Awesome and Unusual Places to Steal Color Palettes From

by on 16th June 2011 with 16 Comments

A good color palette can make or break a design. It sets the tone, conveys emotion and can even drastically affect usability. With all this pressure, choosing a color palette is tricky business.

Today we’re going to think outside the box and explore some fresh and interesting ways to select the colors for your project by pointing out some great sources of inspiration. Let’s get started.

Fashion Bloggers and Designers

People that really care about fashion and have a gift for putting together attractive outfits almost always have a stellar sense of color. Occasionally there has been some color education but often it’s the case that the fashion-conscious simply have an intuitive feel for what does and doesn’t look good together.

I’m quite challenged when it comes to fashion but I always take note of the interesting color schemes present on those who seem to have it down and I’ve found that it’s a great place to steal color palettes from for design work, especially when you need something seasonal.

Here’s an image from popular fashion blogger Kendi Lea sporting a colorful outfit that she put together. I extracted some of the colors from her various clothing items and placed them on the right.

screenshot

Next I threw some of these colors on a headline lockup and came up with the following. The colors are honestly a lot nicer than something I would’ve come up with from just opening my color palette and choosing randomly!

screenshot

This color scheme gives off a very beach-like feel that could be perfect for a summer ad or magazine cover. With a little more tweaking we have this:

screenshot

Interior Designers

While we’re ripping off other types of designers, interior designers and decorators are two more sets of people with outstanding taste in color. Balancing an entire room to be pleasant to the eye is a huge task and one poorly chosen pillow or bucket of paint can ruin the whole thing.

Here’s a great looking room from IKEA’s website that serves as a perfect example. The designer here has carefully chosen each element in the photo to create a visually pleasing color palette. I see no reason you can’t borrow it for a website.

screenshot

Famous Artworks

I love looking through popular art from all periods. From the realism of Renaissance to the abstract stylings of Impressionists, it’s all good for some solid design inspiration, especially with color.

Artists, especially painters, have to be experts on color. Mixing colors in Photoshop is one thing, mixing by hand leaves is much more difficult and leaves little room for error.

Here’s a famous painting called “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. I’ve always really loved the intense, bold colors that Munch used for the composition and thought it would be a perfect place to go color palette hunting.

screenshot

After extracting the colors I felt that they really seemed masculine and lent themselves particularly well to a grungy nature feel. Here’s what I came up with as an example:

screenshot

Living Things

The natural world is one of the absolute best places to find beautiful color schemes. What’s more beautifully colorful than a stunning sunset over the ocean or a field of flowers in front of an intense blue sky?

Sunsets and flowers have been done before though. Grabbing color schemes from these scenes is great, but not very original. I looked around the natural world for color inspiration where you might not think to grab it. For instance, here’s an awesome scheme pulled from all of the different colors on a lion shot taken by Flickr user Michael B.

screenshot

Even bugs can provide good color inspiration! Check out the great scheme that I pulled from Lindsay Sorensen’s butterfly photo.

screenshot

The Fine Art of Color Thievery

I write constantly about intellectual honesty in the area of design. I’m a firm believer that you should always give credit where it is due. There’s a precarious line between inspiration and theft in our industry and just to be sure I always stay as far away as I possibly can from directly borrowing the visual ideas of others.

Our design gallery is meant to show you a huge variety of designs so you can cram them all into your mind and mix together the ideas with your own until you have something truly unique.

That being said, one of the only places where I am usually comfortable looking around and borrowing from others in a direct manner is color. Even then I don’t borrow from other graphic designers but instead try to think creatively and look for really unexpected forms of inspiration.

Color is such a raw ingredient in design that it’s hard to make an argument that because you put a few colors together, you should “own” that color palette (though companies do attempt to trademark colors). It’s what you do with the colors that really defines your design.

For instance, few people would look at Sprint’s logo and be shocked at their blatant ripoff of the McDonald’s logo. That’s because the two logos really don’t look anything like each other. It’s a fact that black and yellow contrast very nicely and the result is lots and lots of logos that use these colors.

screenshot

The point I’m trying to make is, if you see a color palette that you like, make a note of it. Stealing a layout and type treatment is one thing, but don’t be afraid of grabbing some colors from a photo that you saw online. Build a library of go-to palettes that you can use for different moods, seasons, occasions, etc.

This is an area that tons of designers struggle with and they have no idea how much they can improve their design skills with a quick trip to Flickr with Photoshop’s Eyedropper Tool!

Conclusion

The point of this article is to get you to really take a look around both the real world and the Internet for places where color just seems to work really well. Find some palettes that really strike you as attractive and try to incorporate something similar into your next design project.

Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts. Do you frequently seek color inspiration from unusual places? Let us know where!

Comments & Discussion

16 Comments

Comments & Discussion

16 Comments

  1. LTR says:

    Color combinaison of sport jerseys, is also a great inspiration for creating palettes that work

  2. fishing lures are another great place to steal from :)

    http://www.bassdozer.com/images/bomber-092808-1.jpg

  3. John Jingleheimerschmidt says:

    Although not on the web, a great place is the supermarket. TONS of color combos on the packaging.

  4. Greg says:

    Another great source to sample is the iris of an eye! You really can’t go wrong with it, it always gives a great palette.

  5. Joshua Johnson says:

    GREAT suggestions guys, keep em coming!

  6. Like they used to say from the fridge (a.k.a cool). Seriously though ideas can be found all around.
    I once saw this girl in a cafe with a bag that was just bursting with awesome colours and ideas for designs. Wish i’d asked her where she got the bag.

    Anyways, thanks for the post.

  7. tylerv says:

    @LTR Sports jerseys if you are color blind

  8. Bharat KV says:

    Yeah… Picking colors from nature works best…
    The combo issues, contrast everything is already taken care by the Source Creator…

  9. Fiona says:

    Great article. It really opens my eyes. It’s been a hard job for me to pick colors that suit each other. I’ll give it a try very soon. Thanks for the inspiration :D

  10. Emily says:

    A little while back when I was building a toolbar for fun with conduit, I added this nifty little free app to it that helps you pick out a color scheme and export it out or save it. I’m posting the direct link to it here because I think a few people who are challeneged with color theory might find it useful: http://colorschemedesigner.com/

    And here is the download page for my toolbar that has this app included on it (plus some other graphics related apps) if anyone is interested in that. http://FNM3Dgraphics.OurToolbar.com/

    Cheers!

  11. I like the butterfly palette. I actually saved it lol.

  12. Eilee says:

    Do you have a favorite site that you upload images to that will generate the color palate?

  13. Love your articles! I am a budding visual artist and the challenge is always what colour combinations would be most impactful. As one of your contributors mentioned, nature does provide us with a most extensive palette. Living in the tropics the choices are so many that it is sometimes mind boggling.
    Thanks again.

  14. Iain says:

    It’s worth noting that, at least in the UK, you can trademark a colour if it’s particularly well-known, so be wary if copying from a brand.

  15. Su Hall says:

    Thanks for this article. You made some good points as did the readers. One, Eilee, asked about a favorite site to produce a color palette from a photo. I like Kuler from Adobe. It pulls the colors for you, but, if you don’t like any of them, you can move the ‘marker’ to another spot. Give it a try.

    http://kuler.adobe.com

    Su

  16. Hello, This is a really nice looking site. Are you a website designer or did someone make this lovely design for you?

Leave a Comment

Subscribe
Membership
About the Author