How to Create Color Palettes for Infographics

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

There was a time when many infographics were designed and printed in black-and-white only. Most newspapers reserved color for the front page, and (of course) the Internet didn’t exist.

Today, most graphics are designed with the potential to work across media platforms. That means that the whole world of color is available to graphic designers. Color is an easy way to enhance the artistic elements of your graphic — and when done well, can make a graphic leap off the page or screen.

Approach using color as systematically as you approach the rest of your design. As an editor once said, adding color to an illustration that didn’t enhance the accompanying text was “Putting lipstick on a pig.” All the color in the world won’t make up for a graphic that doesn’t work.

Here are a few tips on color that will work with your custom theme.

Using color to set a tone

Every story has a tone or level of emotion that needs to be conveyed. If the information is a call for action, consider more exciting tones in the yellow and orange range. If the information is more somber and muted, so should the colors: Think blues and muted violets.

At times, the theme can really help determine your color palette. For example, an infographic about economics might feature green, black, and gray tones, calling to mind dollar bills.

Developing a color palette

Whether to satisfy a client’s guidelines or to solidify your own style, you may want to create a color palette (as shown here) for your work.

Using a color palette for an infographic.

Using a color palette for an infographic.

Remember the color wheel you worked with in childhood art class? All the rules you learned back then still apply. In short:

  • Colors opposite each other on the color wheel complement each other, creating visual appeal and excitement. See this figure.

    Blue and orange sit opposite each other on the color wheel.

    Blue and orange sit opposite each other on the color wheel.
  • Colors next to each other match each other, and can be used together to create harmonious design.

  • Red, yellow, and orange are warm colors; green, blue, and purple are cool colors. Choosing one group over another is a simple but effective way to create a certain mood.

You will naturally prefer some colors and come back to them repeatedly. Over time, using your favorite colors and others that complement them can become part of your signature style.

A neat way to devise your own personal color palette to revisit for each project is the Adobe Kuler tool. The Kuler tool is a color inspiration community where you can browse color schemes other users have uploaded. You can also create your own color themes. Then, if you save a color palette on the Kuler website, it will automatically import to your Kuler tool in Illustrator.

Several other color palette websites can help you choose the perfect palette for your graphic. Do a Google search for “color palette generator” or “color palette creator.” You will get a host of tools for developing functional color palettes.

Sampling colors

Here’s a cool Photoshop trick that can help you while you’re working with color. If you have a photo you plan to use in your graphic, Photoshop’s Eyedropper tool lets you sample colors from it. It’s easy and fun; you use an eyedropper-shaped tool to click a color from the photo. The eyedropper takes that color and makes it the foreground. This helps your design in two ways:

  • You can match the tones of your graphic with those of the photo.

  • You have a standard that you’ve already found appealing.

And, don’t be afraid to experiment. Particularly if you have some time before your deadline, why not try your infographic in a few different colors? This will show you how color choice can affect the entire look and mood of an infographic.