How to Craft Distinct Color Palettes for Standout Marketing Materials

Alright, PicMonkey fam. Thus far, we've acknowledged the importance of color palettes in a few different ways. We've highlighted brand colors, secondary brand colors, and how to make color palettes from images.

We've also discussed color theory, color meanings, and website color schemes. So, at this point, you might be asking, What's left to learn?! Patience, Grasshopper. We've got a few more tricks of the trade comin' down the pipe.

All of our previous content will come in handy today, but if you haven't peeped those yet, don't worry! We'll get ya up to speed. With the help of this guide and PicMonkey’s color palette generator, we're here to help you craft excellent color palettes for event flyers, posters, business cards, logos, and oh, so much more.

Let's dive in.

What is a color palette?

Dig this color palette template? Make it yours in PicMonkey!

Color palettes are ranges of colors used to achieve visual brand identity. In other words, color palettes are color combos that visually represent a brand's message and mission.

Thanks to Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of the color wheel, we can now move about our vibrant lives with a general understanding of how colors work. Do the words primary, secondary, and tertiary ring a bell from elementary school? Great!

We're here to expound on those a bit today. Thanks to Sir Newton, color psychology is a welcome and integral part of academia, graphic design, web development, marketing, and so much more.

For a quick lil refresher, the color wheel is a circular graphic that shows individual colors and their relationships to each other. It looks like this:

Newton’s color wheel is the easily recognized wheel of primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. By combining these primary colors, we get different secondary colors like orange, purple, and green. Tertiary colors arise from combining a primary color with a secondary color.

Ringing any bells yet? Many aspects factor into creating a color palette, such as:

  • Hue

  • Saturation

  • Tone

  • Shade

The four main types of color palettes are:

  • Analogous

  • Complementary

  • Monochromatic

  • Triadic

Let's break these down a bit more.

1. Analogous

Image via

Analogous colors sit side by side on the color wheel. The colors naturally match and create a soothing feel. Analogous color schemes may sometimes be monotonous; thus, you can break them up with bright and bold whites.     

2. Complementary

Image via

Complementary colors sit on the opposite spectrums of the color wheel. However, they combine to give a vibrant feel, but overusing them may create discordant colors.

Pro Tip: For budding designers, consider split complementary schemes. Using the color wheel, choose a base color, select the complementary color, and choose the two analogous colors next to it. It's that simple.

3. Monochromatic

Image via Studio S.

Monochromatic colors reflect multiple shades, tints, or tones of a particular hue.

4. Triadic

Image via

Triadic colors sit equidistant from each other on the wheel. Using the color wheel, you will draw triangles with equal spacing to obtain the triadic color combinations. These colors are best for directing attention toward a particular visual.

An easy way to establish your color palette preferences? Keep these charts on hand so you have visual to accommodate your visuals.

You don't have to be a design pro / graphic designer / color wizard to craft a color palette that works for you and your brand.

Why use color palettes at all?

Dig this color palette template? Make it yours in PicMonkey!

While text-based content is imperative, colors are the other half of the equation. They grab the viewers' attention at their first cursory glance. Color palettes also solidify brand identity as well as visual hierarchy, as they instruct audiences on how to interact with your content.

The Institute for Color Research shows that netizens make a judgment on a product based on color 62-90% of the time.

Color palettes help creators make emotive designs to hook their audience on a subconscious and subliminal level. They cater to one's sensory processing system, which impacts memory and impressions—especially in marketing.

Color psychology usually explains the hues of colors and the associated feelings. Check out this color meanings cheat sheet to get those creative juices movin' and groovin':

  • Orange is associated with creativity, relationships, and success

  • Red is associated with anger, passion, and love

  • Yellow evokes joy, happiness, and humor

  • Pink evokes feelings of romance, love, and femininity

  • Blue represents calm, stability, and wisdom

  • Green symbolizes money, wealth, nature, and life

  • Black represents death, elegance, and sophistication

Note that every color can have both positive and shadow meanings, calling for extra intentionality when selecting your palettes.

Ask yourself:

  • Who is my target audience?

  • What are your brand values?

  • Which colors best represent them?

  • How can you build cohesion in your marketing materials?

