laws, be taught like music, but it is easier to learn than drawing, whose elaborate principles cannot be taught,’ said French Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix, who lived in the 1800s. He may not have foreseen the wondrous 21st century tools that can do just that, but would’ve certainly appreciated the vistas they have opened for the non-artists among us.