How to Not Suck at Color

Armed with a few simple techniques, you can stop making people’s eyes bleed

Greg Gunn
Published in
9 min readMay 15, 2019


Photo: PM Images/Getty Images

IfIf you took any kind of art class growing up, chances are your instructor mentioned the term “color theory.” And that was probably the last time you gave that term any kind of thought. Which explains why a lot of us make arbitrary decisions about color.

When you think of color, you may think of a blue sky, green grass, and black metal music. (Okay, maybe you didn’t think black metal.)

Color is this intangible and visual experience that comes with an emotional response. It is a complex thing when you really think about it. And it can be intimidating to work with.

For whatever reason, thinking about color is my favorite part of the creative process. Maybe it’s the high stakes that come with it: Use color the right way and it will make the experience richer and more vibrant. But use color the wrong way and it will make your eyes bleed.

Not literally, of course, but it will look bad and the world will judge you accordingly.

The ABCs of RGB

Now, I’m sure of a lot of you reading this struggle with how to use color. I did too — still do at times. But once you understand some fundamental rules, working with color will become something you look forward to. Hell, you might even enjoy it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s for graphic design, illustration, or motion design. The same principles apply.

So, today we’re going to cover some basics for how to work with color. Think of it as the ABCs of RGB. And not only will I explain by example, but I will leave you with some handy tips along the way…

Okay, fine. I’ll also include a free download with a bunch of my favorite color resources. Happy? Good.

Now let’s get to work.

The concept of color

In the simplest terms, color is a sensation. It’s like a smell. We all pretty much agree about how something smells, but it’s a slightly different experience for everyone. In the case of color, we’re using our eyes and not our nose. (I do wonder what purple smells like, though.)



Greg Gunn
Writer for

Creative Director that draws a lot. Get weekly email stories from me —