I've been reading about colour theory and want to understand how it relates to rainbow palettes like the attached, also a palette type commonly used by the designer Paul Smith as his signature.

How are the colours related? I have a suspicion they are being mixed from a main set to get all the varieties?

How would I go about creating a similar palette?

enter image description here

2 Answers 2


If you want to understand more about color theory, look to the masters: Josef Albers and Johannes Itten. Read the texts and experiment with their theories and you will develop an eye for combinations like the one you reference and many more sophisticated examples.

Beyond the aesthetics of it, color is math. If you really want to get into generating palettes instead of choosing palettes you'll have to experiment with that. With an understanding of the math behind color harmonies (complimentary, analogous, split compliment, triad, pentagram, etc) and a little javascript, you could create an endless variety of palettes.

  • I've read up on it, but wanted to understand if there is a standard theory basis to how this type of palettes colours are related to each other.
    – DanH
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 23:22
  • 1
    There are many standards based on different color harmonies. To get a broad spectrum I think you'd probably want to experiment with a couple of overlapping harmonies: say an analogous and a split compliment. Layer into that some variations in saturation and value and you'd have a wide palette to play with. Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 0:02

Consider the possibility that they were picked arbitrarily by some individual without any sort of theory. And no, "what looks good" does not qualify as a theory.

As to how one might develop a similar palette:

1) pick 10 colors at random (dice rolls, dart board, etc) we'll call it a set 2) repeat 100 times 3) pick your favorite 10 sets 4) put them in a drawer for a week 5) pick favorite 5 sets 6) show them to five people, ask them to pick favorite and a runner up. Eliminate the 2 with the fewest "likes" 7) pick your favorite one from the remainder

  • But are they not similar tones or levels of saturation rather than just a role of the dice. It seems like there are a key set of base colours here and then the others are made from mixing them? I.e. it feels like there is more to it than picking a bunch of random colours.
    – DanH
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 23:21
  • I didn't suggest picking random colors at all. I suggested generating combinations random;y and choosing the most pleasing ones through a selection process. You can talk about theory all you want, but words like "pleasing" and "appealing" are not ameanable to color theory nor mathematic principles.
    – horatio
    Commented Aug 14, 2012 at 14:26

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