Inspired and well thought-out colour usage can produce visually balanced work with a pleasing sense of order – here are our essential tips for creatively handling colour.
Discover the colour wheel
A colour wheel is one of the foundations of working with colour in art and design. A colour wheel shows a circle of colours that are logically arranged as a sequence of pure hues, and you can use various colour sequences from the wheel to create harmonious colour schemes – colours that look pleasing to the eye or simply work together. You can find lots of different colour wheels on the Web; try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_wheel or use the interactive colour wheel at http://www.sessions.edu/ilu/ilu_1.asp.
Create harmonious colour
Armed with a colour wheel, you can use the rules of harmony to ensure a mix of colours that deliver a balanced visual experience. The opposite of harmony is chaos, or banality to the point of being boring; colour harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order. Using a colour wheel, one route to colour harmony is creating a colour scheme based on analogous colours – any three colours that are next to each other on a 12-part colour wheel, such as yellow, yellow-orange, and orange. Complementary colour harmony uses any two colours that are opposite one another on a colour wheel to create maximum contrast.
Use Adobe Kuler
Available as either a Web application or desktop download, Kuler is a free tool for generating colour themes that you can use in your projects. You can explore colour themes that conjure up emotions (such as trust), and even extract colour themes from an image that you upload. Even better, Adobe Photoshop CS3, Illustrator CS3 and InDesign CS3 users can download their new colour palettes directly into the Swatches panel. Kuler is available at http://kuler.adobe.com.
Look to nature
The natural world is a riot of colour, but the process of evolution means that there’s a reason behind every colour – whether it’s to attract a mate or to disappear from a predator’s view. Explore colour palettes based on different elements of nature – the various blues and blacks of a seascape, or the hot reds and lush greens of a jungle, and use them as a basis for a colour palette in your own work.
Colour in context
Colour doesn’t usually exist in isolation – our perception of a colour is affected by other colours adjacent to or surrounding it. A skilled designer needs to understand the subtle interaction of colour as it is layered onto other colours. How colour behaves in relation to other colours and shapes is a complex area – whole books have been written on it – but the general rule is that different colours react differently to being placed on different coloured backgrounds. A red square, for example, will appear vivid on a black background, but muted on an orange background. Place it on a blue-green background, however, and it positively shines. Observe the effects that colours have on each other to help master colour palettes and their use in design.