As a engineer, there are many tools in the web that allow to generate good color scheme based on the selected base colors.

But the problem is: How to select the first, base color? Is it just random pick a color or are there any predefined color (hue, saturation, etc) that are considered as a starting point?

Such as, I want orange, so instead of randomly pick a color that look like orange, are there any existing orange variations that is good for use already? Any guidelines for picking the "first" color, where every color afterwards will be based on?

How do designers start figuring this out, if there are no pre-existing color such as logo etc?

  • 2
    This isn't answerable. What is a 'nice' color sans any context is purely subjective and a matter of opinion. In theory, any color may work. But it all depends on the objectives of the project.
    – DA01
    Jul 24, 2014 at 4:44
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    I think with a little rewrite, this is a valid question.
    – benteh
    Jul 24, 2014 at 9:55
  • 2
    I have tried to rewrite your question, and hope I still got the general point?
    – benteh
    Jul 24, 2014 at 10:01

3 Answers 3


How to select base color ?

It depends mostly on situation and opinion. If you are making a design for a particular brand, you may consider the logo colors to be the base color. In some cases there are predefined branding, that you must follow. There is no particular color to be considered as base color. It is a color that you must use or you love most.

Creating palette

Once you picked a color, you need to choose some color-tone for light,highlight and shadow. Mix warm and cool tone to create a balance.

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Links for reference :




Choosing colours is a bit of a 'trick of the trade'. Arguably, it's taste, but it's also paired with a knowledge of colour theory and inspiration. Some designers can be identified by their choice of colour or colour scheme. I know my designs regularly include oranges and browns, even if there's other colours to start with. That's just a part of my style.

As far as colour theory is concerned, I heartily recommend these three articles on Smashing Magazine by Cameron Chapman. They are mainly aimed at webdesign, but there's lots of wisdom there for any kind of designer interested in colour.

To kickstart inspiration, I like to use mindmapping and other associative exercises to nail a starting colour. Mindmapping in particular usually yields me multiple colour words anyway, once I branch and associate long enough.

  • Good point on mind-mapping. Classic, to collect random bits of stuff containing colours. Images, cuttings from magazines, paint samples...
    – benteh
    Jul 24, 2014 at 10:56

Choosing a starting colour is not easy, and many designers will tell you this is entirely gut feeling. I partly disagree.

For your first-choice I suggest the strongest, brightest one. The one you will use the least.

You should not really start with picking a colour, you should start asking these questions:

The boring part is that you have to decide what it is for, try to define the use and the users.

  • What kind of information are you trying to convey?
  • Is it for web?
  • print?
  • is it for use in visualisation? Graphs?
  • for engineering drawings and illustrations?
  • Who will use this?

    And not the least:

What background? If print, clearly your background will be white(ish). If for web, the background can be anything.

So let us say it is white, either way.

Then you must decide on how many colours you will need. In general, I would stick with as few as possible, but not one bit fewer :) @S.M points out a few good tools, but as a general example:

You can think of colour as a guide: imagine the way maps use colours. Colours are "way-finding": they should be as consistent as possible, and help "sort content". For example, if you have two identical headings (H1), you want them to be in the same colour and same size.

This is kinda obvious, but you will be surprised at what people do.

As an example taken from cartography, the site Colorbrewer will exemplify a way of thinking that might be helpful. Not saying you should use these colours, but it will give you an idea of one way of using colours.

So, what starting colours? Say you need four colours. Not everything you colour will be of equal significance, not all will need to be "in-your-face". Sort your content. If this is to be somewhat technical, I would suggest one strong, bright colour, and the rest a little more subtle. A clean orange would be reserved for few but important things (think traffic cones). Do not go with exclusively primary colours: this will make your stuff look like children's toys. Since you are uncertain about this: go with complimentary colours.

You could of course start with any colour, so for your first-choice I suggest the strongest one. The one you will use the least. Colours have connotations, and that depends on culture. As in the west, yellow might signify hospital contagious waste bin bags, the sun; while in the east it might bring connotations of royalty.

Here are some simple examples of complimentary/contrast colours based on a bright orange. As a rule of thumb: if in doubt, go with more subtle colours:

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Edit: as of those examples, I might use them but would remove/delete: number 3 in the first image number 3 in the second image number 4 in the third image

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