Lavinia Aparaschivei

Lavinia Aparaschivei

June 30, 2021
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How to Create a Unique Color Palette

Great designs thrive on great color selection. And anyone who's ever designed anything knows how frustrating it can be to create unique colors. Well, that experience is about to get a whole lot better. Learn how to make the perfect color palette for your designs in Vectornator. Say hello to the most stress-free color selection experience you've ever going to have.

June 30, 2021
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If you have ever designed anything; a graphic, a poster, branding for a client, or an illustration, you've had to deal with colors.

And we know how tricky it can be - sometimes even painfully frustrating - to create the perfect color palette.

You begin by asking yourself: What do I want to communicate with my design? Are my color choices defining my style as an artist? 

These are questions you need to consider, and quite frankly, they are very important for good design or attention-grabbing illustrations. For this reason, we recommend starting with some color theory before diving into research, inspiration, and finally, actually creating your palette.

So let's go back to school for a minute.

A Walkthrough of Color Theory and Concepts

Let's first have a look at the most common terms you need to know when designing or illustrating.

The color wheel is the basis of color theory because it shows the relationship between colors. For this reason, it's a very handy tool that can be used as a reference to come up with beautiful sets of colors. It's been around for longer than you may think! The color wheel was invented in 1666 by Isaac Newton when he mapped the color spectrum onto a circle. The standard wheel is comprised of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

Primary colors are also known as source colors, and they cannot be made by mixing other colors. There are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. So if we take blue, we can observe that it contains no red and no yellow. The same goes for the other two. 

Secondary colors come from mixing primary colors together. The secondary colors are purple (red mixed with blue), orange (red mixed with yellow), and green (yellow mixed with blue).

Tertiary colors result from mixing primary with secondary colors. So for example, yellow and orange combine into amber. The tertiary colors are vermillion (red-orange), amber (yellow-orange), chartreuse (yellow-green), teal (blue-green), violet (blue-purple), and magenta (red-purple).

Image Source:

Hue is the most basic of color terms. And it's actually just a different way of naming an object's color or shade. When you hear “orange,” “red,” or “green,” this is when we're talking about hue. It is represented visually in the color wheel by one spoke.

Saturation refers to the intensity or purity of a hue. A hue in its most intense form is also considered fully saturated. While mute or dull hues like browns or grays are less saturated.

Value or Brightness is the relative lightness and darkness of a hue. This is arguably one of the most important things you have to master. Different hues cannot exist without value, and different levels of saturation cannot exist without hues.

Contrast is the degree of separation between values. So the bigger the separation is between the values of two colors, the more contrasting they will be.

Image Source:

Shades are created by adding black to a base color, thus darkening it. This can create rich, deep colors that can help with adding a touch of drama to your work.

Tints are creating the opposite way - by adding white to the base hue, thus lightening the color. This creates very neutral colors which can help balance out your palette.

Tones are created by adding grey to your base hues. Tones also tend to be subtle and more neutral. But the beauty of tones is that they do not look like pastels, and thus reveal more complexities of the base color. 

Image Source: Canva

Color temperature refers to the warmth or the coolness of a hue. Without even knowing color theory, you might have noticed how some colors feel cooler, while others feel warmer, and that they evoke a different mood and feeling.

Warm colors make up the red, orange, and yellow spokes of the color wheel. They are usually used to convey love, energy, and cheerfulness.

Cool colors are represented by violet, blue, and green. They convey things like peace, growth, nature, and harmony.

If we take the example of one hue, like red, notice how warmer reds lean more towards orange, while cooler reds lean more towards blue.

Image Source: Medium

Now let's see how all these terms come in handy when choosing your color palette. Colorization is definitely not easy - it’s part art, part science, and part personal taste. But the below top tips can help you make better color choices!

1. Use Color Harmonies

It's no coincidence that the Hulk wears purple pants. The reason is color harmony. In fact, that's the reason behind many color combinations you see around you. 

Color harmonies are scientifically proven techniques used throughout history that create aesthetically pleasing color combinations. 

These harmonies are based on the color wheel, which in itself is not created randomly. The colors on the wheel are arranged in spectral order (like the rainbow). Each color placement is there to help you to identify harmonious color combinations. To create balance, the majority of the classic color harmonies are combinations of colors that balance the spectrum of colors. Let's see what they look like!

The Monochromatic harmony is made from a single color family. A monochromatic scheme will include a combination of tints, tones, and shades from the same hue to add depth and contrast. While it may sound like an easy scheme to work it, it is actually one of the most difficult because you have to pay a lot of attention to the colors' value and contrast in order to give life to your work. But when done correctly, monochromatic color harmonies are great for setting a mood.

The Analogous harmony is created by three colors side by side on the color wheel. This color combination is generally quite easy to use because of its versatility.

A Diad harmony is the combination of two colors that are separated by one color on the color wheel. Similar to the Analogous harmony, this is quite easy to work with and it looks especially beautiful when used as an accent with neutrals.

Complementary harmony. You might have heard of this one. It's created by using two colors that are positioned directly across from each other on the wheel. This harmony offers the highest degree of color contrast, which is why this style of harmony is very popular in logos, graphics, and illustrations.

All the below color harmonies are a variation of complementary harmony. 

The Split complementary pairs one color with the two colors directly on either side of its complementary. This allows for a nicer range of hues and has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme. But with less tension. This one is hard to mess up. 

