What is a Color Palette?

In an attempt to organize colors and better understand their combinations, Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colors in 1666. Since then, scientists and artists have studied and designed a number of variations on this concept, the color wheel. 

So what is a color palette? Essentially, it’s a set of colors that work well together. When developing your own color palettes (or “schemes”), consider the following guidelines to help select colors that work well together. 

  • Analogous Colors: Analogous color palettes use colors that are close together on the color wheel. Analogous palettes typically communicate strength and uniformity within design. These palettes are easy to work with, because there isn’t a large variation in hue across the colors.
  • Complementary Colors: Complementary palettes are created with colors that are opposite one another on the color wheel. This communicates a sense of balance. When working with complementary palettes, it’s important to think about color placement. Pay attention to how colors look next to each other and how they make the viewer feel. Sometimes, a combination may be too jarring. If so, consider separating the colors with white space or a transitional color. The wide range of complementary color schemes makes this type of palette extremely versatile.
  • Triadic Colors: Triadic color schemes are designed by taking three main colors that are equally spaced on the wheel. This makes for an extremely diverse palette. These types of color schemes tend to be more complex than analogous and complementary schemes, and require more thought and experimentation. 

Trends in Color Palettes

Just like in fashion, there are trends in color schemes that change over time. Below, we’ve outlined three major trends in today’s design world. 

  • Pastels: The use of muted, pastel colors has become popular in recent years. These color schemes tend to use four or five primary colors, with many variations in shade and hue. These less saturated colors provide a soothing viewing experience.
  • Bright: Many of today’s designers go the opposite route from pastels. To stand out from more drab designs, they’ve begun using extremely bright and saturated colors to make design elements “pop”. These designs frequently make use of grey and white space to balance out the palette. 
  • Monochromatic: Another color style that has steadily gained in popularity is the monochromatic scheme. These are derived from a single base hue and are expanded using the single color’s shades, tints, and tones. Tints are achieved by adding white, while shades and tones are created by mixing darker colors or blacks. These color schemes can convey strong psychological messages.  

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