There’s no doubt that typography, photos, and icons all play a crucial role in a brand’s visual identity. But when you think of some of the world’s most famous companies, chances are it’s their color scheme that comes to mind first—whether it’s the red and yellow arches of McDonald's or the serene green of Spotify. This is because they know their colors, and they stick to them year after year—no matter how much their product offering changes.
By creating an effective color scheme for your own business or personal brand, you can achieve a similarily memorable visual identity. However, it’s not as simple as picking out a couple of pretty colors any time you design something. To keep your brand aesthetic strong and consistent, it’s important to have a go-to color palette in your toolkit.
From the most commonly asked questions to color tips and inspiration, read on for our ultimate guide to choosing a color palette for your brand.
What is a color palette?
A color palette is the combination of shades you use in your visual branding. While the concept likely dates back to primeval mural paintings, it’s now commonly used in digital design as a combination of HEX codes. This is a way of specifying to the computer which colors you want to display, using hexadecimal values.
While early iterations of computers only included eight-color digital palettes, designers can now select an endless array of shades and hues from the color wheel. As we’ll learn in the following sections, the choices you make here help solidify the foundation of a strong brand aesthetic.
Here, graphic designer Kyle Anthony Miller has put together an eye-catching color palette, combining soft pastel hues with darker navy. This color scheme could be used across all of a brand’s visual collateral, to create a relaxing and grounding feel.
You can use the Modern Interior Color Palettes Pinterest Graphic template in Canva to create a simple color palette for your own brand. Simply swap out the colors with your own shades and codes and insert an image for a visual example of your palette in action.
How many colors should be in a color palette?
Much like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?” there’s no definitive answer to this. It all depends on your brand’s personality, audience, and needs.
However, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind when choosing how many colors to use in your palette. Use too few and your designs can wind up looking bland, homogenous and forgettable. Use too many and it can appear cluttered and overwhelming.
For this reason, many designers start with three shades and work there way up from there. If this combination is appealing and engaging enough to hold its own, there’s no need to add more colors. However, looking through portfolio examples on the internet, you’ll find that most brand designers land on four to five.
This is generally enough to make their palette versatile enough to use across a range of visual assets (such as their website, logo and social media posts) without being too chaotic.
It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t need to use every color from your palette in every design—you can pick and choose as you see fit. Nor do you need to pick a range of completely different colors. In this brand palette for cloud software Serio Verify, the designer has used three different variations of teal to use alongside the white and black. This has allowed them to layer the different teal hues on top of each other in this website layout, creating a striking aesthetic.
Want to achieve a similar look? Canva’s Teal Black Photo Modern Monthly Report template makes an excellent starting point for an on-brand report or other documents, which can be easily customized with your own information.
On the other hand, this palette for a fireworks company uses three completely different primary colors. However, he has paired them with darker, more muted blacks and greys to create contrast in a way that isn’t too overbearing.
Why use a color palette?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a successful brand in history that didn’t have a predetermined color scheme before they started creating. There are several reasons why having a strong color scheme is so important for businesses and brands. These include:
They form the visual foundation of your brand
Designing visual assets without a color palette would be like trying to build a house from scratch with no building plan—an absolute mess. That’s not to say that your color palette can’t change as your brand evolves, but it’s essential to have that strong foundation in place from the very beginning. You also need to make sure these work harmoniously with your other visual elements (such as your fonts, photos, and other graphics or icons) from the get-go.
They help to maintain consistency
If your logo is red and black, but your business card is pastel pink and blue, this is going to confuse your customers and dilute your brand credibility. The same goes for smaller differences, like using maroon when you normally use bright red. Whether or not it's conscious awareness, even these minor inconsistencies can negatively impact brand perception. On the other hand, a consistent color palette makes your brand more easily recognizable and memorable.
It makes life easier for you
It would be frustrating and time-consuming if every time you created a visual asset, you had to double-check exactly what HEX codes you’ve used previously Or worse yet if you had to make new color choices every single time! By having your color palette easily accessible to anyone making design choices in your business, you can save yourself considerable time and effort.
It’s more aesthetically pleasing
A well-considered color scheme is always going to make your visual branding more appealing. Of course, this is going to mean different things for different brands.
It could be a vibrant and contrasting color theme, like this three-color palette for brand Slickfish.
Check out Canva’s Pink and Purple Kooky Munchers Product Presentation template to achieve a similarly bright and bold color scheme.
Or, it could mean an earthy and pared-back color scheme with different versions of the similar shades, like this brand identify for BDB group.
Take a visual cue from this rustic and simple branding with Canva’s Black and Brown Restaurant Business Card template.
