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How to create your own colour palette in Photoshop

In the digital world where we don’t have an array of physical pigments to mix, where do you begin when it comes to colour? It can be a  daunting task to start out building a colour library, but with a few tricks and tools you can set yourself up for a much easier time.

Being able to match colours by eye from life or reference is an incredibly important skill to hone, and one of the easiest ways to do this is the use of a good colour picking utility. I like to use the Coolorus (opens in new tab) plugin to replace the standard Photoshop actions (opens in new tab) and colour picking tools, because the interface makes for a quick and intuitive way to colour match in your workflow.

Occasionally the palette generator will miss some of the nice subtle colour in a piece. You can supplement the swatches it creates with some good old-fashioned colour picking.

Occasionally the palette generator will miss some of the nice subtle colour in a piece. You can supplement the swatches it creates with some good old-fashioned colour picking.

For colour schemes where you aren’t matching from a reference, however, I’ve found it to be incredibly useful to build out a swatch catalog that you can scroll through to grab pre-made colours as you work. I use a handy colours palette generator utility from CSS Drive (opens in new tab)as a quick and free way to create colours to save in a large master swatch file, using photos and artwork with excellent colour as a base. Here's how you could get started with your own swatch library.

01. Inspiration library

Get out there and gather a collection of colours

Get out there and gather a collection of colours

Building and maintaining an inspiration library is a must. Whether you create it over a long period of time or  you go on an art-collecting binge, finding a collection of pieces where colours were handled in a way that speaks to you will give you the material you need to build out your own collection of colours.

02. Image palette generator

Group colour swatches with this free tool

Group colour swatches with this free tool

CSS Drive’s Image Palette Generator (opens in new tab) is  a free tool that creates Photoshop colour swatch files. By uploading an image, it generates a palette from a simplified version. When you append your swatches in Photoshop by loading in the new set, they stay grouped together.

03. Coolorus plugin

The Coloorus plugin challenges artists to use limited colour palettes

The Coloorus plugin challenges artists to use limited colour palettes

The excellent Coolorus plugin also provides some excellent tools such as  gamut locking with editable gamut maps and built-in colour harmony sliders. Having some of the same tools that traditional artists use like gamut masks can be an way to challenge yourself by using a limited colour palette.

This article was originally published in Imagine FX (opens in new tab) magazine issue 138. Buy it here. (opens in new tab)

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Alix Branwyn is a freelance illustrator for the games industry, and is based in California. Her work is primarily in fantasy and horror, with a focus towards the dark and creepy.