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How to Create A Textile Print: Color It Beautiful (Part 3)

Color is the soul of design. This magic ingredient transforms simple sketches into eye-catching masterpieces. In the world of surface pattern and textile design, it's a crucial element that can make or break your creation.

This week we’re discussing color and how color relates to and reverberates through your designs. Color helps capture our attention and draws us towards prints that suit our personal tastes.

This is part three of our series for a good reason. Creating a color palette for your initial artwork is a helpful early step because it merges your starting concepts — ground, color, + motifs to create an overall aesthetic.

Starting with a strong color story allows you to better envision the overall look and how you might want to use it in a garment. Imagine how you might feel about your design if you created beautiful motifs, but your palette was a hot mess. You could design something beautiful but in all the wrong colors and second-guess yourself while doubting your prints’ possibilities.

The color story for a floral print with a light pink ground and color swatches on the side.
Color story for a Fall 2023 print for Mentionables designed by Jasmine Stroud.

Have you ever seen a print with a lovely color story that you were immediately drawn towards? Often the color story as a whole is what makes a print captivating.

So before I start doing too much work on any motifs, I like to start by picking a few colors that I can work with that will also allow me to evaluate the artwork and its potential across different brands properly.

Paint Your Surface Design with Color Stories:

Aside from having tight ground or open ground as a factor in your print, the colors you choose, especially the ground of your textile pattern, can completely transform the mood and style of your design.

Darker colored backgrounds may read as moody or exotic, while lighter ones will feel airy and more delicate. The full range of colors is extensive; there's a lot you can do when you put your mind to it and pay attention to what's already out there that you love. Don't forget–experimenting with color combos is half the fun, so don't be afraid to think outside the box and let your creativity run wild!

To create a beautiful colorway, consider the following tips:

  • Find Inspiration Everywhere: If you pay attention, you can find color inspiration just about everywhere — it’s nature, fashion, art, or even your favorite Instagram or Pinterest feed. Create a mood board to help you visualize your color story and ensure that your chosen hues work harmoniously together.

  • Balance and Contrast: Balance your color palette by blending light, medium, and dark shades to ensure you can create a finished design to capture your audience. Using a range of color depth will create depth and contrast, making your pattern more visually appealing.

  • Bright, Light, Dark, Dull, Saturated: Consider what the finished palette will look like and how it will all play together. Colors need balance to work well in a surface pattern design. You want bright (hot pink, bright yellow, poppy red), light (pastel pink, cream, robins blue), dark (navy, black, army green), dull (beige, rust, slate), and saturated (crimson, magenta, kelly green) options.

  • Don't forget white: This is one of my favorite callouts in terms of prints and colors. We often forget white, but it's a great relief color. If a print is ALL color with no white, it often feels a little out of balance. Sometimes it works for it, but mostly I find white is a necessary component to make a beautiful print.

  • Ground Color Magic✨: Changing the ground color can completely switch up the vibe of your print. For example, a dark ground color might give your pattern a more dramatic, mysterious feel. In contrast, a light ground color might create a fresh, airy look.

Color Stories and Creating Palettes

A color story is a cohesive set of colors that tells a particular 'tale' through your design. Perhaps you want to evoke a breezy, tropical summer day, a deep and mysterious forest, or a crisp autumn afternoon. Your choice of colors sets the scene and carries the narrative.

Monochromatic, Complementary, and Square color schemes
Examples of color schemes: Square, Monochromatic, and Complementary.

Creating a color palette goes hand-in-hand with curating your color story. Your palette should be a harmonious collection of hues that work well together and serve your story. Sometimes unlikely colors look absolutely stunning together. Don’t be afraid to try something unusual to see if it might work. Remember, balance is key.

The Power of Color Positions

Floral print with burgundy background and sketches of lingerie filled with print.
Mentionables Fall 2023 print with burgundy ground.

Color position refers to the distribution of colors within your design. Just as the placement of your motifs can dramatically change the look and feel of your pattern, so can your color positions.

Floral print with pink background and sketches of lingerie filled with print.
Mentionables Fall 2023 print with pink ground.

For instance, you may have a palette of five colors. Suppose you switch the most dominant color (usually the ground), or rearrange which colors are used for the motifs and the ground. In that case, you will likely end up with an entirely different look, even using the same exact colors.

Floral print with ochre yellow background and sketches of lingerie filled with print.
Mentionables Fall 2023 print with ochre yellow ground.

Experiment with your designs. Sometimes a minor change can make a huge difference!

A Splash of Color Theory

Color theory is an essential tool for any designer, and its principles hold in print design as well. The color wheel, the foundation of color theory, consists of primary (red, blue, yellow), secondary (green, orange, purple), and tertiary colors (the combination of primary and secondary colors).

The relationships between these colors are where the magic happens. Here are a few key relationships to consider:

  • Complementary Colors: These are colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel (like blue and orange). They create high contrast and can make your design 'pop'.

  • Analogous Colors: These are colors next to each other on the color wheel (like yellow, green, and blue). They create harmonious designs with a serene feel.

  • Triadic Colors: This scheme uses colors evenly spaced around the color wheel (like green, orange, and purple). It offers vibrant contrast while retaining harmony.

  • Monochromatic Colors: This scheme uses different shades and tints of a single color. It creates a cohesive and sophisticated design.

Color theory wheel

Remember colors can be different weights which is another way we refer to the darkness or lightness of a color. Often this is very helpful in a design to help elements either pop out or sit down in the print. The best way to understand how any of these colors work together is to start playing with them in the context of your print.

Understanding color theory can help you choose balanced and visually pleasing palettes, ensuring your designs are as impactful as possible!

As we conclude our exploration of the world of color in surface pattern design, we hope you're inspired to create your own captivating color stories. Remember, when it comes to color, there are no rules - only endless possibilities for creativity and innovation. So grab your palette and let your imagination soar! Stay tuned for our next installment, where we will delve deeper into the role of motifs in your design.

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