  • What do you wish for your audience to feel when viewing your brand color palette

  • How can I format these colors for a logo, email signature, or website?

By using complementary and analogous colors, you can create material in line with your own brand’s voice and design, which is ultimately what you want to achieve.

4 steps to discover the right color palette

Dig this color palette template? Make it yours in PicMonkey!

To find the right color palette for your brand, you’ll first want to reflect on your brand identity. Think about the types of messages and feelings that you wish to convey with your work. From there, you can then begin selecting the primary and secondary colors that best fit your aesthetic. 

Not sure where to start? We've got a four different ways to tackle your design concept head-on.

1. Know your audience

Research your target audience! Who do you serve? What do you offer?

Knowing your demographic will inform your brand colors. Consider:

  • Youthful versus sophisticated color schemes

  • Bright versus muted color schemes

  • The benefit of pastel color pairing

  • Bright and bold versus classy and timeless

There's no reason why you can't achieve multiple of these outcomes with one color palette, but we're here to consider all angles to help you feel empowered in your final decisions. For example, no one says you can't be bright and bold and classy and timeless.

It just depends on what makes the most sense for your brand. Having a clear niche can focus your creative direction, as opposed to wanting to be everything to everyone at all times. Ya dig?

You can always switch up your brand colors down the line, but this can also cause some fuss with customer loyalty and brand recognition. Confusion never bodes well for brand development, so it's best to get a head start knowing what you know now.

Consider which colors won't tire, as that'll also help you anticipate your audience's response. You want folks to look at your color scheme and go, Boom. That's The Calzone Company. Or, Yep. That's the Pizza Guys Inc, etc. (Not sure why food's on the brain...)

Similar to McDonalds' yellow, red, and black or Starbucks' shades of green, white, and black, we want you to swing big and establish yourself for years, decades, and lifetimes to come.

By knowing what styles and aesthetics are currently popular amongst your audience, you can make well-informed decisions.

2. Know your color psychology

What emotional responses do you wish to evoke on your audiences? Are you:

  • Tugging on heart strings with sentimental vibes?

  • Looking to inspire or motivate?

  • Infusing calm, cool, and collected energy into your products?

It's always a great idea to put yourself into the consumer's shoes. If you were them, what would you like to see from a brand? What colors would best convey what you seek as a consumer?

As mentioned, brands can have both primary and secondary color palettes. If you have some colors you love but they don’t fit within palette number one, use them secondarily. Once you establish those, consider how you’d place them on a canvas. Which colors dominate? Which colors serve as accents? You don’t have to have the answers now, but just keep them in mind.

For more resources on all things primary and secondary color palettes, be sure to check out:

3. Stick to general color palette standards

There is no hard and fast rule determining a right or wrong color palette. So that's good. But there are general rules for choosing color palettes that can inform your design choices.

Stick to the following standards while exploring your artistic side:

  • Use a dominant color, four accent colors, and one standard color

  • Use contrasting colors as your accent choices

  • Limit the use of edgy designs to appeal to as large of an audience as possible

It may help to map out the application for your color palettes, too. What marketing materials will most represent your brand? Every digital platform may attract a different audience, so we've compiled a short 'n sweet roundup of where to go for each:

Phew! A couple quick notes here. The first is that you don't have to tackle all of these at once. Digital marketing is an absolute beast, so just know you'll grow as you go. Once you establish your color palettes and where to use them, you'll be able to whip up your designs in no time.

Secondly, we hiiiighly recommend taking advantage of our Smart Resize tool, available to Pros, as it'll let you transform one design into the specs needed for all of these platforms at once.

Say you need an Instagram post, website banner, and Facebook event photo cover at once. Comin' right up! To get there inside PicMonkey, simply click Smart Resize, select your platform needs, click Copy & resize and done!

Smart Resize is the one-click wonder for adapting your design to match any digital platform.

You'll have all of those assets instantly saved in our lovely cloud storage, Hub, for you to retrieve any time—all without having to exit the current design you're on. Neat-o!

4. Use a color palette chooser

Don’t stress yourself out trying to master the millions of hex codes permutations. PicMonkey’s color palette generator helps you simplify the process of designing with specific colors in mind. 

