Today I stumbled upon Color Palettes / Terms of Use, which says:

The rights of IN COLOR BALANCE are defended in accordance with the CREATIVE COMMONS license.

It confused me because I thought color can't have license.

Sometimes I search on Google for color hex codes, or color palettes, and use them for my project. In that case, do I have to credit them? What if I only use one color out of 5 colors in a palette? Do I still have to credit then? Is it justifiable?

I use colors from many color palette sites, and I don't remember all of them. In this case how can I attribute?

  • 2
    No. Colours aren't owned by anyone, and can't be copyrighted. Also you have completely misread the statement on that page. It's about the use of Creative Commons photographs on their site which they've used to create the palettes.
    – Billy Kerr
    Sep 22, 2021 at 9:51

2 Answers 2


It is not possible to copyright a color or even a combination of colors.

It is possible to copyright the way a palette is presented. i.e. the images on that web site are copyrighted, not the colors themselves.

For example.. this..

enter image description here

.. is copyrighted and requires the attribution to Aaron Burden on Unsplash, since it's his photo in the image.

But.. I can use #253532, #517f83, #9e8d77, #583d34, #1f1b17 all I want and never add any attribution for using those colors.

The attribution refers to reusing the photograph/palette as it's presented on that web site.

If you are simply looking at the images on the site, writing down the colors and using them, there's no need for any attribution.

  • 1
    It is right, as far as I know, that colours on there own are not protected by copyright, but I heard of a case were a swiss bank (Valiant) protected a particular purple custom spot colour. Probably through trademark law. They even market them self with being the only purple bank and that this colour is their key identifying feature. And I believe there even was a sue that they won against an another bank which tried to use purple in their branding. – Though was a long time ago that I read/heard this and could not find and article about this sue anymore. Sep 22, 2021 at 17:10
  • 6
    Trademark is not copyright. @JulianSteinmann You can trademark what is called "trade dress" which can include color, such as the UPS brown. This is not any type of "ownership" over the colors though. Like all Trademarks it is meant to prevent brand confusion in a specific industry. So, using UPS as an example, you can use their brown all you want. However, if you have a delivery company and use their brown, they can claim you are infringing on their trademarks and trying to piggy-back off of their reputation in their industry.
    – Scott
    Sep 22, 2021 at 18:00
  • @JulianSteinmann - yeah, trademarks are a different thing altogether, however even trying to trademark a colour can fail. There's a famous UK case here where Cadbury lost their trademark claim to a specific shade of purple wrapper
    – Billy Kerr
    Sep 22, 2021 at 22:51
  • Attribution is not required for images on Unsplash! That's one of the big points about it. Sep 23, 2021 at 4:51
  • The subtleties of trademark law also vary widely across jurisdictions, and what's trademarkable in one country may not be so in another. Sep 23, 2021 at 7:55

Copyright? No. Trademark? Yes.

Christian Louboutin recently won the right to trademark its red heels, spurring questions about what else can be branded.

Well, actually, a lot else—sounds, shapes, symbols, and even colors can be trademarked.

Don't confuse the term "trademark" with ownership of color though. Trademarking a color simply allows a company to use a particular combination and shade of color in its own industry. Source.

To specifically address your question — No, even if the legal small print on the site had clearly stated you had to identify them to use any color or combination of colors found on the site. No one can "own" a color and color cannot be subject to copyright. But it can be subject to attribution and legal rights.

Color is subject to trademarks. And that's important for you to know as a graphic designer. It isn't the color per-se that you need to worry about, but why and how you're using the color.

For example, if Suretape Technologies LLC hired you to design a new logo for a line of painter's tape they were making and you chose to use purple, you'd have trouble. The color is a trademark of 3M, who also manufactures painter's tape. 3M's a particularly good example, as they also own a trademark for canary yellow, which they use on their PostIt® notes. But those examples are important. One cannot simply "trademark" a color — people and businesses must trademark the use of the color. Thus, if UPS can trademark the use of brown for their delivery vehicles. Can a car be painted brown? Sure... until you slap "Liberated Courier Delivery" on the side, then you're open for a lawsuit.

Should you lose sleep over it? No. Trademark protects a company from infringement by competitors. And while some companies go berserk protecting their marks (famously, WordPerfect sued any software company using the word "perfect" in a product or company name), most of the time you need only worry when it comes to direct competition.

But, this is still one of the many things you, as a graphic designer, should keep in mind. Graphic Design involves, with regret, much more than graphic design. If a major corporation hires you to create something, it would be prudent to discover (by asking that company's legal department) what colors are trademarked by competitors.

  • 1. Trademark 60 Hz hum 2. Win a artificial case 3. Sue everyone and their duck 4. Profit.
    – joojaa
    Sep 23, 2021 at 4:01
  • @joojaa There was an Onion article with the headline "Microsoft patents 1s, 0s", the implication being they can now claim ownership on and royalties to literally all digital data, and in fact the very concept of binary numbers... Sep 23, 2021 at 13:00
  • 1
    @DarrelHoffman Patents are not trademarks. A patent is invalid when there is prior art. A trademark is not.
    – Philipp
    Sep 23, 2021 at 14:16
  • @Philipp Yeah, this was the Onion, which if you're not familiar is a satirical fake newspaper. I don't think they checked with the legal department, it's just supposed to be funny... Sep 23, 2021 at 14:46

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