How to Design Cool Stuff: Finding the Perfect Color
- The color palette you need is already hidden in the photo. Here’s how to find it.
Here’s the situation: We’re designing an academic schedule for a women’s college, and for a photo we have this no-nonsense, freckle-faced model. The goal is to look fresh, alive, and personal (no buildings and grounds shots) while conveying the sense that the program is serious and businesslike. A note of trendiness will be good. Color is involved in all of it.
No single visual element has more effect on a viewer than color. Color gets attention, sets a mood, sends a message. But what colors are the right ones? The key is that color is relational. Colors don’t exist in a vacuum but are always seen with other colors. Because of this, you can design a color-coordinated document based on the colors in any element on the page. Here’s how.
1 Look close, closer, closest
Every photo has a natural color palette. First step is to find it and organize it. Zoom in on your photo, and you’ll be astonished by how many colors you see.
At normal viewing distance (left) we see a few dozen colors: skin tones, red hair, blue eyes, blue jacket. But zoom closer, and we see millions! First step is to reduce all those colors to a manageable few; you want 16, 32, 64 tops. In Photoshop, first duplicate the photo layer (so you don’t lose the original), then select Filter> Pixelate> Mosaic (right). A large Cell Size gives you very few colors; if you need more, reduce the size.