Join Von Glitschka for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating color compositions, part of Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory.
- [Teacher] Welcome to Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory. One thing I get asked about a lot is how I handle color. Not only within the context of illustration, but we're also talking design proper, like branding, for example; and before I jump into this, I should say up front that color, in my opinion, is very exploratory in nature. Now, sure, with specific themes or projects, color can be predetermined at times; but for the most artistic and design venture type of projects, you try many palettes before you settle on that one palette of colors that works the best.
So what I want to share with you is different ways you can think about color, different ways you can organize color, how to manage your colors and, more importantly, how to derive color themes and explore all the possibilities of color to assist you in finding those perfect hues that are going to work best for your project. Now, the first thing I want to briefly cover is what's called a new document profile. Every time I open up Adobe Illustrator, these swatches you see on screen now preload into my file.
So it's a great way to immediately start running with color and giving you at least a starting point and then you can adjust these color hues as you go along. Now if you're not familiar with how to set up your own new document profile, don't worry about it because in the exercise files for this movie I've included a free chapter from my book, Vector Basic Training, and it will explain how to set up a new document profile. So make sure to read that and check it out, and I think you're going to really benefit from doing so.
Now within my color swatches notice how even in this file we're in here, all these white triangles in the bottom right; that means all the colors. I always use global colors, and there's a reason for that; and I'm going to show you quickly. But to set up a global color, let's say you have this swatch here; and I'm going to go ahead and double-click on that, and it's going to open it up here, and you can see I have it named Tropical Aqua Green. Well, that doesn't really help me because when I'm working I want to be able to know what my color breaks are; and that's the next thing I should point out is we're in CMYK mode.
I always work in CMYK mode. Notice in this file it's CMYK. I never build my design or illustration for that matter in RGB. I always build in CMYK, and I always use global colors because it's easy to port it out in an RGB format; and the conversion is going to go easier that way. I found if you build an RGB and you convert back to CMYK, the colors don't always look that great; so I've always found going from CMYK to RGB works best.
That's my personal preference obviously, and you might want to do it the opposite way. Whatever works best for you is what you want to choose. Now, when I have a color like this and it has an obscure name that might not necessarily define it very well, I never use names like this for my swatches. I usually delete this and then I make sure to have Global checked for this color and then with those things done, I can click Okay; and now you can see it has that white corner, so I know it's a global color.
And if I double-click on it again, when I reopen it, it now has the same color break as showing down below. But notice what Illustrator does. You see how in C for cyan it says 79, but down here it's actually fractional, it has .22? I never leave these fractional. I don't want-- even Illustrator simplifies it, or rounds it down in this case to a whole number; so that's what I'm going to do, and that's a habit I've been doing for well over a decade now, and I think it's worth doing because most of the color breaks in the Pantone books themselves never use fractional colors.
So it's a good habit to get into. And in this case, I would probably go to 80, not 79; and then on this one, I keep it 35 and then we'll go okay. So now that's how I set up global colors, and let's take a example here. Here's a branding project, and I have global colors set up; and the reason why I use global colors is if I want to change this view, let's say the client doesn't like the blue, he wants it more earth tones and nature. So what I can do is if I select this swatch right here, you can see it selects it in my swatches palette.
What I can do is just double-click that swatch, open it and go, you know what, I don't want any blues so we'll do that and we'll change this to 30, and we'll change this one to, let's see, we'll do 30 here and we'll change this one to 85. I want it nice and dark brown, and then we can actually preview it from here; but in this case, we're just going to commit to it and say okay. And you can see how immediately it changes throughout my design.
I don't have to even touch my design because the global colors change. Not only that, where I've used a tint of that brown, which is showing here; if I go to color you can see it's a 70% tint of that swatch. It's also changed that. That would be these little highlights in the type right here. We're going to do the same thing for this swatch, which is the gray in this design. We want to change this to almost more of a cream type of color. So we'll go ahead and open that, and we'll do the same thing.
