Understanding & using color
 ISSUE 20   March 14, 2001  |  updated 5/1/02   


Color doesn't need to be a mystery. A little theory gets you started... Lynda Weinman explains which colors are browser-safe... WebMonkey says it ain't so... You try your hand at creating color schemes... A series of books gives you guidance in choosing printed colors.

  Learn about colors and color combinations

Color Theory 101
When you want to do more than just guess at colors that "look good," learn a bit of color theory. This short tutorial by Jane Rock Kennedy explains color, how to talk about it, and how to use it. She offers four approaches to choosing a color scheme: Monochromatic, Complementary, Triadic and Analogous. Use any of them to give yourself a better start than simply picking colors at random.

What does a particular color "say" to you? We all have immediate emotional reactions to color, making color one of the most important choices a designer makes. Yet our reactions are highly individual. See just how individual at this site where people choose colors from the web-safe palette, then talk about them in words (often blunt, sometimes poetic).

Browser-safe colors
One of the fundamental "Truths" of web design is to always use the web-safe or browser-safe palette. These 216 colors will reproduce consistently, without dithering, in 8-bit color on all major browsers & platforms. This article is a brief explanation from the person widely credited with figuring it out, Lynda Weinman.

Death of the Websafe Palette?
Hardly anyone has an 8-bit monitor anymore (statistics indicate 5% or fewer), so we're home free, right? We can use any color and it will look fine on 16-bit and 24-bit monitors. Oops...not so. Read this article and despair. Exhaustive tests revealed that only 22 colors are consistent on all browsers/platforms! A variety of strategies for coping with this harsh reality are discussed, ranging from #2: Don't sweat it to #9: Go back to print design.

Color Logic for Web Site Design
Electronic books in PDF form, the
Color Voodoo series provides cookbook-style guidance to choosing colors in 50 Symbolic Color Schemes. Color Logic and Color Symbolism provide more in-depth explanations, and Color Logic for Web Site Design focuses on... well, you know. They are concise, well-illustrated and helpful, but on the pricey side for what you get: a downloadable PDF file that you view on your computer. $20-$30 per title, with savings on special packages.

Scheming in Color
Get right to the nuts & bolts of using color on a typical business web page. A simple template shown in different colors illustrates color choices. You'll recognize the
Amazon.com and C|Net colors immediately, demonstrating the effectiveness of deliberate, consistent use of color.

Create your own color schemesColor squarePalette Man
Choose four colors plus a text color and see it in a Josef Albers-like square pattern. When you've found the perfect combination, click a button to email yourself the hex/RGB values.

Interactively combine background, text and link colors to find a color scheme that works. Vary the font size to see how size affects readability. Then simply cut & paste the HTML body tag that defines the colors.

Color Sampler
Similar to Palette Man, but lets you choose and view up to 8 colors at a time.

Color for print
Designer's Guide to Color
James Stockton, 1984, Chronicle Books.

This first of a set of five books shows various printed (CMYK) color combinations. The combinations increase in complexity from book to book. Volume 3, for example, includes 3, 4, 5, and 6 color combinations in simple and complex patterns. A great help in choosing printed colors for any type of publication.

Triadic color scheme
Color Wheel












Amazon.com colors
from Scheming in Color

Amazon color scheme







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