Do you know / can you recommend good practices in choosing a color palette for a theme ?

As you might have guessed, I am not a professional in the graphic field, I do coding and from time to time I have to do some graphic work for which I'd like it to be pleasant/efficient to the eye but this proved to be incredibly hard.

Here are a few examples :

From a professional graphic designer:

This design while not very pretty is very ergonomic in the sense that you can work the whole day looking at it, your eyes won't burn. This design is very user/eye-friendly.

enter image description here

Some of my attempts :

This one is awful, but from the time I've spent on it (10 seconds) not much to expect from it.

enter image description here

This actually is my favorite and only one I have in fact, while colors are pleasant it's not very eye-friendly and soon becomes a mess as I add more colors (such as the indicator). The main problem with it is that literally it took me days to find this scheme !

enter image description here

This is another beast that I'm quite quite happy with though I'd say it's rather by accident, actually the colors are the result of a sound analysis. While I did some adjustments their initial hue came pretty good by chance. And post-processing really helped here.

enter image description here

I have tried nearly every thing I could think of but never really achieved something satisfying, for instance designing a red theme. Whether picking colors in a palette randomly or using some pseudo logic, using some website it just seems that I can't get some good combinations.

Some of the website I've seen : ContrastA (great site), colrd, colorschemedesigner

So the question is,

How do you choose colors for a theme ?

2 Answers 2


This comment is right on spot. If someone will be looking at this for a prolonged time, or in a room with low light, you definitely need to think of colors in terms of contrast and eye strain.

When our eyes are exposed to a hue for a prolonged period, the rods & cones become fatigued. This occurrence can be advantageous if you are seeking the opposite, or contrast, of a color. This may be dismaying to a viewer if presented with prolonged exposure to colored screens or reading materials. Source

A quick example of a very contrasting image (if you look at this for 20 seconds and then look away, you'll still see the birds):

So in your case, you will need to find colors that are contrasting enough so you distinguish background from content, but not to contrasting that might cause eye fatigue.

Your first sample is good, the white and blue (might try with a lighter stroke, though, just for aesthetics). Your second sample is too contrasting, the yellow and red clash and it's difficult to look at for long-ish periods. Your last two samples are closer to a 'harmonious' palette, but only if the exposure is still not too prolonged.

A good example of a nice, simple graph is SoundCloud:

But if you want colors I'd try with less contrasting ones, something in the lines of:

  • Great answer, there are just 2 things that I don't get if you can shed some lights : what background color is one supposed to use, pure black or very dark grays or something else ? And what about a second tone based on one of the color (for an envelope for instance), should it be darker/lighter, how far from the original color or can it be another hue ? Thank you :D May 17, 2014 at 17:10
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    I almost never use pure black and always go for a dark gray instead. In my opinion, if the background is dark, the outer color of the shape should be lighter. If the background is light, then it's better if it's dark. I'd use... something like 30% opacity for darker/lighter border. But that's me :)
    – Yisela
    May 18, 2014 at 11:19
  • Alright, I'll follow your guidelines, thank you ! May 18, 2014 at 18:20

So it looks like a soundwave, but really it depends on what the end use of this will be. There is no real right answer here as it's a matter of opinion, you could however browse kuler.adobe.com for some ideas.

Some questions I would consider

Does it need to be functional/not distracting? Is it intended as an artistic piece? How do the colours related to the sound/data?

  • The final usage is for an audio application, what matters is a clear theme with good contrast, whether for a waveform with 1 or many colors. The colored waveform represent (sort-of) frequency bands, i.e. beats have a specific hue, highs another one, bass another etc. May 15, 2014 at 21:44
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    @Aybe It does totally depend on the context of the application. If it's the sort of thing you'd expect to be looking at in a studio for example, it'd be really tough to look at strong colours for a prolonged period of time. Maybe take a look at existing applications like Cubase, Reason or Ableton Live. May 15, 2014 at 22:19
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    A related note: I had to create a theme for an app that was used in dark rooms, and the colors had to be really toned down because of the "context-contrast". User20513's comment is right on spot.
    – Yisela
    May 15, 2014 at 22:22
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    @user20513 Well it is the new trend in DJ-ing apps, take a look at Traktor (native-instruments.com/en/products/traktor/dj-software/…) and Serato (serato.com/dj/features) for instance. Actually it makes things clearer, I agree somewhat with you however, one-color theme has its advantages as being simpler and in some way cooler for the eyes. May 15, 2014 at 22:26
  • @Yisela Right, well any tip for either type of renderings are welcome as the user in the end will decide whichever he prefers. May 15, 2014 at 22:28

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