A palette is a complete set of colors one should adhere to when designing a website. This includes a color scheme (typically 2, 3 or 4 colors) plus some additional colors to work with. The goal along the design process is to stick to these colors without the need of inventing and introducing new ones.
Here are some tools and knowledge on how to design and create an effective and appealing color palette for you website in just minutes:
Know your primary color
Many times you will be constraint by your clients' need for a primary color, be it because of the logo, corporate identity (CI) or corporate design (CD) guidelines. Consider yourself lucky!
For the other times when you have to come up with a color for yourself, think of what best represents the company's target audience - young, fashion, pop, serious, technocratic, playful. All that will determine your ultimate choice. The best description I've found so far of what different colors actually stand for is in Jason Beaird's book 'The Principles of Beautiful Web Design'. Even though I'm sure you find tons of other sources on the web be aware of easy color-meaning mappings like black=death - in web design black is also a color that conveys power, think of tuxedos, limosines, Batman etc.
Create a Color Scheme
I've found the Red-Yellow-Blue color wheel the closest to traditional color theory and that's what I am using and writing about now. I acknowledge the CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black) color wheel but found it less useful for my purposes (feel free to convince me otherwise )
I highly recommend the WellStyled Color Scheme Generator 2 (http://www.wellstyled.com/tools/colorscheme2/index-en.html). It allows you to use your primary color and your knowledge about your target audience to play around and find the most suitable of the five classic color schemes:
- monochromatic (your primary color in different tints or shades)
- analogous (your primary color plus two colors next to it on the wheel)
- complementary (=contrast; your primary color plus the opposite color on the wheel)
- triadic (three colors equally separated on the wheel)
- tetradic (basically two complementary schemes combined)
The Color Scheme Generator will calculate the correct RGB values in hexadecimal notation for you and even offer variations (pastel, contrast, pale) to further experiment. Once done, simply print or note the colors and values computed and you are ready to roll.
Ensure good Contrast
Contrast is not only a good design principle but also an Accessibility requirement for many websites (W3C, Section 508 in the US). So before you make your final choice on the color scheme ensure that your main color provides sufficient contrast to background/foreground colors.
Test your colors using Colour Contrast Check (http://www.snook.ca/technical/colour_contrast/colour.html) making sure the brightness difference is greater 124 and the color difference is not less than 500!
Finalize your Color Palette
To finalize your color palette all you need to determine is which other tints and shades of the existing (as determined above) color scheme you want to use - black and white included.
As a basic rule try not to 'overload' your page with the amount of colors used, but certainly a number of 5 or 6 seems to be about right (remember to count black and white).
Done, wasn't that easy?
Here are some interesting links I recommend together with an excellent book:
- Open Source Web Design (http://www.oswd.org/) for design inspirations
- Daily color scheme Yahoo! widget from firewheel (http://www.firewheeldesign.com/widgets/)
- ColoRotate – 3D color scheme generator with social component
- Best Practices for accessible Content
- Best Practices for accessible Images