Designing a color palette often involves combining the conflicting desires of unity and variety. You want a palette to be harmonious but also allow for some disruption and contrast. Here are a few methods to create a color palette.
A monochromatic palette sticks with one hue but varies the saturation and brightness. This type of palette is extremely harmonious but often lacks contrast.
Combining colors next to each other on the color wheel creates an analogous color palette. Because the color hues are close to each other, this palette choice is very harmonious. It allows for a moderate amount of contrast.
A complementary-color palette combines colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Complementary colors enhance each other; one is generally warm, the other cool. They generate a great deal of contrast. Adjust saturation and/or brightness to create a sense of harmony. Mixing in a little of a color's complementary will dull the color; equal parts of pure complementary colors mixed together create gray.
A split-complementary palette combines a color with the two colors adjacent to its complementary color. This palette is less visually intense than the complementary palette, but still offers opportunity for contrast.
An analogous-with-single-complementary palette includes three adjacent colors and one complementary. It provides harmony with the analogous colors and variety with the contrasting complementary.
A triadic palette combines any three colors that are equidistant on the color wheel, connecting the color segments with three lines creates a triangle shape. This palette provides for both unity and variety.
Two colors separated by one color segment and their complementary colors create a double-complementary palette. Drawing lines from each color segment makes a rectangular shape. This set of complementary colors provides a great deal of visual contrast; altering saturation and brightness can create harmony.
Let art and design, nature, your environment, and your personal history guide you as you develop palettes for your creative projects.
Artist and designers have long experimented with color. Look at your favorite works and analzye their palette.
Picasso painted this mostly monochromatic painting during his “Blue Period.”
Take photographs of landscapes, animals, and plants. Open those photos in Photoshop or another grahical editor and sample colors to create a palette inspired by nature.
Look at the spaces you inhabit and the products you use. What are the dominant colors in your wardrobe? What color is your car? If you love a particular space, what are the colors in that space? What are the colors you've selected for your life?
What are the colors from your past? What colors remind you of home, your family and friends, and your neighborhood? What were the colors of your childhood and teenage years?
I spent part of my childhood in Hawaii and grew accustomed to the green color of tropical plants—a green that's mixed with the warmth of yellow rather than the coolness of blue. I tend to choose warm greens in my creative work because of my childhood memories of Hawaii.
Adobe Color is an interactive, online tool that lets you create and share color palettes. You can use it to test out your color ideas.