Creative Process

How I Use and Manage Color to Create My Illustrations

Written by Magoz
4 min read 19k views 31 comments

Minimalism is settled very deep in my work (and also in my life).
This is one of the reasons why I only use a few colours and I try to avoid strokes, lines and gradients. In fact, the colour is one of the most important elements of my work.

The way I use colour has evolved since I started being an illustrator. Nowadays, I use a very specific workflow to choose my colour palette. I will explain the process I follow and the tools I use in this article.

Magoz illustration - colour reference

Colour database

We are surrounded by amazing colours. The world itself is an incredible colour palette.
I keep a colour database in Evernote with all the colours that call my attention. It includes photos, old images and work of other artists and illustrators.
My colour database is huge, and with the years, it has become one of the most important tools in my working process.
I use it as a reference tool that inspires me and guide my colour decisions.

Picking colours with Sip

Sip could be defined as the universal eyedropper of Photoshop that works anywhere outside of Photoshop.
I use it to catch any colour inside of my screen (images, files, websites or anything else). Sip lives in the menu bar and it’s extremely easy to use. You can get the colour hex value copied into your clipboard in a click, ready to be pasted in Photoshop or anywhere else.
You can also use Sip to organise your colour palettes and some other extra advanced features (which I don’t use).

Sip is free and it’s available for Mac only.

Working process

  1. The number of colours
    When I have the idea, and after creating the guides in Photoshop, I start thinking about the number of colours the illustration will need. I try to keep the number of colours as low as possible.
  2. Picking guide colours from my colour database with Sip
    Then I go to my colour database to find colours that may fit conceptually and formally with the illustration. When I find some of them, I use Sip to copy the colour Hex value into the clipboard.
  3. Creating new colours from the guide colours
    When I’ve identified colours that can work and I have them into my clipboard, I go to Photoshop and I paste the hex colour code to use it. I start playing with the first shapes of the sketch and adjusting the colours inside Photoshop.
  4. Final colours
    As the sketch evolves, the colour palette evolves too. I adjust the tones till I find a strong colour combination.
  5. Extra: validating the colours when the sketch is finished
    Sometimes when the sketch is finished, I play around with the colours, trying to find better solutions. This is very useful because my sketches are “unpolished finals” and the impact of the colours in the sketches is very similar than how they will look like on the final.


A good colour palette has a massive impact on the final result of an illustration, especially when you have a minimalistic style and you don’t use a lot of colours. A poor or bad palette can destroy a good illustration. I’ve ruined great ideas and illustrations because a bad choice of colours. But luckily, over the years, I’ve found my workflow that helps me a lot to deal with colours.

How do you guys deal with colours? Are they important in your working process?
As always, I would love to hear your comments about it!

Magoz

Nomadic illustrator. Thinker. Seeker.

31 comments

  1. T
    Thuan

    I love these articles!!!

    Can you tell us more bout your drawing style, do you draw in other styles?

    • Thanks, Thuan!
      I only illustrate in this style. But I draw with pencil and pens in my sketchbooks using the line a lot.

      Is there something specific you would like to know?

  2. Hi, great post as always. Didn’t know about that Sip software, seems great, thanks for the tip!

    Since I work mostly in Illustrator I rely heavily on two tools within the program: the color guide panel and the edit color option on the same panel.

    Cheers!

    • Thanks for describing your workflow, Hugraphic!
      Very interesting to start with the color guide and the edit color option.
      Do you look for inspiration in anything else than those Illustrator options?

      • Well I don’t have a database like you but I often search for color inspiration in the same places you do: vintage posters, photography, pinterest, behance…

        It’s funny that when I look to my portfolio I can see that some colors are predominant and most of the times it’s an unconscious process.

  3. Ey, fantastico como siempre. Has oido del Swatchmate Cube? Me compré uno hace poco y es bastante util para coger colores.

    Saludos!

    • Hola Stefano!
      Pues nunca había oído hablar de Smatchmate Cube, pero está increíble. Muchas gracias por tu aportación. Por lo que veo funciona solo en el mundo “real”. Has probado de usarlo directamente en una pantalla? Funciona bien en esas circusntancias?

      Un abrazo y gracias por aportar valor al artículo!

      • Pues la verdad es que lo tengo desde hace unos meses pero no lo he usado mucho, pero lo voy a intentar sobre una pantalla, a ver si funciona. También me voy a bajar el Sip, a ver que tal, por lo que se ve fantastico. Yo lo que uso bastante para colores en el ordenador es el DigitalColor Meter de los macs.

  4. Have you tried using the Adobe color app? The thing that is great about that is the palettes sync with the Adobe programs so you don’t have to copy and paste them. Works seamlessly with the smart phone app too.

    One of my students uses this which looks pretty great too.
    http://coolors.co

    • Hi Jason, do you mean Adobe Kuler? How do you use it?
      I know coolors.co, it’s an amazing tool for discovering new colour palettes!

      Thank you very much for contributing to creating a better blog!! :-)

  5. I think they renamed it to just Adobe Color. The smart phone app is really great!

    Colourlovers.com is good for community stuff around color and pattern as well.

  6. Thank you for the advice !

    Very usefully and easy to do it

  7. I really appreciate it, each and every new entry that you post makes me feel closer to you! Thanks, it’s really useful!

  8. ¡Hola! Gracias por compartir. Este artículo lo encuentro muy interesante, al igual que los comentarios.
    Yo encuentro muy útil la aplicación online http://paletton.com/

    Saludos

  9. These posts are truly fantastic! I read them every time you post them. As an artist I tend to use the fixed colour range you can get from fine art material (inks, pastels, watercolour). Of course I can mix to create new colours, but that’s when my mind blocks! I love colour, but to keep my work harmonious and flowing I tend to stick to a few basic colours. The same applies when I do digital work! Otherwise I would be stuck forever in a limbo of colours! :)

    • Hi Sofia,
      Thank you very much for your comment!

      Would be interesting to see the different workflows when we compare digital and traditional way of working.
      Anyway, and you said, the important is to keep harmonious and homogeneous colour palettes.

      Thanks for reading!

  10. This is great – I’ve been using Kuler recently but it takes time to sample the colour – I think Sip is going to be my new best friend.

    Thanks!

  11. Hola!
    Ya hace tiempo que sigo tu trabajo y la verdad es que me encanta. Hoy justo he entrado en tu blog por primera vez y lo encuentro muy interesante, todo! Ver los procesos de trabajo es muy enriquecedor. El viernes vi tu charla en el Blanc y tb me encantó!.

    Felicidades sr nomáda!

    • Hola, Núria. ¡Muchas gracias por tus comentarios!
      Me alegro mucho que el Blog te parezca interesante y que te gustara la charla en el Blanc.

      Nos vemos por aquí :-)
      Un abrazo

  12. Hi Magoz, thank you for sharing your experience! Have you ever run into problems with colors for prints? I always feel there is a slight discrepancy between the colors shown on screen :S

  13. Hello!

    You have an amazing blog! I really liked this post, especially for the Sip app.

    Thanks for all the wonderful tips and please, keep writing!

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