We'll just simply change our breaks within this global color; and by doing this, it makes the whole process go a lot faster. Once we have it, you can see we've created this kind of muted cream color; and we can go, okay, and actually we have that same color somewhere else, so what we're going to do is we'll just click okay. We'll go here and I'll just knock it down one so we won't get that, and we'll click okay; and you can see how it applies it universally once again throughout our design.
We don't even have to touch our design. This is why I use global colors. It makes the process go faster, and if you have any tints within this, which we do, it'll also change the tints associated with those global colors. So it makes the creative process go a whole lot faster using global colors specifically in the context of branding. It works really well as seen here, but where it really is going to save a lot of time is on complex vector creations. So if you look at this illustration, I have a lot of different shapes going here.
You know, different colors, different shapes; and this background color, I'm not really liking the blue. If I select this blue, it'll select that swatch; but notice that if I select the green, it'll select that. But let's say I select a tint of that swatch, and I'll do that here. It doesn't highlight the parent swatch that it's derived from. I really wish Illustrator would fix this because it does slow down the process; and it's one more reason why I use global colors. If I select the primary color that this swatch is based off of, it shows up; and this is obviously a tint of it.
So the easiest way to do that is to simply go into this swatch; and we want this a little warmer, so we're going to make this more of a, almost a golden kind of color like this. And if I hit preview, you can see how immediately it changes all the iterations throughout our design. That looks really good, so we'll click okay; and that's how fast global colors can help assist you in your color exploration and speed up the whole process.
Now when it comes to Illustrator, and specifically branding projects, this is where I use Pantone colors all the time; and I specifically use the color bridge set that's showing here by Pantone for my branding projects because when I deliver the final logo, I give them CMYK versions and spot color versions, and I use this to match those colors well. Now, once again, you're going to have to buy these books. They do cost a bit of money; and when you buy it, you're given a download that you can integrate into Illustrator so when you reference this book you can call up that swatch.
And that's what we're going to do here. I'm just going to show you where those are, if you have access to Pantone. So under the swatches palette, we'll go to the option menu, we'll click on it. We're going to go all the way down where it says open swatch library. Then we'll go to Color Books. Then we'll go into here, and notice I have one that says Pantone Color Bridge Coated-V2 and Pantone Solid Coated-V2. We're just going to click on the Pantone Color Bridge Coated-V2. That'll open up this window, and this is letting you search this book; and in this case, we're going to reference some of the colors that are showing down here.
So we'll punch in 3275, and that brings up the swatch referenced here; and I'm just going to click that, and it's going to add that right to my library. We're going to do another one here, and we'll go 375 like here; and I'll click that, and that'll add to my library. We can close this panel now, and this just shows you how you can go ahead and apply these swatches, Pantone colors specifically, to your artwork.
Now if you double-click into this, it's going to list what that Pantone name is that you specced, and it shows the CMYK break; and, once again, notice how they use whole numbers, not fractional numbers like I was referencing. So it's a good habit to get into to do that. So that's how Pantone works. Obviously built in to Illustrator, but one thing I noticed when I bought this book is you do have to download those files and install them yourselves. Illustrator doesn't do that automatically, so just keep that in mind.
And, moving forward, one way that I like to explore colors is actually found colors. I'll find things, specifically, this is a old cover of a book from the late 40s, early 50s. And back then, printing technology wasn't extremely sophisticated, so they would use a lot of spot colors. In this case, it's kind of this dark grayish black; and then they have a red and green and kind of cream-colored background, but it works really well. And so what I like to do is I'll take an image like this, and I'll just drop it into Illustrator; and using the eye dropper tool, I'll just go ahead, I'll select this, and we're going to color this.
Well, actually let's color it this darker grayish black. We'll color this one red. We'll color this one green, and we'll color this one kind of this creamy color. Now, this is an easy way to harvest, if you want to put it that way, color schemes that you could possibly use. So how could you use them? Well, maybe you're working on a design. These are the harvested colors and, once again, if I have that selected; if we go to color, notice that they're fractional colors.
This is going to happen if you sample off the screen. There's just no way around it. So what I've done at the top here, all of these are fractional colors, as you can see; and so what I've done below is I've adjusted from this rough approximation of the color, and I've gone in and dialed in that color and then I've used whole numbers to create the exact break I want with all four of these. And once you do this, it can give you a range of explorations that you can explore using this color palette.
