I have used several websites to generate color schemes including Adobe color, coolors.co, etc. All of them generate only 5 swatches per scheme. I want to know exactly, why is the number 5?

  • 1
    Don't think there's a reason for that. Some websites could probably just replicate what the others are doing.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 10:41
  • 1
    Actually, my question was regarding the color scheme generating sites only. I didn't mean the color scheme itself.
    – user92074
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 14:23

3 Answers 3


There aren't just 5 colors in a color scheme. Sometimes there's only two colors. Sometimes there are many more than five (when shades of the primary few colors are included as well, for example).

The number of colors in a color scheme should be part of the design process for a given project. Personally, when I'm designing something, I don't try to decide the colors I'm going to use for the most part until late into the project[1]. I like to work in blacks and whites until I get most of the pieces I want fleshed out, then I go back and add as much or as little color as needed. As such, I never really choose a specific number of colors in my palette, but I rather end up with a certain number at the end of the design process.

[1] Sometimes I play around with colors to decide the feel I want in order to design pieces in a certain way, but I rarely decide on a particular palette of colors early on in the process.

As for why certain color generators only generate 5 colors, we can't really answer that because we're not them. Other generators generate other amounts of colors.

  • I usually follow the same process as yours. Anyways thank you!
    – user92074
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 13:41
  • thanks, do you change the black and whites design after applying colors? or do you design in mind of having the pieces colored?
    – piotr_ch
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 21:19
  • @piotr_ch I do not understand what you're really asking. Can you try rephrasing? Maybe provide an example of what you're talking about? Commented May 18, 2020 at 21:48
  • I was asking about the process :-) are there usually some needs after applying the colors to the mockup/design that lead to design changes?
    – piotr_ch
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 7:01
  • 1
    @piotr_ch Sure, sometimes. But what does it matter to you? Edit your designs as needed no matter what stage of the process that you're in. Who cares what other people do. Commented May 20, 2020 at 13:00

The most popular types of algorithms for picking color schemes from the color wheel are analogous, complementary and triadic. All of them imply an odd number of colors, e.g. the main color with at least other two colors (opposite or neighboring), and two additional colors to them, if necessary.

According to the four-color theorem, you need at least 4 colors to unambiguously denote objects on the screen (or on the surface of a 3D sphere in general).

Combining both requirements, you come up with the five-color schemes as the most abundant ones. Another argument in favor of that would be that historically cartographers developed color maps consisting of 5 colors as a century ago only the five-color theorem has been proven (although five-colored palettes are used for maps these days).


In many color swatches you have a neutral or midpoint color that helps to bridge the colors. It's easier for instance to have a swatch of 5 grays, with the middle being perfect gray - your sidebar could be perfect gray and you can step up or down in equal amounts on both sides of it. Imagine now if you had a swatch of 4 grays, then you'd have to start either on a lighter or darker shade and can only move up or down one step beyond that point while the other side can move 2 steps. That is why you will often see design systems use odd numbers in their color palettes, to allow you to start from a midpoint or a more neutral color.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.