Making Color Work

Posted on Thursday, March 22, 2018 by Julia O'Reilly

Color    Color     Color    Color    Color

I'm often asked about color - or more to the point, people want to know how to make a color decision.

It's a jungle out there. 

Good News

It's a really fun, colorful jungle, and there is a system.

Julia O'Reilly - making color workOK, I’m a self-confessed color theory geek.  I started early when I’d break my crayons into different sizes, peel off the labels and spend hours arranging the pieces of pure color in different patterns. I might have been a strange kid, sure, but it worked for me.

I still live, study and play in the color jungle, scrutinize how it works, why.  I can wear down anyone at a party over the topic.
Anyway, that’s all about me. Back to you. What if what you need right now is the right color used the right way for your project (or anything else), and your background isn't Color Theory?

More Good News and Two Easy Color Rules

  1. Selecting color is a visual problem, and it begs a visual solution. 
  2. We perceive color in relationship to other colors.  For the best professional results, designers use palettes of a limited selection of colors grouped for a particular effect or purpose.

Happily, there are some excellent online tools to help you see color and create your own palette.  Here are a few good tools to get you started.

An interactive color wheel gives you instant combinations based on a color you select.

Adobe Color CC

I selected a dark de-saturated green, in Shades color rule.  (The closer the selected color is to the center, the less color, or saturation, it has.) 

The chart displays the RGB values or HEX values for each square of color, which you can give to your designer, web or app developer or print vendor, to be sure of a good match.

Here, the same Shades color rule displays a more saturated green combination.

Selecting the Complementary color rule, the picker gives you the exact complement (opposite) of the green on the color wheel, which is a dark red.  Now the tool creates a whole new spread of colors.


A different type of interactive color wheel lets you spin out color combinations quickly.


Compare the colors you selected to an accurate reference source like a Pantone™ book.


To match the color you see on your screen for printing, ColorMunki will provide exact Pantone™ color book swatches.  You can grab the hexadecimal values to provide the best match for anything on a screen.

See how someone else combined colors, for inspiration.


Canva is a fun and useful "everything-you-need-to-know-about-color" design wiki.  You can search for a descriptive color name or select a color square right from the page.


Go to an information page that's all about the single color you selected.


Find interesting combinations preassembled!

You'll find inspirational tools on Canva too, and a palette generator that will kick out color combos from your uploaded photo. 

read more
Design It Blog