Limiting your color palette

by Stacy Amoo-Mensah, Name Your Design

I had an OMHG reader contact me a couple of months ago asking me specifically, “how do you know how to pick the perfect shade of pink in your designs…or how do you know, with confidence, that it will print exactly how you want it to look”. Hmmmmm….what a great question!

I believe I covered my initial lack of design “experience” in my post about how my business evolved. I mean, for goodness sakes, I started designing in Microsoft Publisher! However, once I mastered that and moved onto an “official” program,  Adobe Ilustrator, it took me a while to feel very comfortable navigating it and taking advantage of all the  bells and whistles that the program has to offer. One of my favorite features, being the ability to create and save custom color palettes.

Now, for those of you who were trained or went to school for design, this post may be a “no-brainer” for you…however, for someone like me who is self-taught, it took me some time to figure all of this out on my own. When I first started researching and working with commercial printers to handle my production, I was also concerned about color matching  (screen vs. printed colors).  I was told to refer to the pantone color swatches to ensure a good color match. However nice it would have been to own a pantone swatch library, I didn’t feel that I could swing a purchase with that large of price tag. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and I came up with my “own” color matching system.

In any design program, the color combinations are endless! This is wonderful, but  it can also be frustrating when trying to pick the “perfect shade”.  So, seeing as though I’m not that great at making decisions, the first thing I did was limit the color palette that I was working with to about 140 colors. I’m fairly certain that most graphic designers find that there are a handful of colors that you find yourself going back to over and over again, right? Well…me too.  So, what I did was “name” all of these colors and save them into a swatch library within Illustrator. In the screen shot below, you can see the single, highlighted swatch entitled “orange” within the main swatch library entitled “name your design”.

For 90% of the products I produce, I work with a commercial printer who runs my designs on both canvas and cover stock.   Rather than send files in to the printer and  “cross my fingers” that the colors print how I expect them too, I decided to print my own swatch library to refer to when designing.  In order to do this, I created a file with all of my swatches laid out, along with their newly appointed “name” underneath.  Because inks print differently on different forms of medium (canvas + cover stock), I had them print one of the swatch files onto card stock and the other onto canvas,  to ensure that I had an accurate representation of the colors in my library.

I can’t BEGIN to tell you how much time this has saved me while designing!  Believe it or not, I very rarely stray from these colors…I may  adjust the tint on some of them, but overall, they have proven to work through all seasons and  color trending changes!  The best part is I know EXACTLY what my finished product is going to look like before I send them to print because I have my handy printed swatches to refer back to.

I know how important it is for working mommies to make the most of their (quiet + uninterrupted) work time, so I’m always looking for ways to help streamline my work processes and maximize my time.  I hope this helps some of you too!


  1. ThisOldPMQ says:

    This is a great idea…I was always stymied by the fact that different monitors (unless you had a super fancy Apple “commercial” printer) represented colours differently, and how it changes based on what you print on.
    Having relied on “hope and pray” myself, this is great advice! Thanks for the tips. 🙂

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