Remember being a kid and having a box of Crayola crayons? Whether it was the humble box of 8 or the Baller status box of 120, when it came to coloring your favorite cartoon characters, you had what you had. Your color choices were limited and you had to make those colors work. If you were like me, you became so familiar with that box of colorin’ sticks, you could instinctively reach for the perfect color when you needed it. Why would I use any other color than “Middle Green” for the Ninja Turtles skin, or “Cerulean” for Leonardo’s mask?
Now think about how you make color palettes today as a designer or artist, and all the choices you have. Even if all you do is branding work and every project calls for Pantone colors, you still have thousands of swatches to choose from. It can be overwhelming sometimes, and often time consuming.
The truth is, over the course of your career, you’re not going to use all of those Pantone colors - you probably won’t use a majority of them that are available. So why bother with every PMS swatch?
I created my own PMS “crayon box” to eliminate a lot of choices, and to make my color palette creating simpler and faster. You don’t need to comb through every shade of “Navy Blue” every time you make a logo, I only have about 6 navy swatches in my crayon box. When I know I need Navy, I just select one from my file. Sometimes, it’s not quite right and I do need to dig through the PMS options to find the perfect one, but more often than not I’m pulling from 1 of those 6.
I’ve also made PMS selections based on some classic colors like Klein Blue, Gulf Racing Blue, and Cadmium Yellow. These colors have specific connotations and meanings so any time I come across a need for them, the “crayon” is already there ready to go to work.
I used to save a lot of color palettes I would get from Kuler or make on my own. I found I very rarely used them for projects; instead I was building palettes 1 color at a time. I eliminated the palettes and focused on individual colors. I was working in a way that was closer to my time spent with those Crayola crayons.
Since I’ve started doing this, the design process has definitely sped up, and I am learning this crayon box as I did my Crayola’s when I was a kid. I’m getting to know how these colors look on white, black, which blue pairs best with which orange, what projects I used a specific color on, and so on. Though there are some times where new colors are introduced, the color foundation of my work comes from here and it’s become personal. 267 C is my favorite purple, 279 C my favorite blue, and 9060 C shows up any time I need a vintage white. I sort of feel these colors are becoming “my colors” and are developing my style. That’s supposed to be a dirty word in design, but if it works, there’s nothing wrong with it.