Making Your Own Color Palettes

Update (1/9/17): Since posting this and posting the individual palettes on Twitter, I’ve had an outpouring of interest in this idea.  Many people have pointed me towards automated means to get this sort of thing done.  My favorites include (h/t Jenet Morrow from Twitter) and Tom Woodward‘s wordpress plugin (see his comment, below).

And these things are great – especially if you’re not really into it or if you are in a hurry. But for me, it’s kind of missing the point. I did these by hand so that I could learn more about why certain photos spoke to me – it was a kind of analysis.  It was a way to alter the way I see color around me.  It was to help me better understand what was going on.  The act of looking at the color in a photo underneath the magnifying lens of the “dropper” function in powerpoint made me realize that colors I was seeing as purple were really more of a gray…that just happened to be sitting next to blue.  And the yellow that looked so pretty next shiny silver aluminum was actually quite dull on its own.  It was the act of choosing these colors and rechoosing and thinking about them…that was the point.

Then, the act of choosing and placing them in an order on the palette.  This was strictly editorial, and driven by my recent experiences of making color palettes for infographics.  It’s not enough to have pretty colors in a row.  There has to be contrast – with tension and without – and a combination of light and dark colors to allow for balance.  Additionally, infographics generally shouldn’t have more than 3 or 4 colors…I read some works by web designers who like to stick with 6 for their websites…the point is that these sites that offer you 14 or more colors from a photograph…well, you still have some narrowing down to do.  That’s why all my palettes had 9 or fewer colors.

The point is…doing it manually offers its own rewards. Just something to think about.


I love color.  I grew up loving color so much that I tended to use a lot of it.  I was the girl sitting behind you in algebra class rocking the pink satin jeans, purple fruit bowl sweater, and yellow ballerina flats.  My first house had a dozen paint colors on the first floor alone (and it was not a big house). My first blog was populated with posts written in five or more colored fonts. There was no discipline or restraint; only wildly passionate and often reckless color combinations. Everywhere.

In my six-month stint as a  business intelligence liaison at the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia (SCHEV), I spent my time meeting, writing, designing studies, and learning to code. My favorite task (besides speed-writing a chapter on veteran students with Tod Massa – that was a special sort of fun) was designing infographics for SCHEV Research.  I was forced to use the agency-mandated color palette and we all know what happens when someone tells me what I have to do. However, one day I shifted yellows on a bar graph a couple of shades towards orange just to see what would happen and a email chain sort of hell almost broke loose. SO. The color palette was not just a suggestion.

I might not have always liked having a mandated color palette, but it taught me to appreciate them. A good color palette has a lot of thought already put into it, so it can save a lot of time. It includes Hex or RGB designations (or both; this is my favorite converter if you need one) so that you can ensure consistency across drafts or platforms or series. A color palette keeps things visually appealing but not distracting. Change the palette and you will drastically change the mood of the piece. Color is important.

Putting together a color palette from scratch is really hard.  I think it’s hard for everyone, but it’s definitely hard for people like me who do not have formal training in the visual arts. I had access to digital color wheels…sites where I could input requests for monochromatic or triadic or complementary color combinations…sites which would recommend palettes based on one or two inputted swatches. It was still hard.

I’ve been inspired by the Twitter account, Cinema Palettes (Hat Tip to  Echo Rivera for the introduction) to consider a more organic, alternative approach to designing color palettes. Why work so hard to create a color palette from scratch and out of the context of the real world when we are surrounded by them, ready to be used?

Photographs.  We love them. They trigger feelings, moods. We know intuitively when the colors are just right.  So, why not work backwards from the picture to the palette?  I created the following palettes from my own photographs…photographs that appealed to my sense of color even though I didn’t even know why.  Using PowerPoint, I imported the photo, created boxes, and then used the “More Fill Option” dropper to capture the colors directly from the photo.  The program automatically gives you the Hex and RGB codes (I got lazy and only reported out HEX).

The first one took me a while, but the learning curve was short.  And now I have all of these.  Feel free to use them if you like them, or make your own.









7 Comments Add yours

  1. Cool! I’ll have to play with this idea as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds like a great idea for an “app”. I like the format/layout as well. Would fit well on a mobile phone screen in Landscape/sideways mode.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Actually, I think it might already be an app :). There are all sorts of apps that do all kinds of things related to color palettes. I preferred doing it by hand because it made me more mindful. I look around me and I see more having done this.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      So the fact that you made this a WP plugin is beyond awesome. I’ll be playing around with it later, thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s