Beginning Graphic Design: Color

Color. It plays a vital role in design and everyday
life. It can draw your eye to an image… evoke
a certain mood or emotion… even communicate something important without using words at
all. So how do we know which colors look good together,
and which ones don’t? The answer is simple: Color theory. Artists and designers have followed color
theory for centuries, but anyone can learn more about it. It can help you feel confident in many different
situations, whether it’s choosing colors for a design, or putting together the perfect
outfit. All it takes is a little insight, and you’ll
be looking at color in a whole new way. Let’s start at the beginning—the very beginning—with
a refresher on the basics. Remember learning about primary and secondary
colors in school? Then you already have some knowledge of color
theory. Red and yellow make orange; yellow and blue
make green; and blue and red make purple. If we mix these colors together, we get even
more in-between shades, like red-orange and yellow-green. All together, they form what’s called a color
wheel. (You can probably see where it gets its name.) Now, let’s take it one step further with hue,
saturation, and value. These are terms you might not encounter in
daily life, but they’re the key to understanding more nuanced colors—like all those little
paint chips at the home improvement store. Hue is the easiest one; it’s basically just
another word for “color.” Saturation refers to intensity—in other
words, whether the color appears more subtle or more vibrant. Value has to do with how dark or light the
color is, ranging from black to white. As you can see, this gives us many different
shades, from a deep reddish brown… to light pastel pink. So how do we put this all together to create
professional-looking color schemes? There are actually tried and true formulas
based on something called color harmony that can help. All you need is the color wheel. The easiest formula for harmony is monochromatic
because it only uses one color or hue. Just pick a spot on the color wheel, and use
your knowledge of saturation and value to create variations. The best thing about monochromatic color schemes
is that they’re guaranteed to match. An analogous color scheme uses colors that
are next to each other on the wheel, like reds and oranges… or cooler colors, like
blues and greens. Don’t be afraid to play with the palette and
create your own unique interpretation. That’s what these formulas really are: starting
points to help guide and inspire you. Complementary colors are opposite each other
on the wheel; for instance, blue and orange… or the classic red and green. To avoid complementary color schemes that
are too simplistic, add some variety by introducing lighter, darker, or desaturated tones. A split-complementary color scheme uses the
colors on either side of the complement. This gives you the same level of contrast,
but more colors to work with (and potentially more interesting results). A triadic color scheme uses three colors that
are evenly spaced, forming a perfect triangle on the wheel. These combinations tend to be pretty striking—especially
with primary or secondary colors—so be mindful when using them in your work. Tetradic color schemes form a rectangle on
the wheel, using not one but two complementary color pairs. This formula works best if you let one color
dominate while the others serve as an accent. There are a few classic do’s and don’ts when
it comes to color. For instance, have you ever seen colors that
seem to vibrate when they’re placed next to each other? The solution is to tone it down—literally—and
there’s a simple way do it. Start with one color, and try adjusting its
lightness, darkness, or saturation. Sometimes, a little contrast is all your color
palette needs. Readability is an important factor in any
design. Your colors should be legible and easy on
the eyes. Sometimes that means not using color—at
least not in every little detail. Neutral colors like black, white, and gray
can help you balance your design, so when you do use color, it really stands out. Every color sends a message. It’s important to consider the tone of your
project, and choose a color palette that fits. For example, bright colors tend to have a
fun or modern vibe. Desaturated colors often appear more business-like. Sometimes it just depends on the context—you’d
be surprised how flexible color can be. You can find ideas for color schemes in all
kinds of interesting places, from advertising and branding to famous works of art. You can even use a web resource to browse
color palettes or generate your own. Even experienced designers take inspiration
from the world around them. There’s nothing wrong with finding something
you like, and making it your own. Everywhere you look, there’s color, color,
and more color. It can be intimidating to use it in your work,
but it doesn’t have to be. Just keep experimenting and remember what
you’ve learned about color theory. Soon, choosing great-looking colors will feel
like second nature. We hope you enjoyed learning the basics of
color. Check out the rest of our design topics, including
typography, images, composition.

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