A NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: There is another great palette tool, the wonderful Coolors, and I love it so much that I’ve done a video post on it.
Colour is an essential element of design and an integral component of any good branding guidelines. By now, we have scratched the surface on colour via the Colour posts series on this blog. Especially in the last two posts (on basic colour facts and colour harmony) we had a proper look at what makes an effective colour palette.
Now is where the real fun begins: let’s put all the colour theory into practice, and create our colour schemes.
By the way: if you are not a designer and you think it’s difficult to create your own colour scheme, please let me contradict you: with the list of tools in this post you’ll discover that it’s not at all a problem to design a wonderful colour scheme, for designers as well as non-designers.
Here’s a list of 7 super-useful and free tools to create gorgeous colour palettes for your designs, to help you make sure that the colours you choose express your brand values, as well as being visible and accessible even to those with colour-related vision impairments. And without needing to have any design skills.
1. Colour education: The Color Matters website
If you have to make your colour decisions from the beginning, start from the Color Matters website, a veritable treasure trove of precious information, valuable insights and even fun facts about colour. It will provide you with a thorough, solid education on colour.
My only gripe with this marvellous site and all its amazing content is the design. It could be the most gorgeous site on the net – instead, let’s just say that it isn’t.
The same applies to the sister site to Color Matters, Colour Voodoo: the portal to the premium content, in the form of e-books and online courses, that the brilliant colour educator Jill Morton makes available to us. The courses and e-books are the best, most complete resources on colour I have found. My designer’s heart bleeds just a little bit, because they would be truly outstanding – and easier to digest and follow – if the design aspect were given a bit more importance.
Now that I have got this off my chest, please rest assured that, design apart, Jill Morton’s website and books are extremely useful and I highly recommend them. I have 3 of them and plan to buy them all, with time.
2. Adobe Colour CC
The Adobe Colour CC resource was formerly known as Kuler. It is free to use, but if you want to save your palettes you need to sign in to Adobe Creative Cloud. Which, as you probably know, isn’t free. However, don’t rush to buy a subscription unless you need one, because you can still use this great resource.
Just pick your colours on the wheel and choose if you want to create an analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary, or compound palette, or one based on shades. You can also go completely custom and pick whatever you want on the wheel, ignoring totally the rules of colour harmony (here for you if you need a reminder).
It’s very easy, not to mention fun, to create and experiment with Adobe Colour.
Each colour in the palette has a breakdown of the values in 5 colour modes: CMYK, RGB, Lab, HSB and Hex.
You can alter the values, and the whole palette, by sliding up and down the 3 colour sliders – Red, Green and Blue – and the brightness slider at the bottom.
Remember that you can’t save in the free version: so if you create a colour or a palette that you like, make a note of the colours or take a screenshot.
Create a colour scheme from an image
Particularly useful is the ‘Create from Image’ function, accessible from the camera icon on the top right. This allows you to upload a photo from your hard drive or the web, and create a palette from it. My favourite thing. I could play with this all day.
Arguably, creating a palette from a photo or landscape often results in the most successful colour schemes.
And you can even change the mood of the palette, to Bright, or Muted, Deep, and so on. It’s an addictive game!
How to save the scheme created from an image
If you don’t have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, however, you won’t be able to save the palette you generated from your image. And the palette on this screen does not have the colour values, so you cannot simply make a note of them.
To work around this limitation, you can simply click on the colour wheel icon on the top right of the page, and you will be brought back to the colour wheel palette generator, with the palette you created from the image – this time with all the colour values you need. Take a screen grab or make a note of the colour codes. You can also work on it further in this screen, to created other mood versions, and so on. Without spending a cent.
Paletton is a great colour palette creation tool. And it’s completely free.
Of course, the interface is nowhere near as slick and as refined as the Adobe Colour one. And there is no option to create a palette from an image. But I love the way the palette is laid out, and how it contains tints and shades in it.
Vision simulation for better accessibility
The best thing about Paletton is the vision simulation: you can make sure that your colours abide by accessibility norms by accessing the vision simulation menu on the bottom right.
