How to Choose a Colour Scheme (When You’re not a Designer)

How to Choose a Colour Scheme When You're Not a Designer

How to Choose a Colour Scheme When You're Not a DesignerWhen you’re building your brand for the first time, or rebranding an existing brand, designing a logo seems like the most important element. And though your logo is important, an equally important part is your colour scheme. Colours have a big impact on the overall appearance of your brand, and can be a vital factor in whether your brand finds success.

Today, many bloggers and business owners choose to build their own visual branding because they don’t yet have the funds to invest in a professional designer. This is a great way to customize your brand and save money, but it can be difficult to complete on your own when you don’t have a design background.

Though there are lots of resources out there that discuss moodboards and logos, there aren’t many that cover how to actually choose the colours of your scheme. There are so many things that are important. You have to make sure the colours work on their own, work together as a scheme, vary enough to offer options, are similar enough that they don’t clash, and more. That’s why I’ve written this post to go over how to choose the colours of your scheme. While every brand is different and you should feel free to stray from this outline as needed, this is a general guide that can get you started in the right direction.

I’ve also created a free mood board and brand board template that are available for download to get you started. You can slot your colour scheme into either after you’ve created it, or you can use the templates to help you build your scheme. If you want a quick version of this content I’ve created a shareable graphic at the bottom of this post that contains short snippets of this info!

How many colours to choose

When I build a colour scheme I like to choose seven colours. This number varies depending on what designer you’re talking to and what your project is, and sometimes I vary from this number myself based on what the brand requires.

I like to choose seven because it’s enough to support an entire brand, but not too many that things get confusing. You might think you only need a couple colours, but if you choose less than seven, you will end up having to add additional colours at some point. Instead, if you choose seven colours in the beginning, you will never have to think about them or add any other colours again. Even if your designs only use a couple of your colours on a regular basis, you will eventually encounter a design that needs a few more, or an extra pop, and having a scheme already chosen is important to keep your brand consistent.

What to think about when choosing

Before you get digging into hex codes and your pantone colour swatches, there are a few things you need to remember. Firstly, you need to make sure that you love the colours together AND individually. We all know that colours look different depending on where you see them, and what other colours surround them. So, that means it’s important to look at a colour on it’s own, and along side your other colours before you decide to add it to your scheme.

Secondly, it’s important to remember that not all your brand colours need to be included in your logo – in fact, I’d advise against it. Having too many colours in your logo is a mistake that many novice designers make. While sometimes it might work, like in Amy Eaton’s branding, in most cases it doesn’t because it makes things too busy, and will distract from your message. It’s okay to use only a couple of your colours in your logo – don’t feel the need to overcomplicate things by trying to make them all visible.

So, how do you choose your colours? There are lots of things you are supposed to consider when choosing a colour scheme. Like intended audience. Is your scheme masculine, feminine, or neutral? Does it appeal to an older classic audience or a newer modern audience? And colour theory. Red makes people hungry, while green makes people want to save the planet.

There is so much to consider, and you could get really carried away if you think too much about it. While this kind of investigation works for major business being professionally branded, DIYing your own brand can be a lot simpler if you just trust your own eye and instincts. You can dig into colour theory if you really want to, but if you want to keep things simple, just write down a few words you want your brand to embody. Words like modern, fresh, feminine, bold, colourful, powerful, fun, vibrant, sophisticated, classic. There are so many words to choose from out there, so choose about five that represent what you want your brand to be. Then write them down and keep them nearby and in mind during your entire branding process.

What about black and white?

In my opinion, black and white are an automatic part of every colour scheme and don’t need to be included in your colour choices unless they are an important part of your design. For example, black and white are clearly used throughout my website and many of my graphics, but because they are not a major part of my brand, I did not include them in my scheme. However, if a black and white striped graphic is an important element of your branding, or if your scheme is focused around strong black, white and pink, then you can definitely include them in your scheme. But, if they aren’t key to your brand, you can leave them out of your colour scheme but still use them in your website and branding materials when needed.

Colour Resources

When you’re choosing colours it’s important to do what works for you. Look at Pinterest for inspiration, bring up an image of a colour scheme if that helps, or do whatever you need to do to feel inspired. There are a few colour resources I like to use when choosing colours. This resource is a great way to visualize a colour on it’s own to decide if you really love it. Adobe Color is a great place to look at your scheme as a whole and play with colours working together.

Your Main Colour

To start your scheme, choose a bold colour that you love. Most people have an idea of what colour they’d like this to be. It’s the colour that you’re most passionate about and should be bold and eye catching. It will be the core of your scheme. Take time to choose a colour you love, because all of your other colours will be used in relation to this colour.

