An effective color scheme is key to the success of any design project. When selected properly & used appropriately, colors can convey a message, invoke a feeling, or bring attention to areas of interest even before imagery or text is introduced to a design. The trick is understanding what to use and when to use it, that’s where color theory comes in.
As Wikipedia puts it – color theory is “a body of practical guidance on color mixing and the visual impact of specific color combinations”. Put more simply – it’s the rules that say which colors work well together and why. Allowing these principles to guide color selection can improve the effectiveness of color in design.
Thankfully, there are a number of great online tools to aide designers in the color selection process. I’ve outlined my favorites including color schemers, online color selection tools, color palette resources and a few general color theory information sites below.
1 | Generator
Kuler, Adobe’s gorgeous free online color schemer, makes color exploration fun. Generate themes from scratch or from uploaded images. Looking for inspiration? You’re in luck – browse the vast library of tagged, rated user created color schemes that can be downloaded directly to Adobe color tables.
2 | Generator
This easy to use color scheme tool is both a color pallete generator and a color theory tool. A few clicks of the color wheel and even a color-theory novice begins to get the idea. This is the newest version of the WellStyled color generator and provides a number of improvements over the older version. If this color tool isn’t already in your favorites list you’re probably going to want to bookmark it right away..
3 | Generator
The SitePro colour scheme tool helps you select colour palettes using a number of intuitive sliders and value fields. Switch between monochromatic, analogic, complimentary, split complementary, triadic, and double contrast on the fly to see even more color combo options. This is another great tool for exploring color combinations quickly and easily.
4 | Generator
I really like the ColorSpire color schemes creator tool. It’s simple, has a clean design, and has a nicely limited set of tools & features. Some of the color tools out there are weak, and lack usability, others are robust and rich with features I don’t really need. ColorSpire’s schemer, like Baby Bears porridge is ‘just right’.
As a PhotoShop or Illustrator user you’ll recognize the primary color selection tool, which is clean and operates smoothly. The primary color selection tool establishes the central color, which sets up the secondary color selection interface (the color wheel).
The right side of the tool is dedicated to several swatches, each associated with a different segment of a mock template. As you assign colors to the swatches, the mock template’s colors change allowing designers to get a quick overview of their colors working together.
5 | Generator
The Color Wizard is another one of those tools that is great for quick color experimenting. I use it less for creating whole color schemes and more for exploring the nuanced variations of a selected color – although it does provide scheme direction as well.
6 | Generator
No list of online color tools would be complete with-out VisiBone, the original online color palette tool. This simple color scheme picker designed for web designers was among the first and longest standing online color resources. it’s probably already in your list of color tool favorites, but I thought I’d include it in this list anyway – for nostalgia sake.
7 | Generator
1st place winner of the SEOMOZ Web 2.0 site awards in the ‘Visual Arts’ category, ColorBlender is a free online color palette tool with an interesting twist. One of the interesting and unique features of this tool is the ability to export your scheme to PhotoShop(.act) & Illustrator(.eps) color tables. You can browse user blends at http://www.colorblender.com/browse.asp
8 | Generator
This is another very fast color selection tool that allows you to select colors from a web-smart color wheel. The color wheel has more color options/variations than most online color pickers, and displays ‘web-safe’ hex codes, unsafe hex codes and the compromised ‘web-smart’ hex codes for brilliant color select.
9 | Generator
Color mixers is a fairly simple tool that that has grown over time into a resource in it’s own right. It’s been a round a while, so many of it’s features have been integrated and improved upon in other tools, but I still like it for certain color mix explorations. Like the ColorBlender tool, it allows you to export generated color schemes to PhotoShop & Illustrator color tables.
10 | Generator
This French color selection tool boasts some pretty unique usability amongst the color tools I’ve included in this list. In addition to a design akin to PhotoShop 6 or 7 (in vogue back when the tool was originally released) it also has some PhotoShop-like depth of usability.
With color harmony option that include complimentary, opposite, neutral, shades, split opposite, slipt complimentary, triadic and tetradic and one click ‘find similar…’ hue, saturation, lightness, brilliance etc etc – you’re unlikely to be left wanting to see ‘more variations’. This tool was a new discovery for me, and so far I’m really digging it – hopefully you will too.
