How Web & Print Designers Should Utilize Color
With so much design done on the web, color is no longer something designers have to work into their budgets. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. As designers, we still have to think about color palettes and corporate standards, but sometimes it’s difficult to rein in the creativity. You may think, “What does it matter? It doesn’t cost any more to use 20 colors in my design?” But it does matter; just because you have access to every hex color out there, it doesn’t mean you should go crazy with color.
Just like having too many typefaces on a page, too many colors can distract the reader. Color should be used to emphasize, highlight, or draw attention to various areas of your layout. It can help point your audience to read what is most important first, then guide them through the rest of the info like a road map.
Back in the day, designers always had that nagging word in the back of their mind—BUDGET. We needed to be aware of how an extra color might increase printing costs. Sometimes I think this made us work harder on the design. A 2-color job was considerably cheaper than a 4-color version. There were other factors that played into the cost too, like the size of the printer, what type of presses did they run (2-color, 4-color, maybe 6-color), or did they have an in-house pre-press department? Were they able to provide die cutting, embossing or fulfillment? All of these issues had to be considered when hiring a printer. But that is no longer the issue with web design; we design it, upload it, and call it done. I should say here that we do need to be aware of file size and optimizing our art, but that is more of a question of how we build the file and save it.
So, with all of constraints removed from what print designers have had to contend with, how much is too much? There are many ways to answer this question because color is so personal. To help you in your quest in finding the right color combinations, below are a few resources that may aid in your search for the perfect palette of colors.
Pantone Color Matching System (PMS)
Before we get started here’s a little history on how Pantone got started. Pantone began as the commercial printing company of New York’s M & J Levine Advertising in the 1950s. It wasn’t until 1962 when Lawrence Herbert purchased the company's technological assets and renamed the company as we know it today, Pantone.
Print designers through the years relied on this matching system to get the colors they required from traditional printers. Even today, with web dominating the design world, designers rely on Pantone for a variety of inspiring tools and info about color. Among their many resources is the Color of the Year—this year’s pick is Ultra Violet – 18-3838. Scroll to the bottom of their page to see the eight color palettes Pantone has created to compliment Ultra Violet –18-3838. Even the late Prince was honored with a unique color all his own—Love Symbol #2. There’s a lot more inspiration too —check out their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages.
In addition to perusing Pantone’s site, here are a couple of must reads for students who want to better understand color:
- Interaction of Color by Josef Albers
- The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten
- For some fun thoughts on color, visit my blog color101.
Debra Novara's love affair with design and the outdoors was truly realized when just two weeks after graduation she landed in Denver with nothing more than a backpack, her portfolio and a pair of skis. After 20+ years of designing for the Denver market (and skiing every resort) she returned to Michigan where she continues to work in the design industry as a member of the NHLS Marketing team. In addition to receiving awards for her design work, Debra has taught design at universities, served on multiple design panels and is recognized as one of the founding members of the AIGA-Denver Chapter.
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