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Choosing Colors for Your Covers

21 March 2013

A reprise of an earlier post:

Passive Guy admits sometimes he’s not so good with what colors go with what other colors.

He has a shirt/tie/suit system worked out so everything goes together, but that’s because he seldom gets adventurous in this color realm

Designing a cover is a different thing. Blue shirt/red tie/dark blue suit gets old very quickly in the world of book covers.

Fortunately, PG has located some color crutches.

The first one is kuler, a site sponsored by Adobe. Basically, it’s a site full of color swatches that are easily loaded into Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Adobe Creative Suite.

Here’s what it looks like (click for a larger image):

This particular screen shot is for a color swatch called Honey Pot. If you like it, you just click a download button, then import it into Photoshop and you’re ready to go. There are a gazillion swatches and PG doesn’t know if they all work together, but he bets all the Most Popular and Highest Rated ones do.

Here are a couple of book covers PG changed by switching color swatches from kuler.

A quick note on PG’s book covers – You don’t want to use this many colors for a real book cover. PG was just showing how all the colors in the swatches work together and allow you to change the look of a cover design.

Maybe you don’t like any of the swatches kuler provides. Another website allows you to make your own swatches only it makes it hard to do them badly.

This one is called Color Scheme Designer. With this site, you start off with a color and it builds palettes of complementary and contrasting colors with a click.

We’ll start off with an aqua color.

This color has an RGB code of 37AEA5. You obtain the code in Photoshop by clicking on a color you want, then opening up the Foreground color box. You’ll see the color code for the color selected down at the bottom of the box.

So, you take your RGB code and paste it into Color Scheme Designer and the first thing you see is a monochrome palette. (Click for larger image)

The aqua we started with is the biggest block on the right side and you have several other versions in different shades. Color Scheme Designer lets you mouse over any color and read its color code. (Your monitor may not make the two colors look that way, but they started off the same on PG’s monitor before the screen shot went into Photoshop and from there to WordPress.)

From this point, you can generate colors very rapidly. PG clicked on the Triad color option and this is what resulted:

You can see some dots on the color wheel to the left showing where the base colors originate, then the website creates variations on those on the right side.

Here’s another variation on his book cover that PG created with the palette shown above:


At least to PG’s color-going-together impaired eyes, this cover looks plenty gaudy, but the colors complement or contrast with each other.

PG apologizes for the lack of any color perception science stuff in this post, but he distinctly remembers looking at his girlfriend while that topic was being discussed in 8th grade. He always appreciated her color palette.


11 Comments to “Choosing Colors for Your Covers”

  1. I’ve been using Kuler to pick font colors that go with whatever stock or commissioned art I’m using for my cover. I grab the hex value, create a set based on it, and select triad colors.

  2. Love this. Thanks, PG … I now have another procrastinating device. Just don’t come up with a cool new cartography app or I’ll be distracted for ever.

  3. I wonder how color palette helps in finding readers for a particular author.

    When I see books I am NOT attracted to, I often wonder What was the writer/cover designer thinking?

    Sort of like pheromones in helping decide who we find attractive, and stereotyping people (good OR bad) based on their clothing choices, does a cover convey something about the writer? Especially now, when a writer may have more control over the cover (instead of a publisher)?

    All kinds of interesting possibilities came to mind, including the question of whether my ‘tribe,’ that elusive group of people who might like my writing, will have a preference based on the colors I choose.

    If true, then the writer, rather than being peripheral in the choice of a cover, is actually central – and covers designed by others are an impediment to finding your true readers.

    Thoughts with the morning Diet Coke… Now get back to writing – but mark this post for further thinking.


  4. BarbaraMorgenroth

    I try to avoid introducing new colors into the color scheme. I sample a small element in the image and then use that for the text.

    Royal blue is supposedly a color that is highly attractive for customers.

    Bright pink outlined in black on a beige background is a big turn-off to me.

    • BarbaraMorgenroth

      Not that there’s anything wrong with doing things differently. That’s just what I usually do.

    • I have noticed, generally, that my covers with hot colors (yellow, orange, red range) tend to float to the top of my Amazon list if you search on my name, while the blues and blue-greens tend to sink to the bottom.

      Since an Amazon person once told me that that order tends to reflect how much user activity a title is getting (aside from sales), it could be used as an “interest” indicator.

      However, that may also have to do with the genres and exposure of those particular books. Too many variables to be sure. I suppose it might be interesting to search on a classic author with a lot of books who has a recent redo on cover designs (say, Agatha Christie) and see if the order of titles seems to show a pattern in color choices.

  5. I’m a cover designer and most of this is intuitive to me. (And fortunately, I didn’t have a cute boy distracting me the day they covered this in art class.) 🙂

    Re: Color Scheme Designer
    Pretty cool program. It would’ve been nice to see the color palette converted to CMYK so you could see how the print version of your cover would look like too.

  6. There’s an interesting site out there where designers share their color palettes like illustrators share brushes and patterns. I can’t remember what it’s called off hand, but it’s fun to browse.

    I’ve had color theory in college, but I find that what I really like to do is look for palettes out there in the world. Some people browse existing covers for design elements, or font choices… I browse them for color.

    Sometimes a color scheme doesn’t translate to your design as you’d like, but playing with a color scheme can be a really great learning experience.

    Last summer, when I did my first serial on the blog, I did a header illustration for every one of the 43 episodes. I limited my palette to five hues which I picked from a poster of the period that inspired the story. I allowed myself to change the lightness and saturation of those hues.

    By the end of the summer, I grew heartily sick of those colors. And I had some real stinkers of designs in the lot… but I also did some things that totally surprised me.

    I am about to start serializing the sequel to that story next month, and I’ve got to decide what I’m going to change. Strangely, I find I just might keep the palette.

  7. Wow, this is really helpful!

    I think you create great covers, PG. Generous of you to share this. 🙂

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