Color Theory Tips for Editorial Design
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Learn the basics of color theory
  2. Apply the color wheel to your designs
  3. Use color harmonies for balance
  4. Consider the psychology of colors
  5. Experiment with colors in typography
  6. Explore the use of color in imagery
  7. Leverage the power of monochrome
  8. Optimize colors for print and digital
  9. Evaluate your design with prototyping
  10. How to stay updated on color trends

Color is more than just a visual element—it's a powerful tool that, when used correctly, can transform your editorial design. Knowing how to improve color theory in editorial design isn't always easy, but don't fret. This guide is here to help you navigate through the vibrant world of color theory, so you can create designs that not only look great but also communicate effectively. Let's dive in and start exploring these hues!

Learn the basics of color theory

Before you start playing with color palettes in your designs, it's a good idea to first understand the basics of color theory. You might think of it as a fun art class from your school days, but trust me, it's much more than that.

So, what is color theory? In a nutshell, it's a set of rules and guidelines that designers use to communicate with users through appealing color schemes. It's like the ABCs of color. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Primary Colors: These are the big three—red, blue, and yellow. You can't make these colors by mixing others.
  • Secondary Colors: Mix two primary colors, and you get secondary colors. That's green (blue + yellow), orange (red + yellow), and purple (red + blue).
  • Tertiary Colors: These are the result of mixing a primary color with a secondary color. For example, red-orange or yellow-green.

Got it? Good! But remember, this is just the start. Knowing the basics will provide a solid foundation for you to build upon as you learn how to improve color theory in editorial design. Next up, we'll dive into the color wheel and see how it can help you create balanced, harmonious designs.

Apply the color wheel to your designs

So, you've got the basics of color theory down. Now, let's take a colorful spin with the color wheel. It's not just a pretty circle of rainbow hues—it's a powerful design tool that can help you create color schemes that work.

The color wheel is essentially a map of colors, showing the relationship between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. But how can you use this in your editorial design? Let's find out:

  • Complementary Colors: Complementary colors sit directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Think red and green, or blue and orange. Using complementary colors can add a high-contrast, vibrant feel to your design. Just remember to use them wisely, as they can be quite intense!
  • Split Complementary Colors: This scheme involves a base color and the two colors adjacent to its complementary. It provides similar contrast to the complementary color scheme, but with less tension.
  • Analogous Colors: Analogous colors are neighbors on the color wheel. These color schemes tend to be harmonious and pleasing to the eye, making them a safe choice for those just starting out with color theory in editorial design.
  • Triadic Colors: A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. It offers a vibrant color palette but with a balanced and harmonious feel.

So, the next time you're selecting colors for your editorial design, why not give the color wheel a spin? It's a fantastic tool to help you understand how different colors work together, allowing you to improve your color theory in editorial design. And remember, while these guidelines are helpful, don't be afraid to experiment and make the rules your own. After all, creativity is at the heart of great design!

Use color harmonies for balance

Now that you're familiar with the color wheel, let's step into the world of color harmonies. If you've ever looked at a design and felt that the colors just 'worked' together, you've experienced color harmony. So, how can you achieve this balance in your editorial design?

Color harmonies, quite simply, are combinations of colors that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. They provide balance, unity, and a sense of order. Here's a quick run-through of some common color harmonies you can experiment with:

  • Monochromatic Harmony: This harmony uses different shades, tones, or tints of one base color. It's often used to create a simple, clean, and elegant look.
  • Analogous Harmony: Remember the analogous colors from the color wheel section? They form a harmonious blend as they sit next to each other on the color wheel, creating a serene and comfortable design.
  • Complementary Harmony: This harmony involves colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel. The high contrast creates a vibrant, dynamic look. Too much can be overwhelming, so it's all about balance.
  • Split-Complementary Harmony: This is a variation of the complementary harmony, offering a high-contrast look without being too intense. It's a great option if you want some contrast, but also harmony in your design.

Creating a harmonious color scheme can set the mood of your editorial design, guide the viewer's eye, and even communicate certain emotions or messages. So, keep these harmonies in mind when you're looking to improve color theory in your editorial design. Remember, practice makes perfect—so, don't be afraid to play around with these harmonies until you find the balance that feels right for you.

Consider the psychology of colors

Ever wonder why fast food logos are often red and yellow, or why hospitals and health care providers prefer blue and white? It's not a random choice. Colors, believe it or not, can evoke specific emotions, responses, and associations. This is what we call the psychology of colors. By understanding this, you can make your editorial designs more effective and engaging.

Here's a brief rundown of what some colors can represent:

  • Red: Power, passion, love, urgency. It's a color that can stimulate people to make quick decisions and increase expectations. That's why it's often used in clearance sales.
  • Blue: Trust, calmness, stability, reliability. It's a favorite in corporate and financial designs where trust and reliability are key.
  • Yellow: Happiness, optimism, youthfulness. It's used to grab attention and to convey a sense of cheerfulness, which is why it often adorns children's items.
  • Green: Growth, nature, money, health. It's a relaxing color often used in stores to relax customers and for promoting environmental issues.
  • Black: Luxury, sophistication, power. It's often used for high-end products to add a touch of elegance and timelessness.

Remember, these are just general associations. The meaning of colors can vary based on culture, context, and personal preference. Also, the combinations and contrasts of colors matter just as much as the colors themselves.

So, when you're pondering how to improve color theory in your editorial designs, don't forget to consider the psychological impacts of your color choices. It can add a deeper layer of connection between your design and your audience.

Experiment with colors in typography

Typography can be a powerful tool in design, and color can amplify that power. If you're looking to improve color theory in editorial designs, don't overlook the role of typography.

