The Art of Monochromatic Design

Updated Mar. 2, 2022 Published Feb. 8, 2021 5 Min. Read

Color palettes are indispensable to branding and graphic design. Depending on your chosen combination, you can convey different moods and personalities. While it can be exciting to use a multitude of colors in your designs, your content can be just as effective when you create and use palettes derived from a single color —  otherwise known as a monochromatic color scheme. Read on for tips and tricks for implementing monochromatic magic into your graphic design.

Monochromatic Color Lingo

Before getting started, let’s go through the verbiage behind single-color palettes. Hues, or pure colors, make up the dominant color family. In the traditional color wheel, there are 12 hues consisting of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. Secondary colors are green, violet, and orange. Tertiary colors are in between a primary and a secondary color, like red-orange or yellow-green.

The word “monochromatic” comes from the Ancient Greek word monochromos, which means “having one color.” A monochrome palette consists of only one basic hue rendered in various tints, tones, and shades.

Tints are created by adding white to a color. This adjusts a color’s lightness. Pastel colors like sky blue and marshmallow pink are tints.

Shades are created by adding black to a color. This adjusts a color’s darkness. A color can be dark and still vivid, like cherry red or forest green.

Tones are created by adding gray to a color — both black and white. This adjusts a color’s vibrance. A pure color is saturated, vivid, and intense. When gray is added to a color, it becomes duller. It may not sound appealing, but this is how you get those beautifully calm neutral palettes and earth tones.

Choosing and Using A Monochrome Palette

Now that we know all about tints, tones, and shades, it’s time to get creative! Here’s how to come up with a one-color palette for a monochromatic design.

Select your base color with care.

The base color is the starting point of your design. In a monochromatic color palette, it’s the original color you want your monochromatic design to be based on.

Keep in mind that the color you choose will impact your audience’s perception of the final design. In fact, there’s a wealth of knowledge regarding color psychology in marketing. For example, red is powerful and energetic, green implies harmony and growth, and purple can be luxurious or mystical.

While it’s important to keep your target audience in mind and be a little methodical with your choice, it’s OK to follow your heart, too. In other words, give your favorite color a try! If you can personally relate to your brand, there’s a good chance your favorite color will work wonders for it.

Also, your base color doesn’t have to be a dominant hue from the color wheel, like red, blue, or green. You can select a tint like baby pink, a tone like khaki brown, or a shade like midnight blue.

Once you’ve picked your color and expanded your palette, remember that the brightest, most saturated pigment — the one with the least amount of black, white, and gray — is likely to stand out the most in your design. For example, primary blue may “outshine” its navy, sky blue, and slate counterparts.

Consider using fluorescent colors.

Fluorescent (or neon) colors are much brighter versions of the regular hues on the color wheel. Think neon green, fuchsia pink, electric blue, and highlighter yellow. Neon colors reflect and emit more light, so they’re quite easy to relay on screen. Just remember that neon colors are more expensive to print — you’ll need to ask your printer if they have fluorescent pigments or special Pantone swatches. If you attempt to print your neon colors with a regular printer, prepare to see your strong digital colors go dull. But if your audience is mostly online, we say go for it!

Consider going grayscale.

Technically, black and white aren’t colors, but rather, they are “shades.” You can choose not to use any of the basic hues, opting instead for a black-and-white or grayscale palette.

Expand your palette with tints, tones, and shades.

Using only one color doesn’t have to be limiting. You can be as creative as you want and reflect different kinds of brand personalities.

Monochromatic designs can be outspoken and expressive. You can achieve this by using more black, white, and pure colors from the color wheel. Because this approach is high-contrast, it’s louder and more dynamic.

You can also turn down the volume with a palette that’s more neutral and subdued. Use more tints, tones, and shades for a low-contrast look. This result can be calm, understated, and even artsy because of the wider range of tints and shades.

Pay special attention to contrast, dominance, and unity.

Because of a monochromatic color palette’s simplified color choice, a few aspects of design become easier for your viewers to notice. It’s all the more important, then, to be mindful when it comes to contrast, dominance, and unity.

Contrast refers to the way elements are rendered differently enough to result in visual interest and drama. High contrast means emphasis. Because you’re using a monochromatic palette, it’s no longer an option to create contrast with opposite colors (like red and green). Seek to create contrast with size and texture instead — big shapes next to small shapes, rough textures next to flat colors. Stand out from other designs by using trendy styles and elements. This is especially helpful if you’re using a neutral, low-contrast palette.

Dominance refers to an element’s visual weight. Whether you’re using a low-contrast or high-contrast color palette, give your main element dominance by placing it in your composition’s visual foreground.

Unity refers to how all design elements work together to communicate effectively. A unified design is more quickly understood by the viewer, making it easier to appreciate both the medium and the message.

Final Thoughts

If you were to create a monochromatic look for your brand, what color would you choose? Design Pickle’s talented designers can bring your monochromatic musings to life. Our flat-rate subscription services give you the power of unlimited requests (and revisions) — and if that means helping you find out the best monochromatic palette for your brand, we’re game.

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