In this post, I am going to share with you some steps for building colour palettes for a new or existing identity.
I want to show you how you can do this quickly so you can begin using your new colours right away.
We will be creating a set of RGB/HEX colours for screens. However, it is possible to make equivalents of the colours you create for printed materials, but I am not going to cover these steps in this post; that will have to wait for another day and another post.
I am going to try not to go into too many details of the how's and the why's. This post is meant to get you creating colours palettes quickly.
I will be revisiting this subject in future posts but in the meantime just drop me an email if you have any questions.
So why do you need colour palette?
It's handy to have a set of colours to use with your company identity or brand. You can use these colours for blog post header graphics (like I am doing here) or perhaps as part of an attractive business illustration that appears on your website, or maybe just to colour the heading fonts in an email you are sending out to customers.
Wherever you decide to use your colour palette; doing so will give you colour-consistency across your company identity, or brand making your content much more visually recognisable to viewers and differentiating you from your competitors.
Right with all that said let's get cracking! Or let's get colouring; see what I did there. ;)
Step 1 - Make a Mood Board
A mood board (sometimes called an inspiration board) is a group of images, illustrations etc... arranged together to evoke or present a particular style or concept (or at least that's what Google says).
Sounds a little technical; but in all honesty, it's not technical at all. It's simply a grid of images and colours that you can use to either create colour palettes (as we will be doing in this post) or to assist with design inspiration and direction when working on design projects.
Pinterest is full of amazing images, graphics and illustrations of all kinds of subject matter.
Head over to Pinterest and either log-in if you already have an account or create a new account. It's free to join.
Start by creating a new secret board and begin by adding images to it that appeal to you and you feel have some relation to your current business or ideal brand design.
Try to not just to focus on colour but subject to and consider how these images relate to one another. Remember also to try to pick images you feel would appeal to your ideal customer too.
Again this does sound a little technical, but it truly isn't. Just trust your judgement, go with your instinct and have fun. There is no wrong way to do this.
You can find and view related pictures, or as Pinterest puts it "visually similar results" by clicking on the icon in the top right of the image you are currently viewing. Doing this will help you to find further images which are similar giving you more choice for your finished boards.
The One Rule
Try to avoid logos or other brand designs. This rule is more for those who are creating a mood board for a logo or brand design project. If you are going to produce original design work, it's best not to be too influenced by other designs out there.
For those who are creating a colour palette for their current brand design, it's not so much of a big deal, but I would say best avoid these kinds of images if you can.
Making your board
Once you have a bunch of cool pictures, you love, start downloading them and put them somewhere on your local computer hard drive where you can easily access them.
You need to take all these images now and begin to position the ones you like and feel work well together in a grid-like structure, so they end up looking a bit like the example below.
It may take a bit of time to get right as it's a bit like forming an image based jigsaw puzzle but stick with it. Pull together pictures of similar tone, subject, structure and colour.
Experiment with different combinations of pictures and when an image is not working swop it out for something else. If you run out of pictures, head back over to Pinterest and use that 'find related images' button to find some alternatives.
Also, notice in the mood board above that there are not just images but solid blocks of colour too.
Try to leave the same amount of whitespace between each image or block of colour. Leaving a white gap between each image just makes the mood board much easier to view and help to connect the images up visually.
Search the internet for mood boards to get inspiration and layout ideas but be careful not to be too influenced by what you see. You want your mood board to reflect your own or your customers ideal brand design and not someone else's.
How to make your board (Software)
How you make your mood board does depend on what software you have access to and know how to use. Personally, I use Adobe InDesign to create my mood boards as I find it very easy to resize and reposition my images just the way I want.
You could also use Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Sketch, Affinity Designer or Affinity Photo. I would imagine Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint could be utilised for this process if you are familiar with using these applications. There is also a whole host of online applications such as Canva, and I am sure with a bit of searching via Google there are bound to be a lot more other types of software out there too.