Contrary to popular belief, typography isn't just about choosing a typeface. It's about how the text looks and feels to your audience. And color plays a massive part in that. Here's how you can experiment:

  • Contrasting colors: This is a simple yet effective technique. Use colors that stand out against each other. For instance, white text on a dark background or vice versa can create a striking effect.
  • Monochrome: Here you use different shades, tones, or tints of a single color. This can create a harmonious and visually appealing effect.
  • Color blocking: This involves using two to four different colors and applying each color to a different part of the text. It's a fun and creative way to add more personality to your editorial designs.

Remember, the goal is to make your text legible while also highlighting important points. Also, don't forget about the psychology of colors we talked about earlier. The colors you choose for your text can evoke certain feelings and reactions.

So go ahead, play around with colors in your typography. You might be surprised at how much it can elevate your designs.

Explore the use of color in imagery

Color is the soul of an image—it has the power to evoke emotions, set the mood, and tell a story. If you're looking to improve color theory in your editorial, exploring color use in imagery is a must. Here's how you can do it:

  • Color Matching: This is a technique where you match the colors in your image with the colors in your design. It can create a cohesive and harmonious look. For instance, if there's a dominant blue tone in your image, you can use the same blue in your text.
  • Color Popping: Here you highlight a single color in your image, while the rest remains black and white. It's a great way to draw attention to a specific part of your image.
  • Color Grading: This involves changing the color of your image to create a certain mood or tone. You can make your image look warm with orange and red tones, or cool with blue and green tones.

Keep in mind, the colors in your images should align with the overall color scheme of your editorial design. This way, you can create a balanced and visually pleasing design that resonates with your audience.

So don't be afraid to experiment with colors in your images. It can transform your design from good to great.

Leverage the power of monochrome

Monochrome isn't just about black and white. It's about exploring the different shades, tints, and tones of a single color. And it can be a powerful tool when you're figuring out how to improve color theory in your editorial.

  • Focus on Contrast: When you're working with one color, contrast becomes your best friend. Use light and dark shades of your chosen color to create depth and dimension in your design.
  • Use Texture: Texture can add interest to a monochrome design. You can use patterns, gradients, or even images with a similar color palette to create a rich, layered look.
  • Highlight with Accents: You can use a contrasting color to draw attention to certain parts of your design. This can be a great way to guide your audience's eye through your design.

Monochrome designs can be elegant, sophisticated, and impactful. They can help your design stand out in a sea of color. So next time you're working on an editorial, why not give monochrome a try?

Optimize colors for print and digital

There's no denying it: colors can behave differently in print and on digital screens. To improve color theory in your editorial, you need to understand these differences and know how to adjust your colors accordingly.

  • Understand RGB and CMYK: Digital screens display colors in RGB (red, green, blue), while printers use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). When designing, you should set your workspace to the correct color mode.
  • Consider Color Calibration: Different screens and printers can display colors differently. Calibrating your devices ensures that the colors you choose will appear as intended.
  • Prepare for Color Shifts: Some colors that look great on screen might not print as well. It's always a good idea to test print your design before finalizing it.

Remember, the goal is to ensure that your audience sees your design as you intended, no matter where they view it. So take the time to get your colors right, whether you're designing for print, digital, or both.

Evaluate your design with prototyping

Once you've worked your magic with color theory in your editorial design, how can you be certain it hits the mark? The answer is prototyping.

Prototyping allows you to see your design in action and make necessary adjustments before the final version. It's like a dress rehearsal for your design. You can check how the colors interact, how they look on different screens, and more importantly, gather feedback.

  1. Mockups: Start with a static representation of your design. It's a visual way to check how your color choices work with the rest of your design elements.
  2. Interactive Prototypes: These are clickable versions of your design. They help you understand how color impacts the user's journey through your design. For instance, does a particular color make a button more noticeable? Or does it distract from other important elements?
  3. Feedback: This is the most crucial part of prototyping. Getting opinions from others can provide new perspectives. You might love the bold red you've used, but if everyone else finds it overwhelming, it might be time for a rethink.

So remember, prototyping isn't just about making sure things 'work.' It's a crucial step in improving your editorial's color theory and ensuring it creates the right impact.

Now that you know how to improve color theory in your editorial design, another key aspect to consider is staying updated with the latest color trends. You might be wondering, why does this matter? Well, colors aren't just about aesthetics — they reflect the mood and preferences of a particular time. So, staying in tune with color trends can help your designs resonate more with your audience.

But how can you stay on top of these ever-changing trends? Here are a few tips:

  1. Follow Industry Leaders: Designers and brands often set the tone for color trends. Pay attention to the colors they use in their designs, marketing materials, and even their websites.
  2. Use Color Forecasting Services: There are also companies, like Pantone, that specialize in forecasting color trends. They analyze various industries and cultural trends to predict the 'colors of the year.'
  3. Explore Social Media: Platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are excellent resources. Designers and artists often share their work here, which can be a great source of inspiration. Also, keep an eye on the hashtags — they can lead you to the most popular color trends.

Remember, while trends can serve as a great guide, they shouldn't dictate your designs. Use them as a source of inspiration, but always align your color choices with your brand's identity and the message you want to convey.

If you're looking to improve your editorial design skills and better understand color theory, we highly recommend checking out the workshop 'Editorial Submissions: Shoot Development To Publication' by Jose Espaillat. This workshop will not only give you valuable insights into the editorial submission process but also help you create eye-catching designs with a strong understanding of color theory. Don't miss this opportunity to elevate your editorial design game!