Creating Color Themes with Adobe Color


This page discusses how to create color schemes that are harmonious and pleasing to your viewing audience.

A well developed and nuanced color harmony can make a world of difference when creating marketing material.

For years I've relied on the current edition of the book Color Harmony for color ideas and suggestions. It has excellent examples of color harmonies for designers to use for inspiration, and it has a nice section near the back of the book that introduces the psychology of color.

Over the last 2–3 years, Adobe's Color web site (and apps and widgets) has begun to give Color Harmony a run for its money. It has a nice web-based interface, and it offers the helpful options to use what they suggest, create your own from scratch, browse the Color community for color schemes, or (one of the coolest features) build a color scheme from a piece of fine art or photograph.

Here's how I use Color to build color harmonies for my design work:


You can create cool color harmonies directly on this web site for free. Thanks Adobe! Simply adjust the sliders and selectors on the color wheel and write down the CMYK, RGB, Hex, etc. values and you're all set.

This is a fairly slow and inefficient way to do it though. For a better user experience, I'd suggest…

Create and sign in with an Adobe Account

In order to use Adobe Color more efficiently and productively, I suggest you create an Adobe account and sign in to the Color web site.

This gives you access to a few nice features. The first is the ability to save your color themes as a .ase (Adobe swatch exchange) file that can be imported into other Adobe Programs like Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign.

Signing in also allows you to save multiple color themes, edit them later, and share them on Color's social media sharing platform. Pretty cool!

Color Basics

Remember learning about the color wheel and different ways to create color harmony in art class? Color works the same way, and many of the terms it uses may sound familiar.


  • The main color wheel is based on the popular color wheel.
  • It features primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.
  • The drop down menu under 'Color Rule' allows you to choose where your color theme will begin. You can adjust it from there.
  • You can choose from analogous, monochromatic, triadic, complementary, compound, shades, and custom.

For further control and adjustment, Color features color controls that allow you to set precise values and match colors exactly. More about them later.

Create a Color Theme that Begins with a Specific Color

This is helpful for designers that need to start with a specific brand color and build a theme around it. Here's how…

  • First, click on the first color swatch and then click again on the small triangle (bottom center) to make it your base color.
  • Next, enter your brand color values
  • Then choose which color rule you want to use to build your color theme. Now you have a color theme that goes with your brand color.

Create a Color Theme from a Photo or Painting

This is a really cool feature. I've sample colors from some of my favorite photos and painters for years. Sometimes they capture a certain mood or feeling that you just can't get when you try to mix a theme yourself.

Here's how to do it is Color…

  • Click on the camera image on the top right of the web page
  • Select a .jpg of the photo or painting you want to use
  • That's it! Color does the rest for you.

  • It has created a color theme based on your painting.
  • It also gives you a choice of Color Moods to pick from
  • Or, you can create a custom theme by moving the selector dots

Saving and Using your Color Themes

Since you signed in to your own account, you can save your color themes in the My Themes tab.

  • This feature allows you to edit the theme, share a link to it, delete it, or download it as a .ase color theme file to use in another application like Illustrator, Photoshop, or InDesign.
  • Once you save your .ase file. You can load it into the other applications like this:
    • Illustrator: Window > Swatch Libraries > Other Library… (choose your .ase file)
    • InDesign: Swatches palette > Load Swatches… (choose your .ase file)
    • Photoshop: Swatches palette > Load Swatches… (choose your .ase file)

Color Syncs with Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop

If you have an active subscription to Adobe's Creative Cloud, you can access your Color panels in your Adobe applications. It looks like this in Illustrator:



Sharing your Color Themes Socially in Color

The color sharing community is one of the best parts of Color. Click on 'Explore' in the top tab area and you'll find thousands of color themes other Color users have created and shared. It's a great resource when beginning a design project.

You can search for color themes based on your project needs. Designing a retro poster? Search for '1950s'. You get a bunch of cool 1950s color schemes to inspire you.


Enjoy using this powerful design tool.