Basic Color Theory for Web Developers

Nicole Zonnenberg on January 25, 2019

You would be hard-pressed to find an art class without a color wheel hanging somewhere on its walls. If you’ve ever taken an art class, you might h... [Read Full]
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It's amazing how much colors can affect any technical project. No software is ever purely technical with no need for aesthetics.


Even no formatting is arguably an "aesthetic". Tho you risk alienating potential users.


One tool that I've really used any time I need to do any color work is color.adobe.com

I really liked the "random" feature on Coolers! Helped on a project I've been working on today -- thanks for sharing.


Do you mind if I link this? (with credit, obviously)


Oh yeah, feel free - no credit needed :)

One other thing I try to think about for color schemes is accessibility:

webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/ can help make sure that text is readable over backgrounds

and color-blindness.com/coblis-color-b... can help test screenshots of layout with colorblindness filters to make sure things still "pop"

Oooh, that color-blindness site is clutch!


As a coder, I find design more challenging, as there never seems to be the "right" answer.


It's always changing. Design comes and goes in fads. The most important thing is for the content to be readable and a website/page easy to use. Color at the very least, should make it easy to read and differentiate and emphasize important elements. If you find it difficult, make it as simple as possible. And when in doubt, ask for feedback from someone you trust. :)


yeah, readable and easy to understand is the key. completely agree.


yup, I feel the same, it's normally easy to tell if a particular code produces the right result or not, but it's sometimes hard to say which design is good as it can be very opinion based - people have different tastes and preferences, what you see is great may look completely craps in others' eyes.
But again, there are some general good design principles which can/should be applied everywhere.


Of course of course. But what I mean is like having to pick between two different, but very close shades of gray, or whether to make the menu bar 110px or 120px high or something like that. I don't know how to use Photoshop, so I just make design things on chrome AS I'm developing a website. It's a pain in the ass. When I'm given a wireframe of a static page, I can breeze through it, but making my own is hard because of design


So glad you mentioned coolors.co. LOVE that site. It's made for us color-wheel-challenged. I love how you can find one color (or use one you have), lock it in, then just hit the space bar as it does all the magic for you.


Those tools look really interesting - good finds! I agree that colors have a lot more weight than people probably realize. Gone are the days of cyan backgrounds...I hope.


I have always feel slightly intimidated by color. My go to is the Adobe Color Wheel which I really like. Especially because it allows you to save color themes to your adobe ID and they automatically load in Illustrator (not sure about Photoshop). But will definitely check out these two you suggest. Thank you!


This is a fantastic introduction to color theory! Thank you so much!

After years of high school art, I never knew or realized this:

An easy way to remember which colors to match is that the secondary color matches with the primary color it does not use. For example: red's complementary color is green, which is made out of blue and yellow.

This is such a great way of finding a complementary color!


Great post Nicole, thanks for the intro! As a developer it's always useful to have these concepts refreshed :D I've recently found out about lighten and darken which seem very helpful for monochromatic design.

If anyone wants to geek out about one the most fascinating colors in nature I suggest this article: The 6,000-Year History of Blue Pigments in Art

and this video


You have explained the colors so amazingly, now even I feel that I can create my own pallettes to use!


Hey, Nicole! Noticed you didn't mention anything about the RGB vs CMYK color wheels... I recently created a resource on that subject:


I think it's important for web developers to know which color wheel to refer to! Thoughts?


Thanks for the article since i study math and science i don't have any perspective of color and their importance on a good desing.


I'm color blind so I always used Paletton when I did web design.


Thanks for these! Color is definitely scary for me, as I don't have a natural designer "eye." I always appreciate useful color resources.


Thank you so much. This has always been my biggest struggle.


Wow, I would keep reading about color theory. Thanks for share!


Great piece and that Palleton resource looks super helpful - I'll definitely use it next time I'm working on color choices!


It's my favorite if I'm creating my own pallet!


Very informative, great article..


Great intro! I learned these in grade school but was really not sure back then how it mattered. Finally something that connected this knowledge to web for me. Thanks!


Really great article 👍

I was wondering if I could use some of your images from this post(because they are great) on my blog?
I document what I learn, that's why I need them :)

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