How to create a color palette from scratch
Don’t already have an existing color palette for your brand? The good news is, the best place to start is with a blank canvas!
Firstly, you’ll want to think about who your audience is and what your brand values are. For example, are you a feminine brand that creates self-care products for millennial women? Or are you a brand for children that encourages fun and creativity? Getting crystal clear on your brand positioning is essential for creating a color palette that speaks directly to your audience.
Next, it’s time to look into color associations. It’s been scientifically proven that different colors evoke different emotional responses and you can use this to your advantage in your design. For example, red tends to exemplify passion and love, while blue is more peaceful and relaxing and purple signifies wealth and opulence. Check out our full guide to color symbolism and pick out three to four colors that fit the message you’re trying to get across.
Once you’ve selected some colors as a starting point, you’ll need to figure out which ones actually work well together. Generally, there are three different types of color combinations that are aesthetically pleasing.
Analogous color palettes
This is when you use shades that are close to each other on the color wheel. Being close to what appears in nature, this tends to be quite harmonious and pleasing to the eye—as you can see below in this example from Behance.
Complementary color palettes
This is when you use colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, creating high contrast in your designs. As you can see, this can be quite punchy and impactful when done well.
Triadic color palettes
This is when you use a color scheme that pulls evenly from around the color wheel. This creates a vibrant look that still feels quite balanced.
To help take the guesswork out, you may choose to use a color palette generator. These allow you to input one hero color and gives you endless combinations of shades that will complement it. Try Canva’s own color palette generator, which allows you to input a photo as a reference and gives you the codes for those colors. You can also play around with the different color palettes mentioned here using Canva's color wheel.
How to incorporate your color palette into a brand kit
Once you have decided on your color palette, it’s a good idea to include it in your brand kit. This is a document that outlines the key elements that make up your brand identity—to be referenced by yourself or anyone else who creates visual content for your company. As well as your color palette, this will include your typography (including font families, weighting and sizes) logos, icons and image styles. It may also include written marketing guidelines, such as brand taglines and a tone of voice guide.
You may choose to display your color palette with a grid layout, like designer Filip Justic. He laid his primary colors out on the top row and accompanying neutral tones in the second row, including the names and HEX codes for easy reference.
The brand kit feature on Canva Pro makes it easy for you to create your own brand identity suite. This includes your color palette, where you can store your go-to colors and showcase how they all work together. This ensures you always have your brand guidelines at your fingertips.
Where can you use a color palette?
Your color palette isn’t something you use once and never again. Of course, in the beginning, you will use it to guide those initial brand essentials, like your logo, website, and email newsletter templates. But as your brand grows and expands, it will continually inform your visual design choices.
For example, your social media content. Whether it’s an Instagram graphic, the banner on a YouTube channel or a Pinterest pin, your color palette will help tie all those visual assets together. You may tweak the gradient or shade of this to fit the platform or messaging, but the overall color scheme will remain consistent.
If you have a product-based business, you will also use your color palette to guide your packaging and labels. In this brand identity for a natural beauty company, you can see how designer Alex Spenser has used his incorporated various combinations of the color scheme into the packaging.
Want to take inspiration from this soft pastel color scheme? Check out the Pastel Business Card template in Canva.
In this brand suite for Iterable, you can see some more unconventional applications of the color palette. Here, the playful orange and blue color scheme have been used in everything from business cards and an annual report to branded paperclips and sticky tape! This goes to show that everything you put your business name on, you should put your color scheme on, too.
A fan of this color combination? You can get the look in your own designs with Canva’s Blue Orange Photo Project General Proposal template.
Why having a color palette in design is important
There’s nothing accidental about memorable and effective branding. In order to create a visual presence that truly stands out, designers must make intentional choices—and your color scheme is no exception. By taking inspiration from the color scheme examples and tips in this article, you can create your own powerful color palette from scratch. With this go-to resource in your toolkit, you can add a little pop of your own brand personality to every space of the internet (and beyond!) you occupy.
Ready to take your designs to the next level? Here are some handy Canva tools to help you on your color journey
Want to know what colors look good together? Canva's Color Wheel makes color combinations easy.
Want a color scheme that perfectly matches your favorite images? With Canva’s color palette generator, you can create color combinations in seconds. Simply upload a photo, and we’ll use the hues in the photo to create your palette.
Looking for colors that are guaranteed to look good together? We've generated thousands of designer-approved palettes for you to use in your next design.
And if you're trying to come up with the best colors for your brand, check out Color meaning and symbolism: How to use the power of color in your branding.