10 Expert Tips on How to Choose Color Schemes for Your Infographics
Let’s be honest: None of us, not even those of us who are designers, were born with an innate sense of color.
In fact, when we were children, we most likely experimented with colours and didn’t even apply them in a way that reflected what we saw in real life. In our imaginary world, a green sun, a pink giraffe or a yellow tree made perfect sense.
But step by step, over the years, we learned to reflect on exactly what we saw in the real world and drew a yellow sun, a tan giraffe with brown splotches and a green tree.
When we venture into the world of do-it-yourself infographic design, this same learning process takes place. At first, so many colors and options may lead us to spend hours at a time trying to find just the right combination–or simply lead us to consider hiring someone else to do it for us.
But over time, and with some knowledge of how color theory applies to infographics, it’s easy to decide which colors work best and which to discard.
As an experienced content marketer and graphic designer, I want to give you a few tips on how to choose the right colour schemes for your infographics, and you’ll discover that it’s not so difficult to apply colour theory principles to infographic design.
So let’s get started!
Plan Before You Begin
The first challenge experienced by those who are new to infographic design is that it consumes a lot of time–time most of us don’t have. So many prefer to do something less time-consuming, like write blog posts or share pictures and graphics created by others.
But the importance of creating your own images and graphics, especially infographics, cannot be overstated in today’s “visual Internet.”
Infographics are an excellent way to boost the online visibility of your company’s vision, identity, and proprietary information.
So the question is: How can you spend the least amount of time possible designing an infographic and still get excellent results? The key is to carefully plan each step:
Step 1: Determine your audience.
This may seem obvious, but designing an infographic for, let’s say, a toy company is not the same as for a real estate one.
That’s why it’s best to think about who exactly is going to consume your infographic before you design it.
Mothers, executives or millennials? Depending on who your target audience is, your colour selections will vary and, possibly, the way readers will process your infographic.
Step 2: Draw a sketch.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a quick drawing of how you are going to visually represent your content, how many sections or blocks the infographic will have and what elements (such as images or illustrations) will stand out above others.
Step 3: Choose the key elements.
If you aren’t an illustrator or photographer, you can use images and illustrations created by others, which are available through image and icon libraries or free online infographic tools such as Visme.
It may not seem that important at first, but the simple decision of which illustration or image to choose conditions the whole tone and the chromatic scheme of your infographic.
From here on out, I recommend you don’t go outside the chosen chromatic range, or expand or change it while incorporating graphics and texts into your project, or the ultimate result will have nothing to do with the first sketch you did.
How to Choose Infographic Color Schemes
Let’s focus on point 3 of the process I just described. For this, there is no other option than to return to grade school for just a few minutes and remember the basic rules of colour.
Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors
The theory of colour is halfway between art and science. The first formulations of these theories are found in the book “Opticks” by Isaac Newton.
Nowadays, there are several theories that we categorize as either traditional or modern, the latter influenced by the most recent scientific discoveries.
The first thing you should know is that our physiological response limits the so-called primary colours to light. Our eyes have certain receptors (called cones) that make us see three primary colours: red, green and blue.
Other species have more cones, so they can see 4 primary colours. In contrast, those who have fewer cones can only see two primary colours.
That is why we speak of “psychological” colours because the colours that we appreciate are not present in the real world, but our brain interprets them thanks to the receptors we have.
Difference Between Primary and Secondary Colors
Primary colors are those that our eyes perceive (RGB), and secondary ones are those that result from a mixture of these:
Green + Blue = Cyan
Red + Blue = Magenta
Red + Green = Yellow
Red + Blue + Green = White
These secondary colours are got by adding (additive synthesis) the primaries and the sum of the three will cause the colour white.
And how do you get black? Good question! We got the colour black from the secondary colours through another process called subtractive synthesis:
Magenta + Yellow = Red
Cyan + Yellow = Green
Cyan + Magenta = Blue
Cyan + Magenta + Yellow = Black
Tertiary Colors and Impossible Models
Finally, note that we got tertiary colours from the mixture of equal parts of a primary colour and a secondary colour.
This mixture allows for the extension of a chromatic range so that we can see nuances between colours, such as orange-yellow or orange-red. They are similar, but not the same.
Before concluding this summary, I want to warn you that these models (better known as RGB and CMYK) are only theoretical models, not physical ones.
The colours we perceive result from how our brains respond to the stimulation of light receptors in the iris, not a property of light.
That’s why we speak of impossible models, because colours vary according to the person and, of course, the species.
In fact, some women also have yellow cones besides RGB cones, so they perceive colours that other people will never perceive.
How to Create Color Schemes
Now let’s get back to adulthood: It’s time to apply all this theory to infographic design and choose the right colour schemes.
I like to define infographics as “scenes in which a story unfolds,” as if they were the stage of a play.
This stage is one of the key parts of an infographic, and the story told must be authentic or your visual will not achieve its intended effect. The stage sets the scene for the story and its elements should be easily identifiable to the target audience.
These scenes should contain:
Easily identifiable elements, related to the story that is told, as in this infographic about how to become an infographic design “ninja.” By setting the scene with elements related to ninjas, we’ve created a visual theme which helps viewers assimilate the story.
A consistent colour scheme. If your infographic has a Christmas look and feel, it makes little sense to use a chromatic range containing colours like pink or sky blue. Traditionally, we associate Christmas with red and green.
Simple colour combinations. If you stick with me till the end of this post, you will see a few colour combinations that work. But keep in mind: It’s always better if you stick to two or three colours that combine well with each other.
To breathe life into these scenes, you must choose a colour scheme that fulfils both functions: allows for easy reading and is visually attractive.
