Tag Archives: Color

What is practical graphic design sense?

There are a number of ways that a person sets out to become a graphic designer.  Many take the traditional go-to-college/schooling route.  Others learn while doing. Some have that built-in talent and native creative ability – and can just “do-it.”  I have always felt that a good graphic designer has a combination of the above, and also exudes a sense of what is practical and necessary on a per-job basis.

But I’ve frequently found in my experience that many design novices either have never been taught the structure of design, have never been in a situation to experience or learn practical structure, or choose to ignore it.  Without a good underlying practical structure – even the best creative design jobs are asking for failure.

Every design project is different.  Flourishes of color and artistic renderings may be fun, but often the latest design job is a boring old black and white form.  In actuality, the same concepts and structures are required to produce both scenarios successfully.

There are a series of questions the graphic designer must ask themselves when starting a project.  These are the basics and basis of practical graphic design.

— What is the finished size? For example, is it 8.5 x 11, 2 x 3.5, or 24 x 36?  Or is the finished size in pixels instead of inches?

— Is the finished piece flat or folded?  What type of fold will be used?  Are there multiple folds?  Does the fold include a score or perforation?

— How will the finished piece be produced?  Will it be process printed, copied, screen printed, embroidered, stamp printed, used on a website, or visible in a video production?

— What are the margins needed on the page – or does the image bleed off the edge?

— Will there be text present in the design?  If yes, what typefaces will be used?

— Will there be columns needed to facilitate the design?  What about headers or footers on the page?  Is a gutter needed?

— What are the primary and secondary colors used in the design?  Are the colors RGB, Pantone, Spot Colors, CMYK, etc.?

— What outside elements are used in the design?  Are there graphics, clip art, photos, videos, audio, etc. that need to be imported?

— Does the design involve pre-written copy? (Body Copy, Headlines/Titles, Sub-Heads, Captions, etc.)  Has the copy been proof-read and error-checked?  Is proper attribution present?

— Is there a specific focal point to the project?  This could be a graphical or photo element, a spotlighted quotation, a headline/title, etc.)

— How does the printer/programmer/etc. want the finished piece presented to them?  For example, do they want an X-1a PDF file of a “four-up flip with a reverse with a .125 bleed and a creeping gutter of 1% with color bars included” or the raw AI, PSD or INDD files?  This question should be answered prior to beginning the project as it could save a lot of headaches and do-overs down the road.

Once the structure of your project is formulated, and all the elements are in hand, then unleash the creative juices! The key to being a successful graphic designer is to possess practical design sense first, then add the creative elements, taking the project to new and effective heights.


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Choosing the right color for your project


Color Wheel


How difficult is it to select “just the right color” when planning your project?  Color, and the combination of colors, all convey different meanings and messages when used in design. The process to select the perfect color for your project can be daunting. If the wrong color is selected, the project can fail, or even worse, be seen as inappropriate or an insult.

Here’s a few tips to follow when selecting colors.

1.)  Know your audience.  Who is viewing the final product?  Are they male or female? What is the age group of the audience – Young children, teens, young adults, adults, baby-boomers or seniors?  What is the area of designation – purely informational, business, medical, artistic, technical, entertainment, or just for fun?  Certain colors apply to certain demographics.  For example, teens are influenced by vibrant colors, while corporate tones of dark blues and browns are reserved for more subtle applications.

2.)  Inspiration.  Are there elements that inspire the project?  What colors encompass these elements? If the project is inspired by nature, then greens, browns and blues are appropriate.  If the project is inspired by a photograph or a piece of art, use the key colors in the image as the color base in the project.  When the project is inspired by a particular country or culture, use the colors appropriate, such as red, white and green for Italian inspirations, or blues and tans for English inspirations.

3.)  Logos.  Does the project include a pre-existing logo?  This will often dictate the colors of the project.  The company logo should be recognizable and not masked or hidden due to other objects on the page.  Colors should complement the logo, not fight with it.

4.)  Your message – Too few vs. too many colors.  There are instances when one or two colors are too few and do not convey the message of the project. But there are also times when a project that has 10 colors involved looks like chaos and a mess on the page.  Color should reflect the message the project is trying to convey.  For example, if the project is serious in tone, a rainbow color palette of seven colors would not be appropriate.  If the project is for a funeral home, do you want bright pinks, hot orange and neon greens?  If the message is fun and festive, would black or brown be appropriate?  Know the message your project is trying to convey, and choose colors appropriate to that message.

5.)  Perception — Know the meanings of each color.  Each color has specific symbols and meanings that represent traditional, cultural, religious and personal reactive concepts.  It is important to keep this in mind when choosing your color palette. Here’s a few examples —

Black– Often considered the color of mourning or rebellion, yet can convey elegance, sophistication and even a touch of mystery. Black can make other colors appear brighter, or can look visually slimming.

