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27 There Are No Bad Colors

Do the trio of colors shown at top left make a good set? Yes. And no. It all depends on how the designer chooses to present each color in terms of its saturation and value. Using Adobe Illustrator’s Color Picker panel it was possible to find variations among these three fully saturated colors to produce the seven color schemes featured above and right.

In design, colors that are perfectly good for one project might be perfectly terrible for another. A deep and vibrant fuchsia that functions beautifully as the corporate color for a contemporary hair salon, for example, might fail miserably if it were applied to the business card of an industrial welding firm.

So really, in the world of commercial art, there are no bad colors—just bad applications of color. This goes for individual colors as well as for full palettes of colors. In short, the measure of a color’s worth—or a set of colors’ worth—lies in how well it appeals to its target audience, how effectively it boosts the client’s message, and whether or not it’s notably different from the color—or the colors—being used by competing companies. (See Know Your Audience, page 152, for more about seeking effective colors for client work.)

If you’ve decided on the colors you’d like to apply to a multi-color layout or illustration, and have concluded that the above-mentioned criteria for client-based success has been satisfied by your selection of hues, then there’s another principle of effective color usage you’ll want to keep in mind as you work: There are no bad combinations of colors—only bad applications of saturation and value.

It’s true. Any set of hues can be made to work effectively as a palette: It’s just a matter of making whatever adjustments are necessary to the value and/or the level of saturation of each of the palette’s members to ensure the hues look good together and function well as a set. (Chapters 2 and 3 contain plentiful information and ideas about finding and assessing attractive and effective relationships between hues.)

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