Mastering the creation of a strong color palette is a critical skill for designers. A color palette that clashes or falls flat can lose users in seconds, even when the content of a site is excellent.

Color has an impact on people’s perceptions. Some of those perceptions are universal, while others are heavily influenced by culture. While the meanings of each color are influenced by their exact shade, here’s a brief rundown of the major color families.

  • Red: love, passion, danger, anger
  • Orange: happiness, energy, vitality, activity
  • Yellow: cheerfulness, joy, intellect, mental clarity
  • Green: abundance, nature, new beginnings, wealth
  • Blue: loyalty, honesty, reliability, communication
  • Purple: royalty, creativity, mystery, spirituality
  • Pink: femininity, romance, youthfulness
  • Black: power, sophistication, evil, exclusivity
  • White: simplicity, peace, modernity, innocence
  • Gray: sophistication, intellect, compromise
  • Brown: strong, durable, honest

Shade of the hue (color) being used can have a profound impact on its meaning. For example, bright green is associated with nature and growth, while dark green is associated with wealth and money.

Choosing the Best Colors

The art and science behind the most effective use of color is referred to as color theory. Designers and artists use color theory to guide the mixing of colors and the visual effects of a specific color combination. According to color theory, a general framework for selecting your website’s color scheme is picking three colors: a base color, an accent color and a neutral.

  • Base: This is the most dominant color. It should reflect your brand’s most dominant personality trait and appeal to your target audience. Your base color will also help you determine your other colors.
  • Accent: The accent color is the second-most important hue after your base color. It can be tricky to choose your accent. It must align with a personality trait of your brand, pair well with your base color and appeal to your audience.
  • Neutral: This is a background color, so it should be subdued. Neutrals are usually a shade of gray, beige, white or off-white. In some instances, black can serve as a neutral as long as it’s not overpowering.

Creating a color palette

Color palette (or Color harmony) is the base of any design and artwork because designers use these color relationships to convey messages and create a particular look or feel.

Color palette types

Each type of color scheme has a different impact on how the colors play off one another.

  • Monochromatic color schemes use a single base hue and extend the color scheme by using different shades, tones, and tints of that color family. The result is a complex and rich design very different from the common misconception that monochromatic color harmonies are dull and lifeless.
    When choosing your color schemes, make sure to add enough contrast in the shades to create visual interest. This color harmony is vibrant and eye-pleasing, so be sure to make the most of it.
  • Analogous color palettes consist of three hues, all positioned next to each other on the color wheel, which generally complement each other’s meanings. For example, pairing green, yellow-green, and yellow together creates a design that’s fresh and energetic. When employing an analogous color scheme, stick to the 60-30-10 rule to maintain a visually appealing balance.
  • Complementary pairs are colors positioned on opposite ends of the color wheel, and they can be either primary, secondary, or tertiary colors. These harmonious color combinations create vibrant color palettes with high contrast. These complementary color palettes often use colors that have somewhat opposing meanings. For example, blue is subdued while orange is energetic.
  • Split complementary color schemes have one key color and two colors adjacent to that key color’s complement. Because of that, this color harmony has a vibrant contrast that is generally easy to use.
  • Triad color combinations consist of three colors evenly spaced on the color wheel. They are very versatile, and more often than not, they create a vibrant, bold color palette. Similar to complementary color schemes, triad color schemes offer strong contrast. When choosing your colors in harmony, let one hue dominate and use the others for accents only.
  • Tetrad color schemes have four individual colors: a key color and three more colors, all equidistant from the key color on the color wheel. It consists of two complementary color pairs. Like any complementary scheme with a wide range of colors, the result is a vibrant palette rich with contrast.
    In fact, tetradic colors are some of the boldest, most vibrant color schemes in the designers’ toolkit. While that’s a great thing, it also means they should be used judiciously and with caution.
  • Square color schemes consist of four colors spaced evenly around the color wheel. To create a square color palette, pick the key color to start with. Then identify the other colors that are equidistant from that color. You’ll basically end up with two complementary pairs.
    This color harmony is very similar to the tetrad above, however, instead of a rectangular color scheme, it is a square color scheme.

60-30-10 Rule

Regardless of what color palette structure you choose to use, following the 60-30-10 rule provides some guidance in how to actually combine them. This rule states that your design should use one color for 60% of the visual space (generally a neutral color like white, black, or gray), 30% for the brand or another secondary color, and 10% for an accent color, often a brighter or stronger color. The color you use for 30% of the design will have a stronger impact on emotion than the one used for 10%, so consider carefully what you want the prevailing emotion to be.