Where does creative inspiration come from? One of my biggest challenges when designing from scratch is coming up with a color palette from which to work. If I haven’t been given direction for employing corporate color schemes or been told the whims of the person who hired me, I usually sit and scratch my head before getting started. Luckily I’ve added a few tools to my color toolkit in the last couple of years that help me get inspired, organize my brilliant discoveries, and easily implement color in the digital end of my workflow.
What started out as one member’s question on the InDesign Secrets Facebook group as to where to get color inspiration quickly became a discussion of members’ favorite color creation and inspiration resources. I started with those, added in my own, then went on a mission to find even more!
The Design Seeds site features a “Daily Dose of Inspiration” with a single image and the 6-color palette that bring that image to life. Each color is listed with their hex values. Mark Heaps suggests using Photoshop’s eyedropper to easily sample a color’s RGB/CMYK values: Click and hold with the eyedropper within Photoshop then drag it over any onscreen object.
Browse existing palettes, favorite and comment, and create an entire palette from scratch or uploaded image on the Colour Lovers site dedicated to the love of colo(u)r. Registered users also get access to an RSS feed for inspiration and the ability to create a seamless pattern using provided styles.
The 300+ pages in Color Index XL: More than 1,100 New Palettes with CMYK and RGB Formulas for Designers and Artists provide over 1,100 palettes of hues that are further broken down into light, bright, dark, and muted versions of each. Each page is presented using a unique geometric arrangement and both RGB and CMYK values are given.
The Color Dot site lets you build your own palette—one color at a time—just by moving the mouse (or finger across the trackpad). Move left and right on the screen to pick the initial hue, then up and down to dial in the lightness. Clicking and scrolling up and down affects the saturation. When you have a color you like, click the screen. Continue to add colors to your palette. Click the gear icon to reveal the hex and RGB values, click the X to remove the color. I don’t know if there is a limit to how many colors you can add, since I got bored and quit after 50. There is also an iPhone app that allows for sharing to the web interface.
Coolors requires a free account and works similarly to Color Dot (above), but it does some of the work for you. It’s browser-based and you simply tap the Spacebar to get started. Click the lock icon on any color(s) you like, then tap the Spacebar again to generate a total of five colors. When you’re done, export the palette as a URL link, PNG, SVG, PDF, even “sassy” CSS (SCSS).
Use the Adobe Capture app for Android or iOS in Color mode to grab a 5-color palette from a photo or by taking a picture. You can either keep the colors the app selects, or choose your own. Save the theme to one of your Adobe Creative Cloud libraries in RGB, CMYK, Lab, or HSB format for easy access from both mobile and desktop Adobe apps. You can even jump over to the Adobe Color site to view all the color themes you’ve created, make changes, and save the theme as an Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) file to use on the desktop or share with your team. Read more on capturing and sharing colors here.
The Paletton site employs a more conventional color wheel approach. Start with a base hex color and it generates secondary and tertiary colors. You can then save and share the palettes with a web link.
Color Hunt generates new palettes daily that you can show some love for by favoriting. You can opt to get a new palette delivered to your email weekly and the Color Hunt Chrome extension fills your current tab with a random color palette.
As a past film major and general lover of all things cinematic, I retain a vast catalog of film scenes in my brain. This probably explains my fascination with the Twitter account @ColorsEffect. Each tweet is a still from a movie, along with a 10-color palette generated from the still. The palettes that ensue are often shocking (the vibrant colors generated from the original Blade Runner and Trainspotting stills come to mind) and unexpected. I like to take these images and palettes into Adobe’s Capture app and choose the best five for my new palette.
The Hello Color site simply generates a random 2-color combination showing how those colors contrast against each other. Each combination reports the hex values of each color and the contrast rating between the two. Bring your sunglasses because some of those combos are bright!
Don’t forget about creating palettes (known as color groups) from within the Adobe desktop apps themselves. InDesign’s Color Theme tool creates a theme pulled from selected page items or placed images. You can then save those themes not only to your Swatches panel, but to a Creative Cloud library to use in many of the Adobe apps on desktop and mobile.
The Color Guide in Illustrator lets you select a base color, then choose to view shades and tints, warm to cool transitions, or vivid and muted versions of that base. When you’ve found a combination that looks good to you, you can save the colors as a Color Group in the Swatches panel.
PANTONE Studio is an iOS app that creates palettes from your camera, photos, or social media images. View the colors in hex, RGB, and even Pantone values and send individual swatches to Creative Cloud to use in the desktop Adobe apps.
Over at Adobe Stock, they have a special collection featuring Ultra Violet, the Pantone color of the year. While these are actually video snippets, they can be great for inspiration, keeping within the same family as the color of the year. You can always pause the video and sample the individual colors to add to your palette.
Canva has a list of 100 curated palettes with accompanying hex values to use as inspiration and to sample values from. Many of the palettes have a blurb of the colors’ meanings or where they might work best. The palette names run the gamut from “Autumn in Vermont” to “Shades of Citrus” to “Grecian Holiday.”
And if you’re ready to fall down the rabbit hole of color palettes, you might jump on over to Pinterest. Do a search on color schemes then add a hashtag that speaks to you. I like this user’s boards full of color palettes. Warning: You’ll probably not get any work done the rest of the day…you’ve been warned.
What about you? Where do you find inspiration for the color in your work? How do you bring those colors into your workflow? I’m always looking to expand my color toolbox!