In order to create these schemes, you must consider something I mentioned at the beginning of this article: the target audience. You should not use pink in a business infographic, nor the colour black in an infographic about child care.
These guidelines should help you choose a colour scheme:
Professional infographics about services. In the business world, blue and grey are two of the most used colours. It’s an unwritten rule that you don’t have to stick to, but I don’t recommend childish colours or pastel colours that are too soft.
Infographics about high-end or exclusive products or services. Black is a colour associated with luxury, but it’s difficult to apply in an infographic without creating a depressing mood. When done correctly, it is often part of a simple colour scheme such as the black-white used by Chanel or the dark brown and black used by Nespresso.
Infographics for the millennial audience. Fortunately, millennials have a more open mind, though they also have their preferences. Bright colours are more pleasing to them than dull and sad ones, most likely because they use social media daily.
Types of Color Schemes
There are three ways to choose colours according to the colour wheel: monochrome colour schemes, triadic colour schemes and complementary colour schemes.
If you aren’t an expert designer, take great care in choosing appropriate colour schemes. The reason is that the theory does not always work well when other elements, such as typefaces or pie charts with data, come into play.
Monochromatic Color Schemes
These can be created by selecting a single colour and changing other characteristics, such as the value and saturation to arrive at other tones and shades of the same hue.
The value is the amount of black or white that we add to a certain colour so that the chosen colour becomes lighter or darker. It is a very simple way to choose a colour scheme, and it always works.
You can also use saturation to get variations of the same colour and complete the scheme.
Saturation affects the brightness and purity of the colour, but you should choose it wisely because, unlike with value, not all saturation combinations work well together.
My recommendation: If you want to use a monochromatic colour scheme and you have little experience as a designer, change the value to get variations of the same hue that combine well with each other. But do not use the entire range. Choose only three colours that exhibit enough contrast so that it can overlap them without losing clarity.
Triadic Color Schemes
Following this type is the easiest way to choose color schemes for beginners, although you must be careful when choosing them. You can create this type of a colour scheme by choosing three colors that are equidistant from each other on the color wheel.
My recommendation: Try to darken the two colors that form the base of the triangle. This way, you will create more contrast with the dominant color and using overlays in your design will be easier, like when you place text on top of a colored background.
Complementary Color Schemes
This type of colour scheme combines contrasting colours on the colour wheel, like red and green or blue and orange.
This system works best if one colour is dominant, and the other serves to create contrast. You should choose colour variations carefully to avoid creating a jarring effect.
My recommendation: It is difficult to create harmonious colour schemes with this method. If you want to create this type of combination, I advise you to use pre-created schemes, such as those found in Paletton.
How to Choose Colors for Charts and Graphs
If you think choosing a colour scheme for your infographic is complicated, then wait till you have to choose colours for your graphs and charts.
Why? Because the colours chosen should help viewers understand the data more quickly in order to decide.
That’s why in this case, it’s best to put aside risky choices in favour of clarity.
If the graph represents a progression, my recommendation is that you use single-colour gradations, whereas if the graph represents the comparison of over two variables, the colours should have enough contrast to be distinguishable at first glance.
When choosing colour schemes for graphs, keep these tips in mind:
- It’s better if the bars or parts of the pie charts are brightly coloured, while someone may mute the colours of the numbers like grey. This will highlight the general progress of the chart and details will not distract the reader.
- If you want to highlight specific data points, use the brightest colour and a larger size. At a glance, the reader will perceive the message.
- Finally, if it is unnecessary, do not include numbers on the x and y-axis scales. Readers will only perceive the general trend or conclusion to which you want to guide them.
How to Choose Color Schemes for Text
Besides graphics, problems also arise when choosing colours for text. Although colour theory works best when applied to graphics for text, keep these recommendations in mind:
Contrast is important. If we cannot easily read the text, your colour scheme needs to be changed.
Colours that are too bright may have unexpected results when viewed on different devices.
Always remember that a system of colours called “hexadecimal values governs the Internet.”
These colors are part of a numbering system that allows them to look the same on all devices. Their range is much less (216 colors) and a code of 6 letters or numbers represents them.
Black text on a white background will always read better than the inverted version: When the text is white, the black background eats up the white space. If this happens, use bold typefaces to make the white mass larger.
To conclude, I want to summarize everything we’ve reviewed and boil it down to 10 tips on how to choose the right colour schemes for your infographics.
- 1. If you are not a professional designer, choose simple colour schemes, such as those based on colour and its variations of hue and saturation.
- 2. The chosen colours should have a sufficient contrast between them.
- 3. If you do not want to take the time to choose your own colour schemes, use tools like Coolorsor Visme, which comes with 50 ready-to-use colour presets.
- 4. Black text on the white background reads better than the opposite.
- 5. Keep the user in mind when you plan infographics.
- 6. Never act without a plan.
- 7. If you use pie or bar charts, choose a colour and then create gradations of that same colour.
- 8. For comparative graphics, choose colours with sufficient contrast.
- 9. There are colours that are traditionally associated with a target audience: Respect this rule.
- 10. It is unnecessary to be a designer to create infographics with harmonious colour schemes. Look for inspiration on social media.
Would you like to share your own experience applying colour theory principles to infographics? What is your process for choosing harmonious colour schemes for your infographics?
Let’s chat in the comments section and hope to see you on social media!
About the Author
Carmen Díaz is a content marketing manager based in Madrid, with over 15 years of experience creating custom infographics for small businesses. The marketing guru behind Social Media Pymes, she works with many clients who want to generate leads through actionable, user-centred content for social media and company websites.