This is the same palette as above, as it would appear to the 5% of men and 0.4% of women who suffer from deuteranomaly. So if you created a palette from an image in Adobe Color, you should run it in Paletton to make sure everybody can see it.
And there’s more: if you click on ‘Examples’, on the top right, you can see your colour scheme in action in a number of situations. Granted, the designs are not exactly going to win awards, but it’s very useful. And free, remember?
The good folk at Paletton are also developing a new widget, currently in beta, that when added to your website would let your customers colorise your product: a leaflet, a website, a t-shirt, and so on.
You can have a look at the demos here.
You can colorise directly from the wheel, or from pre-existing colour schemes. It’s free to try out, although you will need help from a developer if you’re not sure how to do it.
4. Colors Palettes Generator
Another free tool that I find very useful, even though it’s not as sophisticated, is the Colors Palettes Generator.
The interface is not that slick, but we’re not complaining. You can upload your own image, or submit an URL, and the tool creates 3 palettes with 7 colours (Light, Medium and Dark) and 1 Complete palette with 49 colours.
Easily export your colour schemes to web or Photoshop
From these palettes, you can create your own scheme selecting up to 8 colours – and here comes the really useful feature: you can export it as a CSS file or as Photoshop swatches (.aco file format).
So this is the main reason why this simple tool is worth using, possibly in combination with the other ones we’ve seen so far. Thumbs up from us for helpfulness.
5. Colour Lovers
The Colour Lovers online community is a huge, thriving, active, engaged community of people who live their lives by colour.
The design of the website and apps is a little date and lacklustre, but as to colour-related resources, it’s a goldmine.
Colour trends and tools
I love their Colour Trends page, where you can explore modern fashion and design areas and the colours schemes that are trending in them. Whether you want to follow the hype or go in the opposite direction, this page will give you the exact pulse of the colour landscape.
If you are struggling to find the right colours for your brand or project, there is no doubt that Colour Lovers will help.
Make sure you also check out their Tools page. While it’s true that with a combination of the free tools mentioned in this post you would be able to create a palette without any need to spend money, some of the tools developed by Colour Lovers can be very useful if you are a non-designer looking for design resources.
For instance, their Themeleon tool lets you design your Twitter profile page using patterns from the huge, and ever-growing, Color Lovers library of user-generated patterns.
I mean, how can you not love a website that transforms your browser page into a huge color wheel (only it’s square) that changes colour just by you waving your mouse about.
It’s like magic, for a simple soul like me.
Please do have a gander to the Colordot page to see what I mean. Once you hit the page, move the mouse around and let the magic begin. Then click to save a colour. Use left and right arrows to change the hue, up and down for lightness, and scroll for saturation.
The Colordot app
The web version of Colordot is not terribly useful towards the creation of a palette, because it doesn’t offer the support of colour harmony schemes – which it could do if, for instance, choosing a colour prompted the appearance of its complementary or analogous friends. And you can’t, on the web, create a palette out of an image, either.
But it doesn’t matter, because the Colordot iOS app is fantastic.
With this nifty little app, the whole world becomes a potential palette, on the fly. In the words of the web page for the app:
And of course, it’s super-easy to share the palettes from mobile to desktop. There are no more excuses not to find your colour inspiration: the world is now your palette thanks to Colordot.
7. Canva’s ‘Colors’ tool
I love the Canva website, it’s full of useful design tips. And I am head over heels in love with the ‘Colors’ tool they’ve recently added, or ‘Everything you need to know about colors’. For a colour-addict, this is simply hours of fun. As a tool for palette creation, it’s very inspirational (although there are more precise ones). And if you click on, you’ll also read about the symbolic meaning of the colours you are using. Wonderful stuff.
There are many, many more colour tools and resources on the web right now, that’s for sure. This selection only represents the ones that I prefer to use, after years of trying and testing many of them.
Do you agree with my selection? You might have your own: do you think there are better colour resources and tool than the ones I’ve mentioned? if so, which ones?
I hope you had fun trying them all out: with a combination of these resources you would not leave any aspect of creating a successful colour scheme uncovered.