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Six Tips for Creating Beautiful Color Palettes

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Jim Krause, author of Color for Designers: Ninety-Five Things You Need To Know When Choosing and Using Colors for Layouts and Illustrations, knows a thing or two (or 95) about working with color. Learn six of his top tips for working with color in your layouts and illustrations.
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Designers, illustrators, photographers, and fine artists often feel-and display through their creations-uncertainty and confusion when working with color. This insecurity applies to artists who are new to the profession, as well as those with years of experience.

But color really isn't as complicated as you might think. Practicing the tips I offer in this article will diminish any intimidation and befuddlement you might experience when working with color, and will replace those feelings with know-how and confidence.

Tip 1: Pay Attention!

That's right-just open your eyes a bit wider than usual, and start taking particular notice of color:

  • Color combinations that seem to work especially well
  • Palettes that appear to fall short of their ideals
  • Color schemes that are in step with current trends
  • Palettes that seem to be in circulation despite having exceeded their expiration date.

Take particular note when you come across the work of talented designers, illustrators, photographers, fine artists, and fashion designers-professionals whose work directly affects and reflects the way color is used within the ever-changing context of contemporary media. Watching these artists is a particularly important practice for those of us involved with commercial arts such as design and illustration. Our work loses value when it appears to be out of touch with current trends.

Try to wrap your head around the conceptual thinking and the palette-building strategies that support effective and eye-catching combinations of color. Any effort you put into understanding the thought process behind successful color presentations will go a long way toward developing your own color savvy. (A solid grasp of the color-related principles outlined in the following sections should help you in assessing the hidden secrets of good-looking palettes.)

If you feel so inclined, explore the historical applications of color in both commercial and fine arts. This effort is never wasted on art professionals. A thorough understanding of what was done in the past, combined with an awareness of what's currently happening in the realm of color, strengthens an artist's ability to create color palettes that surf the leading edges of successive waves of fashion and trend.

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