Tips for using color

February 11, 2008

I found this on one of the discussion lists I used to subscribe to and kept it as a reminder. Now it’s time to share:

“…speaking as a former designer, the best advice I could give would be to design your flyer in black and white first, then add the color. Inexperienced designers often mistake color for good design, or use color to disguise bad design. Doing good design in black and white first, and then adding color logically and judiciously, will ensure that you don’t make either mistake.

Tips on using color:

  • Color makes things stand out. Therefore, use it for things that you want to stand out: headings, subheads, bullet points, callouts. Or put it behind things you want to stand out: sidebars, reversed-out headings (light text on a dark background). Don’t use it for body text except in special circumstances. Use it to draw your reader’s eye where you want them to go.
  • Use color logically and hierarchically. Every heading at the same level should have the same color. Repeated graphic elements, such as lines, rules, bullets, sidebars, etc. should have similar color treatments. Don’t sprinkle color randomly thoughout your document.
  • Have a color scheme. Choose a limited palette (typically 2-3 dominant colors for a print piece) based on what you want to accomplish with the piece, or based on the mood you want to set. If you want to create an engergetic piece, use bright colors. If you want to create authority, use darker colors. If you want to create a more spiritual feeling, use pale colors and pastels. Use an identifiable color scheme, such as complementary colors (colors on opposite sides of the color wheel) or analogous colors (colors next to each other on the color wheel). For each main color, choose a tint (lighter shade) and shade (darker shade) to use for emphasis, screens, and reverse-outs.
  • Use color judiciously. Don’t color everything in sight; only use color where it actually does something. Unless you’re a visual artist, you don’t need four-color design. It’s more difficult to manage, and one to three colors usually looks more professional.
  • Use light and warm colors to pop; cool and dark colors to recede. This helps draw your reader’s eye to where you want it to go.”

(adapted from a post by Nicole Creed to the InfoGuru Marketing Yahoo Group; Sept 2004)

[This article was first published in the June 2006 CyberText Newsletter]

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