Paint a pretty picture like a pro!

Wondering what to do with the stuff you learn’t about colors in the last couple of articles? My hope is that they educated you on choosing appropriate colors and combinations for your projects. In this article I’d like to give you a brief look at my workflow and thought process when choosing colors for my designs, be it digital or physical products. I’m doing this to let you develop a clearer understanding of the actual selection process. Again, I’d like to emphasize that this article is subjective and not a guideline. Different designers have different workflows and this article could serve as a starting point to understanding that flow and help you develop your own process. We’ll walk through my workflow using a product I recently designed, as an example. It was a motor housing for wheelchairs. I will leave the product description at that for brevity. At the start of any project, I answer the following questions:

  • What is the product?
  • Who will be using it?
  • Why is it being designed?
  • What feelings is it expected to evoke?
  • Where will it be used typically?
  • What is the scene or background it will be presented against (if its a physical object)?

Once these questions have been understood and answered, I choose my colors. I usually begin by imagining the product with multiple appropriate colors and also some un-conventional color combinations which aren’t expected to be used in that context. For this product: The product is a motor housing to be used by older adults on a wheelchair. It is designed to provide a cheaper alternative to existing solutions. The product should appear sturdy, robust and aesthetic to convince this section of population to invest in. Typical use is on a wheelchair. Presented against a white background. Now, this provides a few clues: Wheelchair; robust; cheap; aesthetic; white background. I imagine the product with several applicable colors like brown, black, white, grey, silver etc. Obviously, colors like red, green, blue, orange, purple, yellow and so on are eliminated because of the context and robust appearance needed. Bright colors looked playful and not serious enough. Also, this being a physical product, I had to decide on materials and hence textures to be applied/used. After preliminary selection and elimination, I make two color swatches. Each swatch has 2 main colors (sometimes 3, if the application needs it) and then shades and tints of those colors. I place them at the top of the page if in a pixel editor like photoshop, so that I can easily use the eye-dropper to select that color. If its a rendering program like Keyshot, I remember my selection and choose it directly from the color picker. Then comes a rough render of the object with the chosen colors. Sometimes, I go with the more conservative color swatch, but for this project, I did not. I chose the bolder combination to attract attention to the design, and to make the render look interesting. Between them, the colors created enough contrast to attract the eye. forBlog4 forBlog1 forBlog3 Once I’m satisfied with the chosen colors, I apply texture, tweak the roughness and edit the light settings. I prefer creating my own lighting environment rather than depending on the default option. I render the product at a moderately high resolution and look at it using an image viewer like Preview (Mac) or Photo viewer (Windows) to see if the roughness, lighting and texture mimic the set materials. If satisfied, I render it at the required high setting, else, I tweak the settings again.

mount motor
Final render in context.

This final step is the most important. Get a fresh set of eyes to look at your render and ask them if it looks like the material you tried to mimic. I do this with every render and promptly make changes using the feedback. This step is very important. Since you have been looking at your render for a long time, you could have overseen something which might be pretty obvious to another person. I cannot stress the importance of this step enough. If it is something you will be printing out, get a test copy printed after review by another person. Different copiers reproduce colors differently and hence, it is always a safe bet to do a test print. This is, in brief, my workflow when using colors; Answer the questions, eliminate color options, make swatches, test render, tweak, review and final render. If you have questions about this process, or would like to learn more about any of these steps, do email me or drop a comment! Cheers and happy coloring!

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