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Even experts need a little help sometimes when it comes to sorting through the glorious, expansive world of color. Whether you work with pigments or pixels, identifying, selecting, or matching color can be a challenge. Not only can our visual perception be limiting, but circumstances and technology—from a poorly lit room to a badly calibrated monitor—can also be an interference. Gain confidence in your choices and remove the guesswork from the task of laying out a pleasing palette with one of our favorite color tools, below.
1. C&T Publishing Notions Essential Color Wheel Companion
Find appealing color combinations in seconds with this handy wheel, which is as useful as it is attractive. One side features 24 segments in 24 colors, each numbered and accompanied by bands in related tints and shades. On the back, find four color families—complementary, split complementary, analogous, and triatic—for each of these pure colors. Simply place fabrics, paint swatches, or any other materials along the wheel to match and combine colors. The wheel is sturdy, clearly printed, and nicely sized at about 12 inches in diameter, making it small enough to carry with you to stores but large enough that the labels are easy to read.
2. Datacolor SpyderCHECKR 24
If you work with cameras in any form, you need a way to color-correct your images or video. This slim, double-sided reference is an upgrade to flimsy color cards. It features 24 spectrally formulated pigment patches, six grayscale tones, and a large neutral gray patch, all color-accurate and completely matte. Photograph the card in an evenly lit environment, import it in your editing software, and follow the included instructions for calibrating. You’ll end up creating a profile that you can batch-apply to images. There’s a slight learning curve, but the software is user friendly and the card is portable and durable.
3. Outus Color Wheel
This is a great color wheel to help beginners or young artists learn about complementary colors. The design is simple and accessible: One side shows harmonious color schemes. and the other shows the results of mixing two colors—done by rotating the wheel. Also spelled out are simple formulas for mixing ratios of colors to achieve a desired hue. Made of sturdy cardboard, it is nicely sized with a 5½ inch diameter for easy handling. Plus, you get two wheels to a package, making this a smart choice for classrooms and other group settings.
4. The New Munsell Student Color Set
Blending science and art, the Munsell color system is a tried and true way to identify and match colors. This book helps you get acquainted with the nearly 100-year-old system through a series of exercises designed to familiarize you with the key attributes of color: hue, value, and chroma. The set includes 11 color charts, 15 interactive charts, and a dozen packets of color chips that you’ll use in lessons to help you better understand how colors relate. Author Jim Long also covers color notations, color anomalies and symbolism, additive and subtractive color mixtures, and more.
5. Pantone Formula Guide Set and Color Book, 2020 Edition
Used by pros in the design industry, the Pantone color fan guide is a universal standard for visualizing and specifying colors for graphic design and ensuring that they remain consistent across the board. This thick deck, which has been updated to include the latest trends, showcases a whopping 2,161 spot color swatches. Each is shown with its number and ink formula so printers can accurately mix colors. Compared with previous Pantone books, this one is printed on thinner paper stock and feels a little less luxurious. But it remains an invaluable must-have, especially for those in the design business.