11 | Generator
The MediaZeal color charts are great for beginners just starting out with web design. Choose from named colors or windows safe colors and create your color scheme with a few clicks. This plain jane schemer is just right for beginner web designers.
12 | Generator
I think this generator is more of an experiment with Flash than anything, but it generates complementary color schemes based on the color values you input (RGB values or Hex code values). For fun you can click ‘random’ and preview scheme after scheme. Again, some of these tools aren’t terrible robust, but could help trigger creativity and scheme ideas when you find yourself stuck.
13 | Generator
Color-nazi’s beware, this next tool takes a unique perspective on at the color wheel. The traditional color wheel, of course, positions red in the high noon position and progresses through twelve hue steps counter clockwise. Christian argues that “in color scheming some colors are more equal than others”.
So he’s designed the Unsafe Colormatch wheel to take this into consideration by overlapping the more interesting colors while putting the higher contrasting colors on top of lesser contrasting colors. it’s an interesting look at color, and a pretty decent tool – definitely worth checking out.
14 | Generator
The Color Palette Generator, from web designer Jeff Minard, generates a simple color scheme from images uploaded to the application. My favorite thing about this tool is that Jeff makes the source code available for free! Make sure to email him if you use it as he gets a kick out of seeing what people are doing with the application.
15 | Generator
Not a terribly robust tool, the Swatchify palette tool allows you to enter a series of hex values and create a color palette which can be referenced later by others through a unique URL which is generated after colors are selected. A clean layout, and no advertising make this a nice, safe alternative platform for sharing color palettes with clients, readers and friends.
16 | Generator
This is a simplified online interface for the more robust desktop color tool from ColorSchemer.com. Select a color and the interface provides a complete color array. Great for quick color ideas.
17 | Generator
Another color schemer that generates color palettes from uploaded images, Color Hunter goes a few steps further and adds some interactive elements to the mix. Each generated scheme is archived allowing users to browse other users schemes.
Color hunter also allows you to tag & rate the schemes aiding users in their search through the saved palettes. The color generator even incorporates a user name & password accessible account to allow you to store and retrieve your favorite color schemes.
18 | Schemes
At first glance ColorJack just doesn’t impress. It appears to be another featureless, cookie cutter color-related site. That is – until you start to peel back the layers. Digging a little deeper you find the site is host to a few articles that are definitely worth a read and the ‘Sphere’ tool referenced in the ‘Color Formulas’ article is fantastic!
19 | Schemes
Everybody loves super heroes right? Paulo shares a handful of super hero inspired color schemes over at the Abduzeedo design blog.
20 | Schemes
I love this color schemer! You type in a word or phrase and Geoff Peter’s application does the rest. It searches Yahoo and pulls out the top 5 related. It then analyzes the images and establishes a 30 shade color scheme based on the most common colors in the images.
I was impressed with some of the schemes this little tool offered up, and with how quickly it works. This is one of those tools that would come in handy when you’re in the brain storming phase of a new project, or when you’re simply stuck and need a little color inspiration.
21 | Schemes
Another color scheme library, with a nice clean way of displaying the hundreds of archived color schemes. Despite the liberal application of AdSense, this is a great site to go for color scheme inspiration.
22 | Resource
The COLOURlover community is an active community of people who love color ranging from aficionados to fanatics. With active forums, a frequently updated blog, 1000′s of archived patterns & color schemes. One of my favorite areas of the COLOURlover site is the Trend section, which tracks magazine cover & popular website design color trends. A great community for… who else, color lovers.
23 | Resource
Chris Murphy, author of FarFromFearless, does a great job talking about creating & working with web 2.0 color palettes.
24 | Resource
While researching color scheme tools I ran across this fairly easy to folow overview of the basics of color theory. There are a couple of pages, but worth the read for those just starting to learn about color theory basics.
25 | Resource
26 | Resource
27 | Tool
ColorZilla is an advanced eyedropper & color picker addon for the Firefox browser. Just activate and click anywhere in your browser window for quick & easy color selection.
Know any other great color scheme tools or sites?
These are among my favorite color schemers, palette sharing sites and color related tools. I hope that sharing them has helped. Be sure to comment and share any of your favorites that I might have missed!