How to find your perfect color pairings — Introducing ColorClaim

by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared ✍🏼
on my personal blog

Since many of you asked me about my color workflow, here is a quick and short article about it.

You probably know this, every time you start working on a new project you have to define a new color palette. Over the years, I kept repeating this process so many times that I started building my own reference library.

Every time I created new color pairings, I saved them as JPG files for myself. Over the years I built up a couple dozen of them, introducing: ColorClaim.

I never really liked using traditional color palettes that you can download somewhere online. Finding new colors for me is a process that happens on the side, especially when you’re not much thinking about colors.

I could go into color theory, but honestly I don’t pay much attention to it because I think you just know when something feels right, or when it feels off.

When it comes to new colors, I mostly get inspired by photography, nature, fashion and architecture.

One of my favorite blogs is “I see fashion everywhere and everything in fashion”. To explain it in Bianca’s words (the creator):

“Where I See Fashion is a blog about fashion and everything that inspires it, such as art, design, nature, photography & more. It’s a collection of pictures related to each other for different reasons, for instance colours, shapes, sensations, concept.:

This blog serves mostly as shape & color reference. If I like something, I create new palettes based on it and eventually mix it with other palettes.

Now, when it comes to creating a new project, my workflow is usually fairly simple. I head straight to ColorClaim (my own little color library with color pairings) and copy paste a couple images into a Photoshop document.

I do this to just simply create a color mood board, just to get a sense of the color spectrum and how the colors work in a more light or dark themed art direction.

As you can see in the image below, my ColorClaim color pairings are already created to work as one color palette on their own. I always try to combine two to three colors (maximum) and try to have one subtle BG color, one highlight, and one high contrast color. I rarely go for more, and sometimes even for less.

Then I take those colors, put them on different kind of backgrounds, paint with them, create gradients with them, combine them etc. — If I like it, I apply it to whatever project I’m working on and see how it turns out. If I don’t like it or it doesn’t fit, I start the whole thing over again.

So generally, I run through the following checklist:

  1. The color theme obviously has to fit the project (color theory comes in handy). Same goes for what it’s used for. (artwork, interface design etc.)
  2. ColorClaim is like my “ToDo list” of colors I always wanted to use. I go to ColorClaim and see if there are any pairings I already created in the past that could work with the project.
  3. If no color pairings can be found in ColorClaim, I go and create new ones. But usually the point is that my ColorClaim library will already have something that works for me, even though I sometimes have to change it a bit.
  4. Because I mostly work on branding projects when researching colors, I always try to follow the concept of keeping it as simple as possible. I either go for ONE primary color followed by only black and white, or I go with one primary highlight color, and two secondary as complimentary.

Generally, my process is much more simply than most people think, but I do hope it gives you a little bit of insight in my work and at the same time I hope ColorClaim could be useful for you as well.

Keep creating,

PS: I usually send out these articles via my personal email list right here. You can sign up anytime, I won’t spam, promise.

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Tobias is a Designer & Maker + Co-Founder of Semplice, a portfolio platform for designers. Also host of the show NTMY — Previously Art Director & Design Lead at Spotify & Board of Directors AIGA New York.