8 Tips to Inspire a Color Palette for Your Next Design

Creating your own color scheme can be a bit intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are a number of ways you can find inspiration to create a color palette that will support your next project.

Photo Library
Having a collection of images that speak to you can make building a color story around an idea or theme much less daunting. They could be gathered by snapping a photo on your phone during a neighborhood walk, pulled from your album of travels abroad, or collected from the screenshots on your computer. Revisiting those photos will give you an overall creative boost since they struck a chord for inspiration in the first place. Start to make a mood board with images that fit your theme or that just stand out as significant in some way.

Color Wheel
Color theory is a set of rules that combines creativity and science. Color theory sets the fundamental guidelines around color combinations and harmony. It explains how humans perceive color; and the visual effects of how colors mix, match or contrast with each other. Color theory also involves the messages that colors communicate.

In color theory, colors are organized on a color wheel and grouped into 3 categories: primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors. Learn more here.

I have a small paper color wheel that I use when dyeing fabrics. All fabrics take pigment differently, so it helps me steer into the right direction when I need to know what color to add more of to reach my desired tone. It’s also just a great tool for seeing possibilities in one place. It’s helpful to let your eyes scan the circle for new ideas.

Pantone Swatches
There’s nothing more invigorating for a creative person than walking past the wall of paint swatches at the hardware store. It’s honestly hard not to invent a new wall or chair that needs to be painted. A Pantone deck is right up there in the creativity-inspiring category, but it can be somewhat cost prohibitive since the color catalog changes each year, and there are a variety of applications (interior design, fabric, print), that present variance in even the same color.

Pantone does however, have an online tool that is really quite helpful for the design and creation process. Use this for finding a huge array of colors, and for converting specific color formulas from one medium to another. While Pantone colors bring precision to manufacturing, design and textiles by creating a common and standardized language for designers to use when communicating exact colors, this resource can be helpful for simply investigating your color choices further.

Classic Combinations
Sometimes sticking to colors that are historically known to work together, or that follow a popular trend, can guide you in the right direction. Think black, white and gold, for a sophisticated look. Or all earth tones like olive green, butterscotch and dark copper for a warm and inviting approach. You don’t have to reinvent the (color) wheel to make something original.

Color Hunt is a great resource for finding thousands of trendy hand-picked color combinations.

Match the Mood
All colors have inherent meanings, which can vary depending on the culture or country. These meanings have a direct impact on the way your audience perceives your work, whether consciously or subconsciously. The colors you choose can work for or against the message you are trying to create.

What is the general vibe or your project? If the feeling of the ballet is very dark and complex, for example, then maybe hot pink and canary yellow might not convey that mood accurately. Choosing colors that help represent the theme or intention will feel appropriate and better set the tone.

Scour the Interwebs
Just go ahead and Google, Pinterest, Instagram and Project Runway your way through deciding on what inspires you. Keep your purpose in mind, and just let yourself get lost. Who knows, you might end up going down a rabbit hole and learning something that has nothing to do with what you set out to find. Though, strong word of caution for using this method when you are on a deadline or time crunch. This one could end up opening Pandora’s box. But if the sky’s the limit, or you’ve got a major creative block, then have at it!

Narrow your Search
Pick one color that you can’t live without, or that really nails the idea/theme or vibe, and work off of that one base. Sometimes simplifying your color options can actually make your presentation more clear and easily palatable for your audience.

Stick to the Rule of Three: limiting your palette to just three colors is always a winning strategy. One of the colors can be bold, and the others supporting characters. Maybe they’re all comfortably in the same family and create subtle texture or interest. Or you just really enjoy three random colors together and it floats your boat. Be concise and have fun!

Color Matching
This is my Number 1, whip out of my back pocket, instant gratification tool for testing a color choice on an actual design...before buying fabric and sewing a prototype! Convert those inspiration pictures and mood boards into actual color formulas and start working them into your designs. You can use this in combination with Pantone’s website for spitting out specific color names/numbers, too.

I would have to say that I have used PrintKick on almost every single costume design or creative art project in the last few years. It’s a little coded page of magic!

This slide is an example of using an image from my creative stash (“inspiration” provided by this morning’s views) and then imported to KickPrint to extract the colors to build my simple two-tone palette. (Trying to make a pretty lemon martini out of these lemons we’ve been handed!)

An example of using images sourced from everyday life (this from a very odd Northern California wildfire season morning, captured on my phone) and implemented into my designs.

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