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Quick Tip: Color and InDesign

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Read Time: 5 min

For this tutorial I will list a selection of my favorite InDesign shortcuts when working with color. Once memorized these shortcuts will help you become more efficient and give you more time to be creative. First, I would like to share some general color advice that I regard as essential.

Use a Color Wheel

By using a color wheel and developing color schemes, you can restrict your palette to avoid using random colors and ultimately a color clash. Color wheels are available across the Internet and most are free. I have recreated a basic color wheel within InDesign and saved it to my library, so it is always available for reference. Once it is saved into a library it can be dragged and dropped onto the workspace to view and sample. See my article, Sharing Files with the Indesign Library, for more information.

Depth in Color

Take a look at a selection of art over the centuries and study the saturation in the color (a good example to Google is ‘New York Movie' by Edward Hopper). To create the illusion of depth, the saturation and value of the color is adjusted. The higher saturation and value, the bolder/closer the color seems. And the lower the saturation and value, the weaker/far away it appears. By designing a color scheme around these principles you can add real depth to designs.

Text Color

There are a few guidelines to bear in mind when working with text and color. First always try to use saturated colors for the body text. This will help you avoid print discrepancies, for example dotty fills and rough edges. If you are using a color mix for your body text it is possible that the register might shift causing an unwanted drop shadow or blurry effect. Secondly if you are overlaying text on colored background, attempt to employ contrasting colors (for example white on magenta or black on a low tint of purple). However, be careful as complementary colors don’t always produce a guaranteed contrast, one example of this is blue text on an orange background.

Do your Color Research

Globally there is nothing more conflicting than color association. In the western culture the color red generally symbolizes danger, whereas in China it symbolizes luck and fortune. Let's say you are designing an 8-page health and safety booklet. In terms of color association you want to know who and where will it be read by. If it is only going to be distributed across England, UK a red theme will be fine, however in China red will project a different meaning. I have recently read in an article that if you worry too much about color meaning you might as well print black and white. I disagree, it is good to worry about what color you use and how it will impact on the reader, it shows that you care about your designs. Remember, research and research some more.

Carry a Camera / Sketchbook

You will hear this advice time and time again. And for good reason too. Inspiration can crop up anytime, any place. I have small digital camera that is always in reach and a moleskin sketchbook always near by. For desktop publishing a camera is more suited for capturing color than a sketchbook. InDesign holds the ability to pick up colors from imported graphics. So if you spot a color or set of colors, for example in a garden, take a photograph and import it directly into InDesign to sample the colors.

Tip: Eyedropper Tool

Once a photograph has been imported into InDesign select your eyedropper tool (shortcut = i) from the toolbox. Zoom into the part of the photograph you want to sample and click. Within the swatch palette the sampled color will appear, click on this color and drag it to the bottom of the swatch list and rename it. If you want to select another color hold down alt to reset the eyedropper and repeat the process.

Tip: Apply Color Fast

Instead of selecting an object and then selecting the color in the swatch palette, just grab the color with your cursor and drag it to the object you want to apply it to. A plus symbol will appear or the object will highlight depending on which version you are using, either way it has registered an object. Release the mouse button to fill the object.

Tip: Saving Tints

You can create a tint of a color by moving the tint slider at the top of the swatch palette. However this method will save over the top of the original color. To build up a series of tints, determine the tint value you require and then click on the new swatch button at the bottom of the palette. You will see another swatch appear with the tint percentage in its name, you will also notice the original swatch remains untouched. However be sure to click once anywhere on your document after you have created your tints. If you were to click directly on another color the tint value will be applied to this color too. As far as I can gather this is a bug within InDesign.

Tip: Instant Shade

To instantly create a shade of a color go to the color palette, hold down the shift key and click and drag one of the sliders to the left or right. Holding down shift will force the sliders to move as a group.

Tip: Fill and Stroke

To set your stroke to none simply select the object and hit the forward slash key. And to swap the stroke color for the fill color hold down the shift key and hit X. And as Photoshop users will know, to return to the default fill and stoke settings hit the D button.

Tip: Recycle Previous Swatches

If you have a master document saved and you could do with using the color swatches from this document, try this tip. Open the swatch palette and go to the fly out menu > Load swatches. Now navigate to the location where the document is saved and click open. The colors will then flow into your palette.

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