The Triadic harmony refers to the combination of three hues that are equally spaced around the color wheel. Be careful not to use too much of each color, because then your design will feel too vibrant. The triadic scheme stretches the basic idea of color harmony, so in order for it to be used successfully, two of the colors need to be used as an accent.

Color Harmony Images Source:

Play around with different harmonies and adjust to your own taste. In essence, the simplest way to start is by finding one color that you like. And then let harmonies do the rest!

2. Focus on Your Balance

As hinted until now, you shouldn't overuse certain colors to the detriment of others since that might make your design or illustration way too busy.

Each element will fight for your viewer's attention. If you only use saturated colors, the viewer’s eyes will have no time to rest. So make sure you rely heavily on neutral tones, as they will help bring balance to your artwork. A nice way to use saturated colors is by placing them as accents.

A general rule of thumb is 60 - 30 - 10: 60% your neutral tones (or your predominant color), 30% secondary color(s), and 10% your accent colors. 

While this rule isn't that strict, it can help give a sense of proportion and balance to your design.

3. Less is More 

Speaking of saturation, this is also something that a lot of novice illustrators might get wrong.

Most people learn about colors in their purest format from a young age, like red, blue, green, and so on. What all these base colors have in common is the fact that they are highly saturated. And using them together in one design won't always look good.

Here is where adjusting the saturation comes in! Less is more. Play around until you've taken the edge off your colors in a way that makes them more pleasing to the eye.

This also applies to the number of colors in your piece. As kids, we might have been told to use all the colors in the crayon box, but just make sure not to do so in one single artwork.

4. Contrast

Alongside saturation, brightness is your other best friend.

Brightness will ultimately define how much contrast exists between your colors. While designs with low contrast have an aesthetic of their own, they’re not always the best choice for layout design, illustrations, posters, packaging, or logos, to name a few examples.

Ultimately, color contrast is more than just an aesthetic. It’s also a necessity, especially when designing with user experience in mind. The most important thing to remember is that whatever you design or create needs to be accessible to everyone that views it. Not everyone sees colors the same way, and that is especially true for users with any degree of color-blindness.

Using color contrast is all about finding a balance between the highs and lows. A very easy way to check contrast is by putting the colors next to each other, and then turning your design to grayscale.

In Vectornator, you can do this easily. First, create a grey rectangle. Make sure it’s on the top of your colors or artwork. Then go to Style, Blend Mode, and choose Color.

If your colors contrast in grayscale, then you’re on the right track.

5. Find Inspiration

No matter how experienced or talented you are, don’t be afraid to draw inspiration from other artists or from color palette websites.

One of the biggest platforms is Color Hunt, a curated collection of beautiful color schemes, updated daily. You can also sort colors by new, trending, random, or popularity. Once you've found a scheme you like, simply copy the hex codes and paste them into Vectornator, where you can create your color palette directly onto your canvas.

If you are inspired by an artist, on the other hand, be sure to not directly copy their style. But rather observe what you like about a particular piece, what makes you interested in it, and what defines your artistic taste.

Image Source: ColorHunt

Create a Color Palette Quickly

After all this theory, it pays to have some quick tips that will help you create a unique color palette within seconds.

Use Vectornator Color Blending

Using the Vectornator's Color Blending is a super simple way to create a color palette. The blend options remove the guesswork involved in selecting different color values for your design palette.

Here's how you do it step by step (also demonstrated in the video above):

0 - Begin with an idea

For instance, if you want to design an illustration that conveys a positive mood, you should go for happier, more vibrant colors like fuchsia, yellow, or electric blue. You will then need to have some colors in contrast to maybe drive your audience to a specific section of your illustration or design.

1 - Create five shapes

Create one rectangle, then duplicate it by activating the Duplicate Mode or holding the Alt button on the keyboard.

2 - Choose two colors

Open the Color Picker and choose the first and the last color for your palette. They can be opposite, complementary, monochrome, black, white, whatever you want, as long as they reflect your concept. The color harmonies come in handy here again.

3 - Create a full palette!

Select all five shapes and open the Color Picker Card by tapping the Color Fill. Then scroll down to the Color Blending section and tap the Blend Horizontally button. Voila!

Don't forget that you can apply Color Blending also to objects displayed vertically or blend back to front with overlapped elements.

Playing With Transparency

Another fast way to create a really unique color palette is by starting with three colors, for example, purple, orange, and green. To which you add another color on top with low opacity, like a light blue.

Now you’ve created a brand new set of colors that can add so much more dimension to your work.

Save Your Palette

Once you have defined your colors, save them in your personal Vectornator Color Palette by selecting each shape and then tapping on the “Plus” you see right below the Color Wheel.

Don't be Afraid to Play with Colors!

The most effective way for us designers to improve our design and color relationship is to keep exploring and experimenting.

It's also a good idea to first start with a limited color palette, and then explore more combinations by playing with opacity and saturation.

Finally, designing is a process and there are no set rules to it. Feel free to mix and match color combinations that do not necessarily follow a grid. 

Do your research, don't skip on theory, try, fail, and try again! It's a fantastic way to learn. 

If these tips helped you in your design or illustration, please share your work with us! We would love to see what our awesome community is up to!

And of course, don't forget to download Vectornator if you haven't already!


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