The Color of Inspiration

I have a great love of color and I try to surround myself with a wide pallet of hues. Every room in my home is painted at least 2 colors and I have a large selection of markers, pens and paints to play with.

Published: 12.13.2011

I think my love of color began with my first “big” box of Crayola crayons (the 64 count box with the sharpener in the back). I still remember the excitement of getting this box of color and the wonderful smell of the wax. This love has remained constant throughout my life; painting was my passion in college and I think it was the colors that drew me in. Today, it’s design that allows me to experiment with color—whether it’s a website in RGB or a printed piece in CYMK, the colors are key.

I’m intrigued by the emotions that colors can impart. Color can convey an unlimited range of meanings and the impact of design can be greatly altered by the simple change of color. It is not the colors themselves that have meaning; it’s our culture that provides the meaning and context. Red can mean anger or urgency in the West, while it is a symbol of prosperity in Eastern countries such as China, where red is worn at weddings and doors are often painted red.

Below is a table of meanings typically assigned to colors:

Color Chart with Typical Meanings

This information can easily be used to influence your audience.

  • Red: used to create urgency and impulse purchases
  • Green: use to relax and calm
  • Blue: use to create trust, as in financial institutions and banks
  • Navy Blue: implies lower cost—use when selling to the price-sensitive
  • Royal Blue: implies urgency—use when selling to impulse buyers
  • Pink: romantic, selling to women and girls
  • Yellow: attention grabbing—used in windows and displays
  • Orange: energizing—used to elicit action as in impulse buying
  • Purple: wealth—use to imply exclusivity
  • Black: power—luxury selling and aggressive products

McDonald’s is a perfect example of an effective use of color:
Red=Fast, Yellow=Hunger … Fast Food

Armed with this information, I sample colors from many sources: photos, websites, advertisements … anywhere really. Here are some of the techniques I use to sample colors:

Photoshop’s Eyedropper Tool
The eyedropper tool allows you to sample colors within Photoshop, but it can also be extended to anywhere on your screen. Here’s how: Select the Eyedropper tool. Click and hold down the mouse button inside an open Photoshop document. With the mouse button held down, drag the eyedropper tool outside the Photoshop document to sample color from anywhere on your screen.

Photoshop Eyedropper Color Tool
Photoshop Eyedropper

Firefox Extension
I often like to grab colors from a website. The Firefox extension called ColorZilla adds a little eyedropper to the bottom left corner of your browser window. Click the eyedropper to activate and mouse around a webpage picking colors. The icon changes to represent the current color. You can then click to “lock” that color. The color values appear in the bottom of the browser window. Click the down arrow to the right of the eyedropper to present options for saving the color values.

How to Use the Firefox Colorzilla Extension
How to Use the Firefox Colorzilla Extension
How to Use the Firefox Colorzilla Extension

Mac Software Utility
In the Utility folder of the Applications folder is an application called the DigitalColor Meter. Simply choose what format you want to see the colors in (hex codes and RGB values are available) and just move your mouse over your screen. You will see a zoomed in section of the area you are sampling, a color swatch, and the color values. [For Windows users there is a free tool called ColorPic.]

Mac Software Utility DigitalColor Meter
Mac Software Utility

I’m sure there are many other utilities and applications out there—I’d love to hear what you’re using. Share your favorite color inspiration sources. Here are a few of mine:

Web-hosted applications for generating color themes:
Color Scheme Designer
Adobe Kuler

Creative community where people create and share colors, palettes and patterns and discuss trends:

Don’t forget to look to the fashion industry as an important influence on color trends:
Fashion TrendSetter



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