White — Purity, cleanliness, innocence, softness, brightness and brilliance are all perceptions of White. White symbolizes weddings, and is prominent in medical fields. Winter and angels are depicted with white. White is considered a neutral color, and can make other colors stand out when used in combination.

Red — Vibrance, hot, passion, love, violence, war, blood, anger are all aspects of the color Red.  Red is a powerful color, and considered important (ie: Red Carpet at awards shows). Red also notes emergencies, and danger looming and is used to get your attention in these instances – this is why it is the color used for firetrucks and stop signs. In Eastern cultures, Red denotes happiness, prosperity and purity, and even is noted for good luck.

Purple — Royal, warm yet cool, noble, spiritual, satisfaction, creativity, intrigue.  Purple is derived from mixing the hotness of reds and the coolness of blues, and is noted for prominence at both ends of the emotional spectrum.  It is the color of mourning in Thailand, yet is associated with royalty in many countries.

Green —  Nature, life, renewal, environment, abundance, envy, jealousy.  All are associated with the color green.  Green can be a restful color as it has tones of blues, or it can be strong and bold, such as the shade used as the national color of Ireland.  It’s reminiscent of all seasons – based on its shade. Spring – bright green, Summer – warm green, Fall – deep forest green, Winter – holiday greens (pine, evergreen shades).  With its intricate shadings, Green can denote balance, harmony freshness and stability.

Blue — Blue is the most popular color – and is a favorite of both men and women.  Shades of blue denote different connotations.  Blue can be calming, strong, old-fashioned, bold and light, easy, fresh and natural. It is often considered the color of peace, and associated with unity, stability and confidence. It is used in many corporate logos, is a prominent color in both the medical and legal fields, and associated with the military.

Yellow — Warmth, nature, sunshine, fruitiness, happiness and cheer yet cowardice and deceit, are all perceptions of Yellow.  Yellow is often used on hazard signs and in other instances that need to “stand out” as it is highly visible and vibrant.  It is a sign of hope when used to welcome soldiers home. Yellow is the color of mourning in Egypt, yet represents courage and peace in Japan.

When choosing the colors for your project, be sure to consult a color wheel first, to determine color relationships.  See what colors are adjacent to each other (harmonizing) and which colors are across from each other (complementing). Colors that clash or are considered contrasting are colors separated by harmonizing or complementing colors on the wheel.  The further apart, the higher the contrast.

There have been books written in extreme detail about colors, their perceptions and meanings.  Hopefully this brief overview helps in how you choose your colors when beginning each project.

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What is it about the color purple?

Mixed Media

Art by Terri Fassio

What is it about the color purple that catches attention and makes the color so widely popular today?  Is it the warming or the cooling properties – or a little of both?  Let’s take a look at how the color we know as purple came to be.

Technically, the color doesn’t exist. Purple is found on the color chart between the reds (warm) and the blues (cool), and occurs in varying shades and hues based on the mixing proportions of the primary colors.  Humans only perceive purple when blue light and red light hit their retinas simultaneously.

Historically, the color purple has been associated with royalty, nobility, richness, power and strength, and the mystical unknown.  This stems back to the classical days when Tyrian Purple (purple dye dating back to 1600 B.C.) was produced from species of shellfish, and was so rare that only those of wealth could afford to purchase it.  Tyrian Purple was also called Imperial Purple.

Through the years, the purple hues often leaned towards more of a blue-ish tinge, thus morphing into the royal blue color often worn in Medieval Europe.  But classic artists had kept true to the original color, and then sampled with the pigments, creating different shades, such as Violet, Plum, Lavender, and Indigo, and more recently, Electric Purple.

It wasn’t until the 1850’s that a purple dye was synthesized and cheaply produced. William Henry Perkins was developing quinine and accidentally produced the first chemical purple pigment.  Perkin’s dye eventually came to be called “mauve.” Other synthetic dyes quickly followed.  In the 1920’s, artificial pigments were very popular and used in everything from fashion to furniture.

In nature, purple has been prevalent in flowers, such as orchids, lavender, lilac, and violets. These flowers, like the color, have both warm and cool properties, and have been known to cultivate transformation through sophistication.

Today, the entire realm of hues is loosely referred to as Purple, although many of the shades referenced are just derivatives of the original color.  It can boost imagination yet spur moodiness. Deep or bright purples suggest richness and strength, while lighter purples are more romantic, simple and delicate.

Most children love the color purple, and the magical, mystical properties of it.  When adults, those favoring the color find their creative energies emerge into a connection with a higher self, often a spirituality, and an increase in their wisdom, imagination and inspiration.  They are visionaries, artists, humanitarians, and inspirational, strong leaders.

Purple is a self-respecting color full of motivation, determination, perseverance, and respect for those creating with it, wearing it, living in it, or just liking it’s striking beauty.

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