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No matter how nice the composition, flow, and lines of my design are, if I am not copying directly from nature, I have a very difficult time picking a decent color scheme. It either looks too drab, or too garish.

Is there a good resource that will help me to choose a color scheme that has 2 or 3 colors, and the colors do not clash?

I'm not looking for specific colors or color schemes. What I need is a resource that will help me choose a color (or colors) that go nicely with, or provide a good accent to, whatever main color I am working with on the design.

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Have you tried Agave, available in the Debian/Ubuntu repositories? I use it for this all the time. –  ixtmixilix Jan 18 '11 at 1:06
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9 Answers 9

up vote 31 down vote accepted

One useful tool is Paletton (previously known as Color Scheme Designer):

You specify a starting color and a type of color scheme and it will generate a palette for you and allow you to modify that palette.

The nice thing about this tool is that you can see how it chooses the other colors based on the color you select. There is also a tool to simulate how those colors would look with different kinds of color blindness.

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+1 That is awesome! (I wonder if I'm color blind...) –  Mateen Ulhaq Jan 9 '11 at 23:24
    
Very cool website! Thanks for the link. –  Stewbob Jan 10 '11 at 0:27

You can always go to your local Home Depot or Lowe's, head for the paint department, and pick up some of their sample room flyers. :)

Or more seriously, here's a description of how color schemes work.

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You need to read about a good book of color theory to understand at least the general principle, for example on what is Primary and Secondary color, Complementary colors etc... otherwise you will not get the importance of some palette choices that you will make.

On the web my favourite at the moment one is: Kuler of Adobe , as well I used to use http://colorschemedesigner.com/ already mentioned.

I suggest to have a quick read about SIMULTANEOUS AND SUCCESSIVE CONTRAST where the association of color make feel that a color on a different background look different.

Even if you didn't ask me I suggest to have at hand for checking that colors of website have a good contrast for readability I use this: http://graybit.com/main.php

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for more information on colour theory check this previous stackexchange question: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/2/… –  JamesHenare Jan 17 '11 at 10:35

I've found colourlovers.com a very useful resource for constructing color schemes. But if you want to have a better idea of using contrast and harmony as a tool to improve your design you should read color theory. I personally liked Wucious Wung's Principles of Color Design and Josef Albers' Interaction of Color

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Interaction of Color is a fantastic primer! I try to read through it every now and then to brush up on my color theory. –  plainclothes Jul 2 '12 at 22:34

Photoshop CS5 has an extension called Kuler that does this.

You can reach it through the menu; Window/Extensions/Kuler or through the website, http://kuler.adobe.com/

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Check out http://www.colourlovers.com/ for all things colour.

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Usually, I use the color picker to pick colors directly from pictures i'm working with. That way, I'm sure the colors are gonna match. It's easy and fast when you dont have much time to put on your project.

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Part 3 of a three part series on colour theory applies directly to this question.

Creating Your Own Color Palettes

Great explanation on choosing your own colour scheme based on the colour wheel. (taken from this stackexchange question)

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First and foremost: familiarise yourself with the HSB colour model. HSB defines a colour by:

  • Hue: kind of colour, as in: pick one from a rainbow—in degrees;
  • Saturation: inverse of the amount of added white—in percent;
  • Brightness: inverse of the amount of added black—in percent.

A good rule of thumb would be to sample the existing brand colours and determine their Hue value. At first, stick to those H values and start varying the S and B values. This creates colours that harmonise well with the existing colours almost by definition.

If you really, really need a contrasting colour and the only way is to use a different H value, try and determine first how the existing colours' H values are related. You can then build upon that relation to create new hues.

Are the two colours 180° apart? Then you might want to add 90° to either of them to create a third hue to work with. Are they 40° apart? Add 40° to one of the colour values or subtract 40° from the other to get an analogue colour setting. Or, take the average of the two H values and then invert the result (add or subtract 180°, whichever gives you a positive number less than 360) to create a split complementary colour setting.

Then start fiddling with the new hue's S and B values.

Don't forget to take a step back, and adjust the H value you calculated when the result isn't up to your expectations. Exactly calculated H values are great, but they're only a tool—don't hesitate to edit things a litte to make it look better aesthetically.

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