So this is exactly the way I'll work when I'm doing color exploration just to see what looks good together, what's going to compliment the hue I'm applying in my design; and you can do anything here in terms of how the colors balance with each other. But many times when you harvest colors like this, they've already kind of done the homework for you; and you're just saying, hey, that's a great association of color and it's going to apply well for my design. So this is an example of one way you can use found colors.
Now, I'm inspired by other artists all the time like any other creative person; and what I do is when I come across a great illustration, a design, or specifically, a color palette used in any of those contexts, I'm like, wow, those are great colors. I like how they work together. I'll just drag the image off, and I put it in a folder on my desktop; and then if I ever want to access those colors and try them on a project, I'll just simply place it in my Illustrator file and it'll help get me started.
So I might reference this and go black, and then we'll grab the purple. We'll grab this muted kind of olive drab green and this light-colored cream. Maybe on this one we'd go down here. Once again, we sample this dark grayish black, maybe the green, the orange and kind of this creamy background. So it's an easy way to kind of curate color by when you see something that inspires you, don't just ignore it. You know, take note of it and then possibility later on as you're working on a project, it might help you in your color exploration.
Now, once again, these colors specifically are going to be highly fractional, meaning they aren't going to be whole numbers. So from here, I would go in and dial in those specific breaks to get the exact color I want. Now if you're wanting to capture color, there's a specific mobile app. It's available both on the iPhone and on Android. It's called Adobe Capture, and you can take any picture of your own or take a photo of another photo, which is done right down here.
I saw this picture of a Maui beach, and I liked the colors in it; so I took a photo of it, and then it gives you the option of moving these little dots around and isolating the color palette. Once you have that, you can then go in and select either RGB or CMYK lab or the other setting here for HSB; and you can adjust these colors and adjust the hues, and so I never use the CMYK or any of the other ones off to the right of that. I just stick with RGB because you're on a mobile device; it's RGB-centric anyway.
It's not an environment that's geared for CMYK. It's, by default, it's RGB; so I stay with RGB, and you can see specifically on this aqua color in my captured source it was kind of a dull grayish blue. So I really enriched that color along with the other ones. Once I had it where I wanted to, I then pushed it through Creative Cloud. This is going to require a Creative Cloud account with Adobe; but when I push it through Creative Cloud, it comes in to my library, and I specifically named this one Maui.
And so if we go to this next one, we're going to simply have to go up to Window, and we're going to go down to libraries, and this is going to connect to my Creative Cloud account, and we're going to scroll down and you can see that these Maui colors have been pushed into my Creative Cloud library. So all I have to do to get these into my illustrator file, let's go back to swatches here and scroll all the way down, is we're going to right-click on these Maui colors, and we're just going to say Add to Swatches.
And we can close this palette down, and you can see it's added those swatches in here; and so we can take these swatches that we've started here. Once again, it gives me these color breaks. You can see the brown here and this other tone of brown, the green, and so on and so forth; and it gives me a starting point, but once again, if I go in here you can see these are fractional. So what I do is I fine-tune it and make these specifically whole numbers to work better, but it gives you a wealth of ways you can color any kind of composition.
So if you look at these owl graphics over here, I can just select elements of it and sample these colors over here, and it's an easy way to then do simple color exploration and do it quickly. It doesn't take a lot of time. In this case, we're using the exact same graphic; but what we're doing here is we're also doing color exploration using this limited palette over here; but it gives us multiple ways we can go about coloring our artwork.
And I think that's pretty cool here. So let's do a couple of more of these. We'll go ahead and colorize this owl. And, once again, it's a simply-- and I do this all the time, where I'll actually drag out swatches like this; and I'll use the eye dropper just to sample my colors and to compose and explore and see what's going to work well or harmonize together well. And then those are the colors I'll focus on. Those are the colors I'll use.
