Methods for improving color choice and combinations?

I often struggle choosing proper color combinations. I’m self-ware enough to realize that I’m most comfortable with, and often settle on, colors which could be seen as more corporate or retro – blues, burgundies, browns, greys, etc.

I’m aware of things like Adobe Kuler, and Colorschemer.
I am not seeking additional, similar tools. I can build palettes without an issue. However…..

These don’t seem to really solve my issue. I can gain a palette from these tools, yet applications of the colors often fails for me.

I have a lot of practice using my “retro corporate-like” colors and have learned what works well as a background, what works well as text, etc. But when I move to a brighter or more vibrant palette I tend to lose sight of color application and eventually start desaturating and wind up shifting things back to my comfort zone.

How can I go about expanding my range of “comfortable” color use?

What are some best practices to broadening my own sense of color in design?

Note, I work primarily in print, so “testing” isn’t much of an option beyond on-screen testing. I rarely work on projects that allow me the luxury of using one palette today and trying another one next week. I customarily have to settle on one and use that for that project until the project is no longer needed. This means a poor color choice can really be detrimental to a piece and its lifetime.

Clarification: I am not seeking methods to build color palettes. As stated I can do that. It is the implementation of a palette that I’m asking about. Say, you build a palette of 7 colors.

  • How do you determine what colors work well for what objects? (i.e. “bright red on a canary yellow is too bright for good readability”, etc.)
  • At what level does color contrast become an issue?
  • Is it preferable to use color discords (complimentary colors)?
  • When is a color too vibrant to use for text?
  • What makes a piece “pop” via color use?
  • What types of colors combinations convey “liveliness”, “security”, “respect”, “youthful”, “vibrant”?

Is is this sort of input I was hoping for, not the “here’s how to pick a palette”. Seems I may have done a poor job of explaining my intent previously.


This might not answer your question completely, but as part of my workflow, I use this technique sometimes.

When trying to pick a colour palette (at the very beginning of the creative process), I try to recall from my memory an image or painting that fits the “mood” or “content” of the project. Then I take that image and, using Photoshop, I apply a Pixelate->Crystallize filter with quite a huge cell size. This simplifies the colours of the image to big flat swatches of colour.

For example, I have on my plans to create a self-originated poster for a cabaret performer. She tends to sing vintage music but somehow makes it sound fresh, her performance is quite risque, humorous, human and interactive. For some reason that reminds of this Toulouse Lautrec’s sketch, which, every time I see, communicates to me those values or mood.

enter image description here

I use the filter on the image and end up with this.

enter image description here

I then use the big cells of flat colours to build a colour scheme. I end up with choices that would have never come out from my own brain, such as baby blue and mid brown together. After I create the colour scheme I stick to it as if there were no more colours in the Universe. The only possible choices I give myself are swapping or adding a colour from/to the scheme with one of the colours from the cells.

It is just an aid that helps me think about the colour, to visualize it and to gauge their interactions and their contribution to a specific image. It also helps me break free from my well tried formulas.

Some might argue this is quite similar to using Adobe Kuler, but I find this approach more hands-on and personal. I get to pick the colours, not an app. I somehow find it disturbing to let a tool make creative decisions for me. One day androids will rule the Earth and do it all by themselves but until then I prefer adding my two cents of “me” to the creative process.

Source : Link , Question Author : Scott , Answer Author : cockypup

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