Pick a color! Any color!

Choosing colors for a brand, website, or illustrations is not an exact science and I have yet to perfect it myself but here are some tips and tools I like to use which make the process that much easier.


1. Color Theory

Here are some basic rules and color pairings based on the color wheel:

Primary Colors are the roots of all other colors. They are Red, Yellow, and Blue. primary

Secondary Colors are created by mixing primary colors (such as red and yellow making orange). They are Orange, Purple, and Green. secondary

Tertiary Colors are created by mixing mixing primary and secondary colors. They are Yellow-Orange, Red-Orange, Red-Purple, Blue-Purple, Blue-Green, and Yellow-Green. Tertiary

Analogous are three colors side by side on the color wheel such as Yellow, Yellow-Green, and Green. analogous

Complementary colors are directly opposite each other on the color wheel such as Green and Red. complimentary

Triadic are colors evenly spaced around the color wheel such as Purple, Green, and Orange. secondary

Tints are when you add white to a hue. tints

Shades are when you add black to a hue. shades

Tones are adding gray to a hue. tones

Warm colors consist of Red, Orange, and Yellow. warm

Cool Colors consist of Blue, Green, and Purple. cool

Neutrals consist of black, white, gray, brown, beige, tan, cream, and ivory. neutrals


2. Brand

Existent: If a brand is already in place it is important to create a scheme that compliments the current concept.

  • If they only have color you can have more fun and play around with tones, shades, complimentary colors, etc. If more than one color is present you don’t want to just throw another color in and hope for the best.
  • Two colors in the brand? Pick something in the middle.  If pink and blue are your brand colors, I would try a purple
  • Do they colors work okay on their own? If so, can we just update them a little? Remove a muted blue for a bright blue option that may be more clickable. If there is a decent color base, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.


Non-existent: Starting from scratch is always fun but that doesn’t mean it is a free for all. Follow the brand attributes to guide your color choices. Some examples are:

  • Clean: Really the options are endless, but focus more on one solid color choice such bright blue and pair with white and gray.
  • Modern: Simple and bold. Follow current trends and try something with more of a punch like a bright magenta, blue, yellow, and red.
  • Retro: Try a mustard, deep turquoise, or burnt orange with a subtle cream color. You want it to have a vintage vibe without being outdated.


3. Audience

Who is your audience? Just because you and the client might love a color combo doesn’t mean it actually fits who the audience is. Would you use black and white with a splash of red on a website selling kids toys and giving parents advice? I think not. You need to choose a color that represents the company and supports the audience. Some examples:

  • Popular Music: Bold reds, yellows, blues, purple, grey, black, and even neons.
  • Parents/Kids: Fun, light hearted options are always best. Primary colors are always a solid choice but you could throw some secondary colors in there as well. Pair with white and you are golden.
  • Legal: Gold, burgundy, and all other deep, rich colors.


4. Usability 

Does the color look clickable? Can I read the important copy? Will this color look cool in six months? Can I tell what these illustrations are? All important questions. If you cannot answer them, you’re color options are might not be the right fit. It is hard sometimes not to follow along with current trends but make sure the brand can grow. Not every client is going to want to overhaul in a year because neon blue isn’t hip anymore.


5. Current Trends

  • Bright bold colors. Can’t get enough neon.
  • Single color with a splash of white or black.
  • Subtle gradients. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of gradients and you’ll find it hard to convince me otherwise but lately I have seen tastefully done gradients that even I have grown to love.
  • Tones, shades, or tints of one color.
  • Multicolor illustrations and icons. Yes simple single color icons are still in, not sure if they will ever go out of style, BUT don’t knock the multicolored illustrations I’ve been seeing pop up all over the place. I can’t get enough.





In the end, trust your gut. We all have different tastes and colors that appeal more to ourselves. Try it out and see what works. Creating iterations and playing with a variety of concepts is the key to finding the perfect match.