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How to use colour to make your illustrations pop

Colour treatment in illustration is a personal affair, and no two illustrations should be treated the same. Colour, if used correctly, can pull some strong visual punches that will take an illustration from bland to bold. 

We’re going to talk through a few tips and tricks to use regularly and give an insight into how bold colour can be used to create maximum impact in an illustration. For more tips on colour, see our ultimate guide to colour theory.

01. Be careful when using complementary colours

Rich yellows and blue make a harmonious colour palette (Image credit: Hazel P Mason)

These colours are the ones directly opposite each other on the colour wheel – for example, orange and blue. However, using these direct combinations can result in slightly garish and unconsidered colour treatments. To create a more sophisticated and intentional contrast, it may be worth looking to the left or right of one of the two colours. Sticking to the example of orange and blue, if you choose an orange-based yellow instead and pair it with the blue they would still sit happily as complementary colours, but have a more considered intention behind them.

02. Go with analogous colours

Colour in illustration: analogous colours

Warm-toned analogous colours create a bold and cohesive impact (Image credit: Hazel P Mason)

Sometimes an illustration doesn’t require a direct contrast of colours and a good way to have a harmonious yet still impactful colour treatment is to go with analogous colours. Simply put, they are the colours that are directly next to each other on the colour wheel. It’s a less visually jarring technique than complementary colours and is easier on the eye because of its natural cohesiveness. If done with confidence an illustration can be impactful if coloured this way.

03. Use the best of both

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