And so we'll just finish coloring this guy and color this green. So you can see how quickly that goes, and I have four cool color explorations here, all of the same graphic; and I captured it through a mobile device. Now you can actually take that capture device, and I could've captured that book I showed you or, for example, you can find other sources for great color theory; and most of these color theories they've paid millions of dollars to have color experts derive these color tonal families and you can go to a paint store and reference one.
I like going to the home improvement stores because they have cards like this with color themes, and they also show you context of where those were kind of derived from or what inspired these color palettes; and it's a great way to kind of curate your own creativity and give you ideas that you might not otherwise think of. So it's, and once again, you could use the capture app to capture these and push it into Illustrator and start doing more exploration; or you can simply look at these, take a Pantone book and kind of pick your colors directly by comparing them with these and derive a nice, thematic color theory from that.
Here's another way is you can simply, once again, drop it into Illustrator. In this case, we'll go here and we'll color this brown and green and this one, this cream. Well, the nice thing about this is it goes really quickly is we can then take our artwork, any kind of artwork that is, and we can just simply select areas of our artwork. Maybe it's this middle part, and we'll go down to his chin; and we'll sample this, and we'll go to his eyes and maybe it's underneath his mouth.
And this will be green; and then we'll take his mouth and the top of it, and we'll color it cream. So you can see how quickly you can do color exploration using this kind of methodology, and it's been derived from people who've spent a lot of time and a lot of resources to design these colors. So it's a good way to explore and discover new ways to work with your colors. Now, color can also be derived from culture. Now I love Bollywood movies.
I love the festival of colors they do in India; and if you're not familiar with that, they basically go around and pelt each other with colored powder. And it was when I was asked by an agency to do an exploration for an Indian tea for the packaging graphic, I was kind of inspired by this, derived colors from the festival of colors. So lots of different colors and then use these colors within the context of the graphic I created for that packaging. Now it doesn't have to be national culture that you can derive from.
It could be a local culture. So I was hired by another agency to work on a New Orleans Recreation Department branding, and this was the base graphic, black and white, that I created. But in New Orleans, one of their primary color palettes is purple and gold. You see that everywhere. And so what I wanted to do, instead of fighting it, I went with it. But along with it, I used complimentary colors to the cultural colors; and so this is really important to keep in mind as you're developing, as you're working, is to think about these things as you're creating, specifically branding, for a project like this.
So we're going to apply these cultural colors, and then we're going to also apply what is a complimentary colors here. So we'll go ahead and select those shapes and apply those colors, and then we'll go ahead and apply the green; and when it's all said and done-- oops, I forgot to do the type. Let's go ahead and do that really quickly. And then on the bottom of this, it will be this nice blue. So you can see how cultural color can enhance, in this case, a branding project.
So it's good to-- that should all be part of the upfront research you do on any branding project, by the way. Now, since we're on branding; let's take a look at a few more examples of using color to reinforce a concept. I'm just going to go over these really quickly. This local one was for a roller derby team, a female roller derby team; and to kind of play off that contrast of the feminine side of the sport, I used really cutesy colors even though they're kind of rough and tumble.
It's a nice contrast of color along with the theme. The next one, Street 2 Street, is an outreach ministry for inner city youth, specifically basketball. So I kind of played off of that whole urban vibe with graffiti styling and the color of the concrete jungle, if you will, with gray. The next one was an exploration for a health clinic, so I used green to represent health, growth and flourishing. And then the next one was a company that makes seaweed-based food products called OceanBae, and obviously I played off of the color of water and reinforced that through those color schemes.
And then the last one, eMobility, is about electric cars, and I used the green to represent clean energy; and then it also aligns with the technology industry with a nice simple palette of black and that green. So whatever you're working on, whether it's illustrative, whether it's branding, you know; remember, color is exploratory. If you want more information about using color and how to specifically apply color on a more detailed aspect regarding color or detailing on illustration, for example, make sure to check out my Drawing Vector Graphics: Color and Detail course.
That's going to go into a lot far more detail. I hope some of these methods I've shared will help you in your own work; and if you have any questions you would like me to cover in DVD lab, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for watching DVG lab, and until next time, never stop drawing.
Skill Level Intermediate
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