Learn to use colours creatively for magazine and book design.

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Colour can define the nature of a printed publication at a glance. The physical size of a newspaper is no longer a reliable indicator of its nature, but use of colour is telling: the more garish the front page, the further down-market the content. 
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Some of the loftiest titles still restrain the use of colour, or eschew it altogether, for fear of looking too populist.
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The same principles apply to magazines. When visiting a foreign country, we have little difficulty in distinguishing the local Vogue rival from that of Cosmopolitan. On its cover, the former will feature a model shot under crisp, dramatic lighting, overlaid with text in no more than two colours, one of them black. The latter will present softer, brighter photography and text in at least three colours, one of them white.
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Colour is recognized as a major factor in the selling power of covers. Exactly which colours will generate the highest sales, however, is sadly impossible to pin down. You would expect warm colours to sell best, but in fact blues are often successful, while many publishers shun yellow. On the crowded newsstand anything that stands out can work.
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Colour is a functional element of page design. Many publications use colour-coded bars, or slugs, at the top of each page to differentiate sections, helping readers navigate through the issue. 
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Tints separate boxes and sidebars from the body of a page and blocks of colour overlaid with type are used to draw the reader

Visual hierarchy is essential to printed pages. A field of similar objects is a psychological turn-off. Outside the tabloid press, giant headlines are a no-no, so often the lead story on a newspaper spread will be distinguished by having the biggest picture.

In magazines, a feature article will run over several spreads, with the start often flagged by a dramatic composition of form and colour.

Cover stories


Since the first blossoming of the magazine market during the interwar period, publishers have been well aware of the power of colour to transform a cover into a visual sales pitch. Although photography has largely taken over from graphical compositions in mass-market titles, bold use of colour remains a powerful tool.

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Designed by Neville Brody, The Face was a pop-culture icon in 1980s Britain. Coinciding with the desktop publishing revolution, it applied post-punk attitudes to graphic design.
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The foreground graphic on this cover features clean lines set against a cloudy background and is coloured in broken tints to create harmony. In today

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This cover of Fortune magazine was designed by prominent artist Fernand Léger in a style he had developed in printmaking. The influence of Picasso and Braque is evident, as are elements reminiscent of Miró and Mondrian.
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Standing out and blending in

Whether thanks to the desktop-publishing revolution, strong economies, or a genuine public appetite for ever more printed materials, the world seems to be increasingly crammed with publications, both desirable and unsolicited. One way to make yours stand out from the crowd is by using colour in ways nobody else has thought of.

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The Waterways Trust was formed to help realize the potential of Britain

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This spread for leading British design and architecture magazine Blueprint breaks almost all the rules, but it respects colour proportions, splashing a small amount of warm orange on a field of recessive blue.
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Buy the book

Book publishers, too, must attract attention to their products. Just as successive editions of a magazine must have enough in common visually to be recognizable to loyal readers, books in the same imprint or by the same author are often designed as a coherent series. Each book is complete in itself, though, and some flavour of its content must be conveyed.

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When an author has achieved recognition and popularity, it pays to give his or her books a distinctive look. Pentagram partner Justus Oehler designed this Faber & Faber series of Banana Yoshimoto’s fiction using Japanese characters on background colours appropriate to each work. 
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A comprehensive, cutting-edge reference book for a new generation of colour-users, The Complete Guide to Colour brings together key elements of colour theory, practice, and application in one easy-to-use format. From abstract colour theory to the more practical implications of using CMYK and RGB, this authoritative volume may well be the only colour book you'll ever need.

Tom Fraser founded Designer Training Ltd, a firm specializing in professional instruction for design-orientated software. Adam Banks has worked with digital imaging since the early 80s, and contributes regular reviews and tutorials to computer publications.

The Complete Guide to Colour is available at a retail price of £19.95. However, Digit and ILEX have teamed up to save you money. To order your copy with a 20 per cent discount plus FREE P&P in the UK, visit www.ilex-press.com/digitoffer

Alternatively, please write to Digit Offer, ILEX Press Ltd, The Old Candlemakers, West Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 2NZ. Or, telephone your order to ILEX on 01273 487 440.