Artists through the ages have pushed the limits and innovated new mediums to communicate to the world. Color has always played a huge roll of how art was received. In this chapter in the Illustrating with Illustrator series, we will discuss color and the different ways to apply color to our work.

Color Schemes:
Color schemes are two or more colors that are used to identify a message or reinforce a brand. A color scheme normally consists of at least a primary and secondary color. Not to be confused with a painter’s primary colors red, yellow and blue, a primary color is the dominant color in the color scheme and can be any color.

There are many methods to developing strong color schemes, from collecting paint chips at the local hardware store to using applications such as Adobe Kuler. Most of the time we are given a brand identity that contains a complete color scheme or becomes a starting point for developing a new one. Illustrator’s Color Panel is a great tool to create limitless combinations of hue and saturation providing the perfect mood and tone of our message.

Colors From Our Past:

more color ideas @

The Color Palette
This was not intended to be a lesson in color theory, so I’m skipping all the color wheel, complimentary color and duo-tone lectures. The point of this post, put simply, Illustrator has some great color tools and you should use them to build custom color palettes for your illustrations.

Start out creating a rectangle filled with each color in the color scheme, then add rectangles for all the other colors you will need for your illustration like the grid below. The process is kind of like making your own box of square crayons.

Grid of psychedelic color scheme from above.

Dark blue and Green added.

Making Shadows and Highlights:
Copy the main color row to a new row on top, we will call this the shadow row. Set the Color Panel mode to HSB, then select each color and slide the B slider to the left. Sliding the B slider to the right, which makes the color brighter, may work for some colors, but most likely a different approach is needed. Change the Color Panel mode to RGB, select each swatch you would like to make lighter, hold the Shift Key and drag one of the color channel sliders to the right until you get the desired shade. You should notice the other 2 sliders moving as well. The Shift key only helps maintain the general hue, when Shift dragging to the right, the color becomes less saturated, while Shift dragging to the left produces more saturated hues. To get the desired saturation, you can ether tweak the RGB channels or set the Color Panel mode back to HSB and adjust the saturation slider.

Shadow and Highlight Rows added.

Switching from RGB to HSB mode

Add as many shades of each color you need for the illustration.

Color Harmony:
Many artists create colors on the fly which seems so much easier, so why would I suggest taking so much extra time to create color palettes? Two reasons:

1. Say you work with a team of artists and the artwork needs to look unified. Share the color palette as Swatch Library or template Illustrator file and everyone can work from the same colors.

2. Color Harmony, think vocal harmonies, some voices just don’t work together, the same holds true for hues and saturations of color. Creating a color palette in the grid form shown above confirms that all your colors are in harmony.

Same general colors, but very offensive to the eye, definitely not in harmony.

The Wash:
There is a painters trick called a wash that is used to bring all their colors into harmony or to reenforce the color mood of a painting. The painter takes a color and thins it way down, then brushes this thin layer of color over the areas of the painting where the hue is needed. Using a bright yellow wash could set the mood of the morning sun. A blue wash could unify all the colors in an underwater scene while using red could give the impression of heat. For a painting, a painter uses this technique at the end of the process, in the computer illustration we can choose to incorporate this trick throughout the process.

To use the wash technique on the color palette:
1. Finish adding all the colors of the color palette and bringing them into harmony

2. Make a copy of all the squares, you may want to apply multiple color washes for different color moods, plus it’s always good to have a backup.

Full Psychedelic Color Palette with all hues and saturations in harmony.

3. Create a shape over the colored areas you want effected by the wash. For a color palette, a rectangle over all the colored squares will do it.

4. Fill the shape the color you want to use.

Blue overlay R: 0, G: 164, B: 228

5. With the rectangle selected, goto the Transparency Panel and change the blend mode from Normal, to Overlay, Hard Light, Hue or Color, which ever gives you the best results. Adjust the transparency setting to get the exact amount of wash effect on all the colors.

Transparency Panel Settings: Layer Mode: Color, Opacity: 35

6. Select all the colored squares including the transparent rectangle on top. Goto Object: Flatten Transparency… In the settings window that pops up, slide the Raster/Vector Balance slider all the way to 100, on the vector side (right). The rest of the settings should be fine, you can check the preview box to make sure.

7. All the squares will now have a solid color fill that matches the washed color. There will be some odd colored squares behind the visible colored squares, if you are a neat freak like me, you may want to get rid of them, otherwise they will no hurt anything.

Final Palette with new yellow column added.

Illustration sample using blue washed psychedelic color palette.

To use the wash technique during or at the end of the illustration process:
Apply steps 3 – 5 above to any elements of the illustration where a more unified color is desired.

Tip: Colors in the Color panel can be saved as Swatch Libraries.

Tip: Double-Click swatches to give them a name and modify swatch type.

Tip: Spot Color swatches used in an illustration are globally adjusted when the color swatch color values are adjusted in the Color Panel.

Coming soon, Illustrating In Illustrator Part 5 of 5: Textures and Effects.

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