Pro Tip: If you don't know where to start, consider drawing inspo from Mother Nature herself. If not nature, music genres, book genres, and timeless passions are always a good way to go.

How to make a color palette in as easy as 1, 2, 3

Dig this color palette template? Make it yours in PicMonkey!

Ready to rock it out? Whether you're looking to tweak your current palette or need to start from scratch, we've got the goods (a.k.a. tips, tricks, and tools) for color palette mastery.

1. Open up a template or blank canvas

Pick one of the templates from our ginormous library or start from scratch with a blank canvas instead. Whichever way suits you best, simply click File > Create new > Templates or Blank Canvas.

If you go for the templates option, you'll type "Color palette" into the search bar to select one of our suggested layouts.

Type "Color palette" into the template search bar to select your fave.

Once you've got that template, you're free to swap or edit graphics, colors, text, images, and background textures or effects. Simply click on the respective elements to customize accordingly.

If you go for the blank canvas, you'll have a nice pop-up that looks like this:

Find your preferred canvas layout, then click to open!

From here, you can scroll or search for the type of canvas you need, then simply click to open. If you happen to know your needed specs off-hand, simply type them into the Create custom toolbar, then hit Make it!

Sweet! You're in. Once you're dropped into the tool, you can begin layering your color palette strategically with each of PicMonkey's main tabs:

We've also got text effects, text tools, text layouts, and nuanced design themes to use at your discretion. Be sure to spend some time experimenting before you solidify your designs.

If, while you're designing, you wish to identify a hex code or match one element with the same color as another element, we've got just the thing: PicMonkey's Eyedropper Tool!

To use it, highlight the element you wish to identify or change, then click Change color. Select the Eyedropper Tool—next to the hex code box—then drag it to a section you want to make that color.

Click to set and done! Repeat to customize various elements with cohesive colors. In that same Change color / Background color tab (these are interchangeable depending on your use for the color tab), we've also got infinite Solid and Gradient color options to choose from.

Use the Eyedropper Tool to customize one design aspect with the color of another or to identify a color's hex code.

Make your own blends, or choose from our pre-sets for your convenience. Sweeeet.

2. Add imagery

Our templates are top-notch! And you can customize them further to craft your signature look.

Take Nike, for example, the brand that's notoriously known for that black check mark. What images work best for your brand?

Whether you wish to upload your own or use one of our epically-captured stock photos, you'll find both available to you in the Photos & video tab. Click to upload your file or type keywords into the search bar for your iconic look.

Enhance or swap images for your branded look.

Note: PicMonkey's images are already licensed and ready to use, so no stress about copyright issues, here. If you do use other images down the line, you'll need to license them to avoid infringement or legal battles.

3. Save, download, stamp it, and share

Keeping the hex codes uniform with slight variations is essential for brand consistency. Since PicMonkey autosaves your designs, you can come back later, pick the same color palette and use it for designing your other marketing materials like business cards and flyers.

To go a step further, you can also add a watermark to your design to assert ownership. Nothing screams PROFESSIONAL more than a watermark.

Add a watermark for extra finesse and brand cred.

To add one, click Download, select your preferred file format, then click Add a watermark. Customize the image and placement for it, then hit Download again. Or, click the Share button to upload straight to social media, email, or Etsy.

For more on dabbling with watermarks, be sure to check out:

PicMonkey's here to help and guide

Dig this color palette template? Make it yours in PicMonkey!

Whether beginner, intermediate, or pro, we're confident success is just around the (river) bend.

PicMonkey's got a minimal learning curve, which aids your efforts in curating colorful designs in record time. With all the aforementioned how-tos on mastering marketing material with distinct color palettes, we're confident you won't go wrong.

Landing the right color palette is a foundational step in any business. If it helps you to toy around in the tool for a bit, no judgement from us. In fact, we encourage it.

Establish your brand identity, capture it in color, apply it everywhere. You got this.

Learn color palette sorcery with a PicMonkey subscription!
Paige Frisone

Paige is a Colorado-based Certified LifeLine® Practitioner, writing coach, and psychosomatic poet. She geeks out about the neuroscience of emotions and the impact of the subconscious mind on waking life. In her free time, she grooves to dancey beats outdoors while befriending local mountains.