Website color schemes for inspiration.

Color is one of the most essential tools in a designer's toolkit. Colors can evoke emotions, convey messages, and influence behavior — making color selection a pivotal aspect of web design. 

Since learning to use colors effectively is vital for anyone who creates websites, this article provides foundational knowledge and offers insights into the art and science of crafting visually appealing and user-friendly color combinations.

The psychology of color.

Nothing beats color when it comes to communication. In fact, color psychology is a field of study focused on the ways that different colors impact human actions, perceptions, and emotions. Here are a few of the most common color meanings:

  • Blue. People often associate blue with trust, reliability, and professionalism. It's a popular choice for finance, healthcare, and tech websites because it creates a sense of security and stability.
  • Red. People often associate red with passion, excitement, and urgency. Because this vibrant color grabs attention, it's often used for call-to-action buttons and other graphics that need to create a sense of urgency.
  • Green. People often associate green with nature, growth, and freshness. It symbolizes health, sustainability, and tranquility. Websites related to eco-friendly products, wellness, and organic foods often use green to convey a sense of harmony and well-being. 
  • Black. People often associate black with sophistication, elegance, and luxury. It can also convey a sense of power and authority. Luxury clothing brands often use black on their websites.
  • White. People often associate white with purity, simplicity, and cleanliness. It's commonly used for minimalist and clean website designs as it creates a sense of spaciousness and clarity. 

Here are a few ways that web designs can benefit from the strategic use of color:

  1. Color enhances brand recognition. The consistent use of colors can strengthen brand identity by creating associations with specific emotions and qualities.
  2. Color sets the mood for your website. For example, orange can create a lively and energetic atmosphere, while blue can foster a sense of calm.
  3. Color makes your design more accessible. Accessible color schemes promote inclusivity and equal access to information and services. For example, warm, neutral palettes tend to be the most accessible to those living with visual impairments.

Website color schemes 101.

Website color schemes are combinations of colors used to create a visually pleasing and coherent look. Effective color schemes enhance the overall user experience by sparking emotions, conveying messages, and improving readability

A color scheme consists of three types of colors — primary, secondary, and tertiary. 

  • Primary colors are the building blocks of all other colors. In traditional color theory, primary colors are red, blue, and yellow. These colors are used as a foundation for creating all other colors. 
  • Secondary colors are created by mixing two primary colors in equal parts. Secondary colors are vibrant and sit between their parent primary colors on the color wheel.
  • Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary color with an adjacent secondary color on the color wheel. Tertiary colors offer a wide range of hues and shades.
Color wheel with primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Image credit: Color Meanings.

How to choose a good color scheme for your website.

Follow the steps below to find a color scheme that aligns with your website's purpose and brand identity while also ensuring accessibility and a visually appealing user experience.

  1. Define your website's purpose and discover your target audience. Begin by clarifying the primary goals of your website and identifying your target audience. Understanding the purpose of the site and the preferences of your audience will help guide your color choices. For instance, a website for a children's toy brand will have a different color scheme than a financial consultancy site.
  2. Consider your brand's identity. If you design a website for an established brand, consider brand colors (e.g., the colors used in the logo). Consistency with the brand's identity is essential for recognition and trust. 
  3. Use online color tools, design apps, and resources. Use color pickers like the ones in Adobe Photoshop to find images’ specific hex codes. Explore existing color palettes and color wheel generators like the ones on websites like Adobe Color. And use accessibility checkers like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) color contrast checker to ensure that your chosen colors meet accessibility standards.

Website color schemes for accessibility.

