Create Color Swatches For Your Designs From a Photograph

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

The combination of
images, graphics and typography create a cohesive design that gets
noticed. All of these elements also feature a variety of colors all
working together through the design. But how do you know what colors
to use? Which colors work together and which ones should you stay
away from? What colors set the specific tone you are after in your

There are a lot of
things to consider when choosing colors for your designs. It’s more
than just picking the colors you like and implementing them. Whether
you’re a beginner or veteran designer, you can always look to your
core images and photos for color inspiration. In this tutorial, I’ll
show you some how to use images and photographs as inspiration for
colors in your designs. You’ll also learn how to capture colors from
these images and create swatches to use in your designs.

Choosing an Image

This tutorial will
walk you through choosing colors from one core image. Many strong
print designs revolve around one image that stands out, features
great color options and has room for additional content such as text.

Tips for Choosing Colors

When you are
gathering potential photos and images for your designs, it’s
important to choose photos that have many color options. Remember,
many color options doesn’t necessarily mean a kaleidoscope of color.
It just means that your photographs will offer lots of options and
inspiration. So where do you start? We’re going to look at four
options that will help you select colors for your designs.

1. Start with
One Bold Color

Before opening
Photoshop or InDesign, look at your image. You can see from the
example above there are several strong colors from the deep teal to
the browns. You can use either as a foundation for your design. In
this example, you could use the teal for headlines and backgrounds
and the brown for paragraph text and highlight such as rectangles,
circles and other ornamental designs elements. The cream color for
the whipped topping would also make for great text colors on a dark

2. Add
Complimentary Colors

Complimentary colors
when placed next to each other create the strongest contrast and
reinforce each other. The quickest way to determine whether two
colors are complimentary is to look at them on the color wheel.
Complimentary colors are directly across from each other such as blue
and yellow, red and green and purple and orange. Using complimentary
colors in your designs create a vibrant contrast, usually between
warm and cool colors. This method will often create a bright design
that really pops with color but works well because of the
complimentary color choices. The key here is to vary the use of each
color and pick one as the dominant color throughout your design. That
way your colors don’t compete for attention. From the example above
you can see that the cool blue dominates the image and the warm
yellow brightens the right corner. If you were to place text on this
photo, you’d want to stick with yellows.

3. Use Tints and

You most likely will use more
than two colors in your designs. Instead of adding another color to the mix, we’re going to look at tints and shades of either our complimentary colors or one bold
color. For a clean design, keep your color choices to a maximum of 3 but add in a mix of tints and shades of a color you already chose to mix things up. Doing so will greatly increase the color options you have
available to use in a design without adding colors that don’t
compliment what you already have. Going back to the first example, you
can increase your color options by choosing a tint of either the teal
or brown. A tint is a mixture of a color with white. This increases
the lightness of a color. A shade is a mixture of a color with black.
This decreases the lightness of a color. This means that you can add
more color options by either increasing the lightness or darkness of
your base color. There is a deep range in lightness and darkness, so
the options are endless here.

4. Tie it All

Finish off with a
range of choices including a bold color, a tint or shade of that bold
color, a neutral color and then a complimentary color for highlight.
This will give you the most options for your design regardless of
whether you need a light color for a dark background or a dark color
for a light background and everything in between. In the below
example, you can see the color inspiration and how well they work
together. Would you have picked these colors out without the photo for

So how do you actually pick colors from a photograph and then apply them to a design? We’ll tackle the technical steps next.

Creating Color Swatches


Hit Control-O
and navigate to your image on your harddrive and open it in Photoshop.

Step 2

Select the
Eyedropper Tool (I) and click an area to select your base
color. Hit X and repeat to select your complimentary color. It
is easier to select your main color and then immediately look for the
complimentary color. In the example image we selected a dark green as
the base and can see that the red would be a complimentary color and
great highlight. Note that the red doesn’t have to be a perfect red.
Here we went with a more muted red with a pink undertone based on the color in the photo.

Step 3

Next we need to
create a document for the swatches. This extra step will allow you to
easily save the colors for future reference regardless of whether
you’ll use Photoshop or InDesign. These swatches also make for awesome inclusions in a creative brief. You would just use the Eye
Dropper Tool (I)
to select these colors for your designs.

Hit Control-N and create a New Document of 800 x 200 pixels, in RGB Color Mode at 72 Pixels/Inch. Name it Color Swatches.

Step 4

Select the
Ellipse Tool (U)
and draw out a circle at any size. Here we chose
2 inches. Then double-click the circle in the Layers
and you’ll notice the cursor turns to an Eye Dropper
and the Color Picker window opens. You can now select your
base color from the background/foreground color on the left.

Step 5

Repeat Step 4
for the complimentary color.

Step 6

Next, with the
complimentary color shape layer selected, hold down Alt-Shift and drag a duplicate circle next to the pink circle. Release your mouse when your circle is in position. Repeat this
to create another duplicate circle layer. You
should now have 4 circle layers. These last two circles
will house your neutral color and tint color.

Step 7

Return to your
photograph and repeat Step 2 to select a neutral gray
. Then return to your swatches and double-click the
third circle and select the gray color with the Eye Dropper Tool (I).

Step 8

The last color is a
tint of the base color. Select the Eye Dropper Tool (I) and
click on the dark green circle on the far left. Double-click
the circle on the far right (Ellipse 1 copy 3) from the Layers Palette and select the green color with
the Eye Dropper (I). Now you want a tint of this color so
select a color toward the white end of the Color Picker. We
want a nice sea foam green here, not too white, but not too dark

Step 9

You can reorder the
circles by clicking each one in the Layers Palette and moving
it in the order you want your swatches to appear. Here, we have the
colors going from the base to the complimentary color. To save this
as an image, go to FileSave AsJPEG and name it something like FinalColorSwatches. Now you have a color palette ready for your
next design!

Ready For More?

Choosing colors is
an important step in your design process and you can use the images
already available to you as inspiration! You’ll have unique and stand
out color combos in no time. Next it’s time to take your designs to
the next level and apply what you learned to a real brochure.

Head on
over to my Fundamentals of Print Design course for a complete
beginners guide to all things print design. From design concept to
pre-press, you’ll get started creating your first brochure in

Create Color Swatches For Your Designs From a Photograph | manda | 4.5
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