Time for design school. Today’s topic: what’s a monochromatic color scheme? First, let’s start with the monochromatic definition. This term refers to a range of colors in the same hue with different levels of saturation. A practical monochromatic color example would be a design in varying shades of blue. The only rule to maintaining a strict monochromatic color palette is to not introduce any other hues.
If you need a visual to help understand this concept, imagine those paint color chips at the hardware store. They’re a perfect example of a monochromatic color wheel. They stick to one hue and show the gradation of its different intensities.
In this piece, we’ll show you how to use monochrome in your designs and wow your audience with an exceptional application of color theory. They won’t know you’re not a professional graphic designer, and we won’t tell them.
What’s a monochromatic color scheme?
In the definition above, we explained that monochrome refers to a color scheme containing a single hue (like blue) in different shades. But, what’s a shade? Oftentimes, we hear the term shade used to describe colors, and this is an honest mistake. Words like tone get thrown around as well, and they’re also not quite correct.
So, here’s a cheat sheet on these color terms that will help you better understand the concept of a monochromatic color scheme.
Hue is a good synonym for colors. Hue refers to the colors that we grew up learning on the color wheel and grabbing from our crayon boxes.
Tints are colors with white mixed into them (i.e. pastels). This is an important term to consider when thinking about monochrome because adding white to a color is a way to vary its intensity without changing the hue.
Tones are colors with gray mixed into them. This is another key term whenever you’re talking about monochrome because adding gray to color is another way to change the intensity and darken the hue.
Shades are colors with black mixed into them. Adding black to a color is yet another way to vary intensity in a monochromatic scheme.
Why use monochromatic colors in designs?
If you’re not a professional graphic designer, jumping into a creative project can be nerve-racking. That’s completely understandable, but you’ve got this. One of the best ways to start creating is to understand what looks good and why. So, here are some reasons why a monochromatic design works well:
It limits your color palette:
Busy or clashing color combinations can be tough on the eyes. Using a limited color palette – in this case, just one hue – helps keep your design coherent. One of the challenges of designing is having an overwhelming number of options at your fingertips. Sticking to one color can help counter that stress.
Helps with brand awareness:
The color blue, thanks to the branding of social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, has become nearly synonymous with tech. You can create the same effect for your brand by using a color that your target audience will forever associate with your logo and other marketing materials.
Monochrome is classy:
This is a value judgment, but monochrome bears a certain refinement. Why? It resists calling too much attention to itself and allows other visual and text elements like shapes and fonts to stand out.
10 tips for using monochromatic colors
Even seasoned designers can use a tip from time to time. So, whether this is your first time around the color wheel or you have a MFA, check out this list of 10 tips for improving your use of monochromatic colors:
Look before you leap:
When generating a monochromatic color scheme, you’re stuck with the base color you choose. So read up on your industry and the way that certain colors make people feel before launching a whole marketing campaign (or brand) around one in particular.
No, beige isn’t on the color wheel, but it’s the perfect muted hue for visually-busy spaces like social media.
You can create visual interest in a single-color scheme by using textured elements instead of flat, solid surfaces.
Amp up the contrast:
When you’re working with similar colors, you’ll have to create differentiation between them. One way to do that is by contrasting lighter and darker shades of the same hue against one another.
Don’t take it too seriously:
If you feel like your monochrome design could use a black line or some white spacel, go for it. You don’t always have to stick to the color you’ve chosen if it’s limiting you from doing your best work. Black and white outlines can help delineate elements well.
Neutrals may be refined, but bold colors grab attention. Plus, when you use them in a monochromatic scheme, you reduce the potential for busy visuals because you’re already working with a limited (albeit powerful) palette.
Enhance your design with photos:
Look for monochromatic stock images that work with your color scheme. These can come in handy for social media posts or filling in visual gaps on your website. You can also filter photos with overlays of the color in your scheme.
Shapes can help:
Using shapes in your design provides you with an opportunity to color block, or in this case, shade block. And, don’t just stick to the geometric shapes. Add in organic shapes and symbols to vary space as well.
Add in a pop of color:
Yes, another color. If you have a refined monochromatic design scheme, you can use a bold or complementary colors from time to time. If you get the accent color right, this scheme can live on as your brand’s special look.
Shades of gray:
Grayscale is not technically monochrome because gray is not a color, but no need to split hairs. Grayscale is another neutral-leaning scheme that’s easy to reproduce (it looks great in print media, for example) and can denote luxury.
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