In my branding, this is a teal colour. It’s my favourite colour, and one that I am drawn to wherever I see it. When I was branding my business I knew that I wanted this colour to be the core of my brand. Your personal favourite colour might not always be the bets colour for your business, but if you are at the center of your business it might work!

Two Light Colours

Next, you want to choose two lighter colours. These will be used for things like backgrounds and accents, and should be light enough that you could write over them in a darker text and it would still be legible. These colours should usually be within the same area of the colour wheel as your main colour, though they don’t necessarily have to be.

In my branding, these are the light blue and mint colours.

Two Dark Colours

Next, you want to choose two darker colours. These will be used for things like accents and text. If you used one of your lighter colours as a background, and wrote over top in one of your darker colours, it should be legible. This can also be done in reverse, with your dark colour being used as a background and the lighter colours being used over top. For these colours I usually like to use darker versions of the lighter colours I’ve already chosen.

In my branding, these are the two darker blue colours.

One Neutral Colour

In all my colour schemes I like to include at least one neutral colour. This colour be a grey, beige or brown depending on your scheme, and is used to provide whitespace to your scheme. Though you might not use this colour often, it is important to have so that you can use it to simplify your designs or your website when necessary. Without a neutral colour, schemes can easily become too colourful and childlike.

In my branding, this is a light grey colour.

One Contrasting Colour

Lastly, you should choose a colour that is different from the other colours in your scheme. This colour should be from a different area of the colour scheme, and should pop out from the rest of your colours, while still looking cohesive among them. It will be used when you need to call attention to something in your design or on your website, because it captures the eye.

Depending on your scheme, once you choose this colour you might need to add another lighter or darker version of the colour to tie it into your scheme. To stick to seven colours, you could also go back and adjust one of your light or dark colours to make this colour blend in with the scheme better.

In my branding, this is the pink colour.

Ordering your Colours

Deciding on an order for your colours is only necessary for your own brand board and moodboard, since it’s unlikely you will ever use all seven colours in order in a design. That being said, it’s nice to choose an order and have them look good in your scheme. When ordering them, start from darkest to lightest, and then just adjust them until they look good. Some of your colours will look better next to each other, and some will look awful. Just move them around until you’re happy with how they look.

Finalizing your Colour Scheme

Don’t forget, it’s okay to move backwards when choosing your colours. If you decide on a few and then move onto the next step and a colour you choose doesn’t work, you can always move backwards and adjust the colours you’ve already decided on. Being flexible and adjusting each colour a little to make them all work together better will give you a stronger colour scheme in the end.

Don’t forget to download my free mood board and brand board templates to slot your colours into when you’re done!

A great way to make sure you love your scheme is to use it in a few sample designs. Create some feature images for your blog, a few social media promotional graphics, or just have some fun with a couple designs. Getting to see your colour scheme in action is the best way to tell if you’ve chosen correctly. And, if your scheme doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board and keep adjusting until it does. It’s SO important to love your scheme before making it official and moving forward. There’s nothing worse then getting a few months into your new business and realizing you’re already out-of-love with your brand.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for opinions. Designing on your own is hard so it’s great to get another perspective once you’ve chosen your colour scheme. You can ask family and friends what they think, or join my DIY Designers Facebook group and post your scheme to get opinions and advice. And, even if you’ve built a scheme you love, you can still join us and share it!

How to Choose a Colour Scheme When You're Not a Designer

This post was originally publishing on March 14, 2016 and has been updated to better serve you!

13 thoughts on “How to Choose a Colour Scheme (When You’re not a Designer)”

  1. This is seriously SO helpful :) I’ve been struggling with colours for a while and I finally have ones I love. Thank you!!

  2. Oh my gosh…I totally needed this. Thank you for making it so easy. I have trying to pick my colors for my company, Medzorb. My coach told me to get a mood board done. Interestingly, my logo has your top two dark colors. And, I love gray and peach. The thing I didn’t consider was the two light colors. I hate to say this, but my color scheme will be very similar (blues are a different shade) to yours. I hope that’s OK? Thank you, thank you!

    1. Hey Nailah! That’s okay. My colour scheme is pretty awesome ;) but I’m sure they won’t be identical and sounds like your niche is different than mine so that’s completely okay! Though you don’t have to use all the colours in all your branding materials, it’s good to have seven chosen so you have them at your disposal incase you need them. You’ll notice I use the mint and teal a LOT in my branding, and then the other colours are just supplementary to the brand. That’s a good way to go! Good luck with your moodboard and I can’t wait to see your site. Check out my post here if you need a moodboard template – https://www.melissacarterdesign.com/moodboard-template/

  3. Thank you for this! I created a mood board awhile ago, and I like it for the most part, but a couple of the colors have been bothering me. Your tips will help me tweak it to be just right.

    1. You’re very welcome Meg! Glad to hear this tips are helping you perfect your colour scheme. Thanks for reading!

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