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I always have a difficult time choosing color schemes and I think I often end up overloading my designs with color because there's "just something missing." Today I realized that part of the problem is that I often overlook using black and white as a choice. I use Kuler and Color Scheme Designer a lot (and have used various others over the years), but I've yet to see one actually incorporate black, white, and/or gray into the color wheel/harmony and, as a result, none of them would help me find a color scheme like this:


Ideally, I'd like to find a tool that does that (preferably free for personal use). I will also accept strategies for using the tools I already use to incorporate black and white more easily.

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Blue definitely works with gray! –  Yisela Mar 21 '13 at 22:34
Black/gray/white work with pretty much any colors. –  DA01 Mar 22 '13 at 2:34
may I suggest you take a look at Colourlover, these themes are "handcrafted" by humans. Not saying you should use those, but looking at pure palettes might help. colourlovers.com/palettes/… –  Random O'Reilly Apr 30 at 13:12

3 Answers 3

I was recently working with a dark interface, and struggled with choosing the right colors for quite a long time. I found most color pickers useless, to be honest, because even when they could show me a trustworthy relationship between color blocks, the final implementation would always look different.

This might not be the case for you, so this is more or less personal, but I'd recommend you try creating your own palettes incorporating some extra information (in my case, I used shapes with different sizes, and images that had a similar palette as reference).

Something that a color picker won't be able to show you is how colors interact when they are overlapping or very close to each other. For example, these colors create that annoying 'dissonance' (see comments!) when combined with the gray:

enter image description here

While these three (far from being perfect, this was done in a hurry), can more or less coexist in harmony:

enter image description here

For some elements, palettes are great. But in some cases, it's better to see how colors work together in the actual implementation ('real life' inspiration is also a good source!).

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+1 a good answer. I don't know the technical term either, but I usually describe that "noise" you mentioned as a colour scheme being "Rich" or "Heavy". –  AndroidHustle Mar 22 '13 at 8:45
One of the reasons I tend to gravitate towards Kuler and Color Scheme Designer is that Kuler will show you ideas that other people have made for raw inspiration, and Color Scheme Designer will take the colors you've chosen and mock them up in a web page. I do like this suggestion; let me think on how this fits in with my workflow. –  Zelbinian Mar 22 '13 at 18:09
Also, I think the term you guys are looking for is "dissonance." Not that that's really here or there... –  Zelbinian Mar 22 '13 at 20:36
The noise you are talking about, is based on the lightness of the color. Take a look at the LAB-values in you color dialog in Photoshop. Let’s say you choose a grey with a lightness of 50(L=50 A=0 B=0) and a color with the same lightness (L=50 A=-70 B=-110). If you convert these colors to greyscale, you end up with the same grey. As you can see, your eye can see a difference in color, but because of the same lightness value, the colors start to flicker and it is hard to concentrate on those colors. You should always try to get a good color-contrast based on the lightness value. –  Afterlame Mar 24 '13 at 12:57

In addition to Yisela's answer, which I think looks like a good strategy, I would suggest using Dribbble's colour library to look at designs incorporating certain colours and get inspiration on which colours work good together.

One of the main things to keep in mind when selecting colours, especially in combination with black / grey, is not to use the richest version of a colour but rather a more bleak pastel like version of the colour that better pops out from a black / grey background, Eg:

enter image description here

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I don't think you need a colour tool at all when working on such simple (and powerful) designs. If you have laid out the black and white parts, all you are likely to need is one spot colour, and then perhaps different mixtures of that with white/black. This is easy enough to experiment with directly in your software (PhotoShop, Illustrator, whatever). Put in place the most saturated version of the spot colour. Then vary the opacity of the layer. To change the hue simply go back into the application's colour picker.

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