The Secret Language of Color Part 1: Building Powerful Color Palettes

Welcome to part 1 of the secret language of color series! I hope the wallpaper download from last week has you meditating about your brand’s color palette and the messages they’re sending. If you missed the series introduction and download, we invite you to catch up and grab it here.

Color is so influential on our behaviors that there’s actually a science behind it, called Color Theory. The science provides best practices for choosing color palettes that evoke positive emotions (+ boost sales). While Color Theory includes a vast amount of data + studies upon which some build entire careers, I’m going to demystify the science into small bits we can digest and begin implementing into our branding + packaging.

color wheelCreating a winning color palette begins with a simple color wheel. The color wheel is divide by warm colors (oranges and reds) and cool colors (blues and greens). The colors in the middle (yellow and purple) can be considered warm or cool depending on the family of colors chosen for the palette with which they’re paired.

There are a number of predefined standards that use the color wheel to create powerful palettes. These color standards include: monochromatic, analogous, complimentary, split complimentary, triadic and double-complementary, also called tetradic.  Following these standards offers an easy way to create fabulous palettes without a lot of experience. In this installment of our blog series, I’m going to show you just how easy it is to create palettes from these standards and use the theory in your own designs. Keep in mind that beautiful palettes include shades, tints or tones of the colors on the color wheel.

A tint is a variant of a color made by adding a little more white.

Shades darken each color by adding black.

A tone is created by adding gray to a color.

Your palettes don’t have to include the exact colors shown on the wheel, but we’ve offered as a “jumping off point” of inspiration. Additionally, adding a neutral color to your palette (white, beige, gray, black, etc.), along with the colors chosen from the predefined standards, creates a brilliant contrast in design. Now onward to dissect color theory!

monochromatic colors

Monochromatic color palettes are created by first selecting a main color on the color wheel and then adding shades, tints or tones of that main color to create a palette. For example, if we chose purple as our main color, a monochromatic color palette might include colors like those shown in the color board above. The popular ombre effect is a perfect example of a monochromatic color palette.

analogous colors

Analogous palettes are created by choosing colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. In the color board above, I chose yellow, red, orange and slight variations of those colors to create a palette, because those colors all neighbor each other on the color wheel.


Complimentary colors are created by choosing a main color on the color wheel and finding its complimentary color directly across from it on the wheel. In this example, I chose redish-orange as my main color with its complimentary color of blue.

split complimentary colors

Split complimentary colors are similar to complimentary colors, but with a twist. You select your main color on the color wheel and find its complimentary color directly across from it. Then you select the two colors on each side of the complimentary color to build your palette. In my example, I chose the main color of blue with the split complimentary colors of yellow and dark orange.

triadic color scheme

And things get really interesting with triadic color palettes. To create this type of palette, select three colors that are equally spaced around the color wheel. An example could be purple, green and orange since each color has exactly three colors between them on the color wheel. For the above example, I chose orange, purple and blue.


The last power palette is called the double-complementary, also called tetradic. To create this palette, you simply select two sets of complimentary colors. For example, if we chose red, our complimentary color would be green (the color directly across red on the color wheel). Then, if we chose dark blue, our second complimentary color would be orange. The color palette would then include red, green, dark blue and orange.

Now that you’ve learned six ways to build power palettes, you’re armed and ready to mix some magical colors into your branding + packaging! Find all the color boards + photo credits used in this post at our Lucky Break Pinterest board for COLOR inspiration! Please feel free to share the colors + palette’s you’re loving to our board, too.

Stay-tuned next week as we dive into the meaning and associations of color as part 2 of this series!


Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published.