There it is – sitting there, staring at you from your computer screen and reminding you of how beautiful it is. Nestled between your logo and font selections on your guidelines is your brand translated into blocks of color. Your color palette. But how do you use it effectively?

When you work with a designer to build your brand, you’ll generally be supplied with a color palette featuring at least three colors and sometimes up to six depending on your brand’s needs. If you didn’t work with a designer, maybe you put your own color palette together using Adobe Color or a similar color scheme generator. Either way, just having the color palette isn’t enough to effectively weave your branding into all of your print and digital materials over time. First, you need to know how to actually use it.

We’ll use The Sunshine Creative’s color palette as our baseline to understand how color palettes work and how to use them throughout the rest of this article.

Decoding Your Color Palette

In most cases, you’ll have anywhere from three to six colors within your color palette. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those colors hold the same weight of importance throughout your brand. Enter, primary, secondary, and, sometimes, tertiary colors.

If you worked with a brand designer, you most likely have these color levels laid out for you. They might be labeled as primary, secondary, and tertiary, or they might be arranged visually to show you which colors hold the most significance in your brand (like The Sunshine Creative’s palette above). When it comes to starting to use these colors on your own, keep these levels in mind to develop a strong brand.

If you created the palette on your own with a generator, it’s time to start denoting these levels on your own.

Primary Colors

Looking at our color palette here, we have three primary colors. Just as the name suggests, these are the colors we’ll see used the most throughout our brand materials.

Generally, you’ll have one dark color, one light color, and one key accent color. Picture your dark color as your brand’s own version of black and your light color as your brand’s own version of white.

Keep in mind here though that just because it’s a version of black or white, that doesn’t mean it has to be void of all color. Using navy blue as a foreground color on a cream background is a prime example of this.

Here’s the breakdown of primary colors for The Sunshine Creative:

  • Black Carbon (Dark Color)
  • Lace (Light Color)
  • Antique Blush (Accent Color)

Secondary Colors

Sometimes you need more visual, color-based pops of emphasis than just the usage of that single accent from your brand’s primary colors. This is where secondary colors come in handy.

Secondary colors complement the primary colors when sprinkled throughout your materials as accents. It’s important to note the difference between these colors as accents and the accent from your primary color. The primary color accent should always hold more weight visually than the secondary color accents.

Here’s the breakdown of secondary colors for The Sunshine Creative:

  • Rose
  • Cascade
  • Sundance

tertiary Colors

These colors aren’t always necessary in a brand but can still be quite useful for brands that have them. In my experience, tertiary colors come in handy most for larger companies that are illustrating data frequently. One particular brand I worked with had several tertiary colors that meshed well with the primary and secondary colors but were only used in charts on infographics to denote data sets.

In the case of The Sunshine Creative’s brand, tertiary colors don’t explicitly exist. However, based on the more prevalent usage of Rose versus Sundance and Cascade, Rose could technically be considered the only secondary color while Sundance and Cascade could be considered tertiary colors. For simplicity’s sake, I group the three as secondary colors.

Utilizing Your Color Palette Effectively

Now that you have a better understanding of the different levels of your brand’s color palette, it’s time to figure out how to actually make use of the colors in your materials.

Sure, you could start splashing them around wherever they feel “right,” but I’m all for designing with intention. I encourage you to design with intention too! Trust me, your brand’s strength and recognition will skyrocket if you’re strategic with these colors.

Color palette Strategy Cheat sheet

Here’s a little strategy cheat sheet of what elements work best with the three color levels:

Primary Colors

  • Headers
  • Paragraph copy
  • Backgrounds for large sections

Secondary Colors

  • Buttons
  • Callouts
  • Illustrations/Photography
  • Icons
  • Backgrounds for smaller sections

Tertiary Colors

  • Data visualizations
  • Illustrations/Photography

Using the Cheat Sheet

Let’s put this strategy to work and see the difference in properly using a color palette. I’ve put together three social media graphics for The Sunshine Creative all using varying levels of the palette.

In the first graphic, I’ve only used the primary colors. While this is absolutely fine, you might find yourself getting stuck creatively. Only having three colors to choose from in this case can be limiting in situations where your design could benefit from more pops of color.

In this graphic, I’ve built off of what we had for the primary color graphic, but I’ve replaced some of the smaller areas of the Antique Blush accent color with Rose. Specifically, I replaced the sunshine icon backgrounds to include Rose. This adds some variance to the graphic and makes it more visually interesting.

Lastly, I’ve incorporated all of the secondary colors into the sunshine icon backgrounds instead of just Rose. Using Cascade and Sundance makes this feel more specific to The Sunshine Creative’s brand and less generic. The strategic use of more colors to denote emphasis also increases the likelihood that someone scrolling through their social feed stops to look at your graphic compared to the more monochromatic versions above.

Do you have a color scheme that’s falling flat and isn’t working for your brand anymore? Reach out to become a client, and let’s build a brand that attracts your ideal customers and resonates with your business’s purpose.