If you plan to design websites for clients, learning how to create accessible color schemes should be among your goals. You want to ensure that people with visual impairments or color blindness can use and navigate your website effectively. Here are the most important rules for creating accessible color schemes:

  • Ensure adequate text contrast. A common guideline is a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for regular text and 3:1 for large text (typically 24PX or 18.66PX bold). You can use WebAIM's Color Contrast Checker to evaluate the contrast between text and background colors and ensure that they meet accessibility standards.
    • Dark gray text on a white background provides strong contrast and is a common accessible color combination.
    • Light gray text on a black background is another high-contrast combination suitable for accessibility.
    • Avoid using pure red or green text, as these are difficult for colorblind users to see. Use richer shades like crimson or forest green.
  • Never rely solely on color to convey information or instructions. Use additional cues such as text labels, icons, or patterns.
  • Maintain color consistency throughout your website. Consistent color coding helps users understand the interface.
  • Test with color blindness simulators. Tools such as Coblis or Color Oracle help you visualize how your design appears to users with color blindness.
  • Evaluate your design using accessibility checkers. Web accessibility evaluation tools like Axe and WAVE can scan your website for issues, including color contrast and reliance on color.

Building your color scheme: Practical tips and resources.

The first thing you need to do when creating a color scheme is decide which type you want to use. Here are three popular choices:

  • Monochromatic. This scheme uses variations in lightness and saturation of a single color (i.e., different shades of blue ranging from light to dark). Monochromatic schemes create a harmonious and elegant look. 
Monochromatic color scheme. Image credit: Nick Babich.
  • Analogous. Analogous color schemes consist of colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel. These colors often create a sense of harmony and flow. An example would be using yellow, yellow-green, and green.
Analogous color scheme. Image credit: Nick Babich. 
  • Complementary. Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. They create a high contrast and make each other stand out. Examples include red and green or blue and orange.
Complementary color scheme. Image credit: Nick Babich. 

Once you decide on your color scheme, it’s time to implement it in your website design. Here are some practical tips to help you along the way:

  • Start with a mood board. Create a mood board that includes color swatches, images, and design elements that inspire your chosen color scheme. This will serve as a visual reference throughout the design process.
  • Maintain hierarchy and consistency. Define a hierarchy of colors to guide users' attention. Use more vibrant or contrasting colors for call-to-action buttons and important elements while maintaining consistency in color usage.
  • Honor typography. Legibility is paramount. Ensure that text is highly readable by selecting text and background colors that meet accessibility contrast guidelines.
  • Test your design. Test your color scheme on various devices and screens to ensure that it looks consistent and appealing everywhere.
  • Collect and analyze user feedback. Gather feedback from users and colleagues and make refinements if necessary.

Here are some websites that will help you create effective color schemes:

  • Adobe Color. Explore various color palettes and create color schemes using the color wheel.
  • Coolors. Generate random color palettes or fine-tune your existing palette. 
  • Paletton. Easily create color schemes based on complementary, triadic, or analogous colors. Paletton provides a visual preview of your color scheme.
  • ColorZilla. This browser extension for Firefox and Chrome enables you to pick colors from any web page. It’s handy for identifying colors used on websites you admire.

Make your mark as an Adobe Certified Professional.

Now that you’ve gained insights into the significance of website color schemes, try applying your knowledge to create visually appealing and effective websites. Whether you’re trying to achieve your freelancing goals or you’re designing full-time for a company or other organization, understanding the power of color will help you create stronger work.

To demonstrate your design skills and credibility, consider becoming certified by Adobe. Adobe Certified Professional is the industry-recognized certification that demonstrates mastery of Adobe Creative Cloud software and must-have knowledge for digital media careers. Adobe offers a range of certifications in several disciplines, such as Multiplatform Animation Using Adobe Animate and Web Authoring Using Adobe Dreamweaver.

Frequently asked questions.

What are website color schemes?

Color schemes are combinations of colors that work well together and are often used in various design contexts, such as graphic design, web design, interior design, and more. 

Why are color schemes important for a website?

Color schemes can convey emotions and evoke specific reactions or feelings from customers and other web visitors.

Can I create my own website color scheme?

Yes, you can use a color wheel in a tool like Adobe Color or you can use random color scheme generators.

Why are accessible color schemes important?

An accessible color scheme makes it easier for people with disabilities to interact with your website. 

How do color schemes impact user experience?

Colors can evoke emotions, convey messages, and shape user behavior, making their selection a pivotal aspect of web design. 

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