It's not important what application you use. All that matters is the ability position and structure your images to create a final mood board which is simply just a very basic grid of pictures and colours that most commonly used desktop applications can easily create.
Making Colour Blocks
I use the Eyedropper Tool in InDesign to sample colours directly from the pictures to create solid blocks of colour for my mood board. I then place these blocks amongst the images, where I think they look best and work well with the overall design of the board. Building blocks of colour in this way is an essential step and will help you to create your final colour palette.
If you don't have an Eyedropper Tool
If you don't have an Eyedropper Tool or equivalent within your chosen application, try drawing a simple block or shape using your applications native tools which you can add a solid colour too.
Move this block or shape and position it close to the portion of the image where you would like to sample the colour. Using your applications colour tools try filling that block with a solid colour and matching that solid colour to the colour of the portion of the image you like.
It's more than likely you can access some kind of colour wheel etc. within your application giving you access to the full range of RGB colours which will help you to match the colour accurately.
Once you have the colour or close to it, you can then move the block back into position on your grid layout.
With your images placed and spaced and some colour blocks made you should now have a complete mood board. I would suggest making a few versions with different layouts, different images and different colour blocks to see what kinds of results you get.
Step 2 - Creating your palette of colours
If you are creating a colour palette for a logo or brand design, create just three or four colour blocks within your mood board to start. Sample colour from your chosen images to create these blocks.
Most logos are made up of around two to three key or primary colours so if you have created a visually cohesive board you should have three or four colours you can use as a base to begin logo designs. Don't be afraid to tweak these colours they are just a starting place after all.
Personally, sometimes I find I don't need to do any tweaking at all. Other times I adjust the colours a lot. There are no rules just go with your instincts and know that the objective is to end up with three colours you like, and work well together.
If you already have a logo
If you already have a logo, I would suggest you repeat the same process but include your current logo in your mood board. I would then advise you to select images that work well together, and also work well with your logo in regards to colour, tone and subject. Doing this will begin the process of creating a secondary colour palette for use with the current primary colours in your existing logo.
Creating Secondary Colours
Those who are creating a set of primary colours should also consider developing a secondary colour palette too.
Secondary colour palettes tend to be made up of about six to nine colours so consider adding around six solid colour blocks to your mood board and repeat the process of sampling colours from your chosen images.
A secondary colour palette can be so useful for times when you want to break away from you primary colour palette but also keep within a structure. They are very powerful when used with supporting design elements such as illustrations or icons. I use two of my own brand's secondary colours within the header graphics for this blog post. They are not from my primary colour palette which I mostly only use in the principal areas of my website.
Step 3 - Making a Swatch List
Once you have selected and finalised your colours, it's a good idea to list these colours and their RGB/HEX values in a separate document for easy reference.
Using your application of choice create a swatch list like the one below which shows the colour and the RGB and Hex values listed underneath.
You might have to navigate to an area of your chosen application where you can note down all the values for the colours.
In InDesign, it's simply a case of double-clicking on a colour in the Swatches panel to bring up the various colour values. I just note these down or save them in a file which I can use in other applications.
Creating colour palettes in this way is an excellent way to make a set of colours for your company identity that is unique to you.
Try making boards with three, six and nine colour blocks and everything in between. Try also making the mood boards in different sizes and shapes.
I would always keep the number of images limited to a degree as more images will make the process harder but just go with what works for you.
As I say there are no real rules and the objective is always the same. To make an organised set of colours that you can use to make your companies identity more consistent and therefore more recognisable.
Let me know if you found this post useful and please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
Creating colours is one of my favourite design processes, so I hope you have fun making colours of your own. I wish you all the best of luck with creating amazing colour palettes.
About the authors
Michael James Collett and Rachel Willett specialise in Identity Design, Website Design and Digital Marketing. We help businesses communicate more effectively with their customers through creating beautiful, strategic and crafted brand identities and websites.