Help Choosing Color Palette for Book

  • Hi!

    As an illustrator, I struggle a lot with choosing colors. I've only recently explored using limited color palettes -- usually I just grab colors willy-nilly (I'm not formally trained and I know this isn't exactly kosher). I've got three books under my belt and I'm starting on a fourth -- and I want to get color RIGHT with this one.

    How do you guys choose a color palette for your book? I'm familiar with sites like, but this doesn't really help me -- I mean, how do you color an entire BOOK unless you have full range of the color spectrum? It's a book about camping and nature, so does that mean I pick out 3-4 greens and keep the book overall cooler, but limit my use of warmer colors to just a few, i.e. picking out one shade of red or orange and staying pretty consistent with it throughout?

    I've scoured SVS but there really isn't anything specifically helping me pick a palette. There's a lot of classes and info on digital painting and what to do with your colors AFTER you've already picked a palette. The closest I found was one where Will Terry was painting a boy peeking into an attic that was cluttered with lots of stuff, and he kept his non-focal-point items a really dull/muted green/red/blue, while his focal point (the boy) was the same colors but brighter and more saturated. But now I can't find that video 🙂 Any help is much appreciated! Thanks.

    P.S. Looking at my website might help show my MISunderstanding of color. Basically I grab any color I want. The limited color palette project was the SCBWI banner I created which is located on my most recent blog entry: and it was HARD to stay in that palette -- how do you do it for an entire book?!


  • @erincb said in Help Choosing Color Palette for Book:
    Have you checked out Choosing Colors for Storytelling on SVS? I found that helped me a lot.

    One thing I think (and I'm no expert) but you don't have to have the exact same color pallet throughout an entire book. Sure, a story that takes place in a forest or desert might have similar colors throughout, and characters/props typically are the same color throughout the story. But the pages are going to look different depending on the setting, lighting (day vs night), focal point, which character are actually on the specific page, etc. Clifford the Big Red Dog isn't on EVERY page... and there's no need to put some red in when he's absent.

    What really helps is renting a bunch of children's books from the library, (you can start with award-winners if you're not sure which ones are great examples) and just look through them. Try and break down how color is used on each page, in each book. Try for a variation. The more "painterly" styles like David Wiesner and Shaun Tan (just off the top of my head) will express light and shadow differently than Eric Carle, for example. They all have something to offer!

    Another thing is, saturation is really important. I took a look at your link and I think that's part of your struggle. If all your colors are equally strong (no muted tones) the eye is not going to know where to look, and it can give even a well-drawn illustration a flat look. Sometimes this is intentional, such as for "eye spy" books, but when you want to convey a story, and guide the viewer to look at a certain thing, that "most important thing" generally has the most contrast and/or saturation.

    I also strongly suggest Painting Color and Light and The Magic of Color at SVS. I took their color theory class a while ago and I think they redid it or changed the name, I couldn't find the exact one I took.

    Anyway, I hope this helps! Color can be tricky, I know I struggle with it. But study great illustrations and also observe the world around you. It takes time, you'll get it!

  • Pro SVS OG

    It's actually possible to use the same color palette throughout a book and have every page still look different. I normally define the color palette as well as light and shadow colors in different light conditions before starting to paint any project - especially one involving several illustrations.
    After chosing the palette, I do rough color studies. I do these for every book (and have them approved by the art director/client as well) and it only takes about a day for a standard-length book and spares a lot of discussion. I work as art director for part of my time, and I know the number one revision request for the illustrators I work with (all editorial or advertisement people) is to change the color palette. So I decided for my freelance work I would have the colors approved before actually doing the painting - so far has worked well.

  • One of the best things you can do is always be storing away image with color pallets you like, Pinterest is a great way to do this. You really should go back to those SVS color videos because the answers are really there. As an example if you pick two warm colors next to each other and two cool colors on the polar opposites with the addition of back and white you have a huge range of colors to create. you can also create warm and cool greys from blending those polar opposites so you have a ton to work with and those greys will help to bring harmony to the painting. The guest speaker Ty Carter on color and light series has a ton of very cheap videos you can buy online that go very in depth into coloring you work and they are easy to follow.

  • @erincb I hear you, and I am in a similar boat, so when you learn it, teach me, ha ha! Seriously, I would love a class on limited palettes.

  • @carey-bowden Thank you so much for this thoughtful reply!! I have about 10-15 books on order at the library right now for exactly this purpose. I think you're right about my overuse of saturation in my illustrations. I really appreciate that you took the time to look at my work -- and I think it might be as simple as muting things that aren't the focal point. Thank you so much.

  • @smceccarelli Thank you for your reply! I like the tip about defining not just the color palette but also how the light conditions will alter those colors. I think that is part of my struggle -- if I have a certain green consistent throughout, what happens when it's dawn or dusk? Thank you!!

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