10 Expert Tips on How to Choose Color Schemes for Your Infographics

10 Expert Tips on How to Choose Color Schemes for Your Infographics
Carmen Diaz-Soloaga

Written by:
Carmen Diaz-Soloaga

Jan 19, 2017


Let's be honest: None of us, not even those of us who are designers, were born with an innate sense of color.

In fact, when we were children, we most likely experimented with colors and didn't even apply them in a way that reflected what we saw in real life. In our imaginary world, a green sun, a pink giraffe or a yellow tree made perfect sense.


But step by step, over the years, we learned to reflect exactly what we saw in the real world and began to draw a yellow sun, a tan giraffe with brown splotches and a green tree.

When we venture into the world of do-it-yourself infographic design, this same learning process takes place. At first, so many colors and options may lead us to spend hours at a time trying to find just the right combination--or simply lead us to consider hiring someone else to do it for us.

But over time, and with some knowledge of how color theory applies to infographics, it’s easy to decide which colors work best and which to discard.

As an experienced content marketer and graphic designer, I want to give you a few tips on how to choose the right color schemes for your infographics, and you’ll discover that it’s not so difficult to apply color theory principles to infographic design.

So let's get started!

RELATED: Color Theory for Presentations: How to Choose the Perfect Colors for Your Designs


Plan Before You Begin

plan your infographic before you begin to choose color schemes

The first challenge experienced by those who are new to infographic design is that it consumes a lot of time--time most of us don’t have. So many prefer to do something less time-consuming, like write blog posts or share pictures and graphics created by others.

But the importance of creating your own images and graphics, especially infographics, cannot be overstated in today's "visual Internet."

Infographics are an excellent way to boost the online visibility of your company's vision, identity and proprietary information.

So the question is: How can you spend the least amount of time possible designing an infographic and still obtain excellent results? The key is to carefully plan each step:


Step 1: Determine your audience.

how-to-choose-the-right-color-scheme-for-your-infographic: step 1 determine your audience

This may seem obvious, but the process of designing an infographic for, let's say, a toy company is not the same as for a real estate one.

That’s why it’s best to think about who exactly is going to consume your infographic before you start designing.

Mothers, executives or millennials? Depending on who your target audience is, your color selections will vary and, possibly, the way readers will process your infographic.


Step 2: Draw a sketch.

how-to-choose-the-right-color-scheme-for-your-infographic step 2: draw a sketch

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a quick drawing of how you are going to visually represent your content, how many sections or blocks the infographic will have and what elements (such as images or illustrations) will stand out above others.


Step 3: Choose the main elements.

how-to-choose-the-right-color-scheme-for-your-infographic-step 3: choose the main elements

If you aren’t an illustrator or photographer, you can use images and illustrations created by others, which are available through image and icon libraries or free online infographic tools such as Visme.

It may not seem that important at first, but the simple decision of which illustration or image to choose conditions the whole tone and the chromatic scheme of your infographic.

From here on out, I recommend that you don't go outside the chosen chromatic range, or expand or modify it while incorporating graphics and texts to your project, or the final result will have nothing to do with the first sketch you did.


How to Choose Infographic Color Schemes

Let's focus on point 3 of the process I just described. For this, there is no other option than to return to grade school for just a few minutes and remember the basic rules of color.

RELATED: Color Psychology in Marketing: The Ultimate Guide


Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colors

The theory of color is halfway between art and science. The first formulations of these theories are found in the book "Opticks" by Isaac Newton.

Nowadays, there are several theories that we categorize as either traditional or modern, the latter influenced by the most recent scientific discoveries.

how-to-choose-the-right-color-scheme-for-your-infographic-primary secondary tertiary colors

The first thing you should know is that the so-called primary colors are limited by our physiological response to light. That is, our eyes have certain receptors (called cones) that make us see three primary colors: red, green and blue.

Other species have more cones, so they can see 4 primary colors. In contrast, those who have fewer cones, can only see two primary colors.

That is why we speak of "psychological" colors, because the colors that we appreciate are not present in the real world, but our brain interprets them thanks to the receptors we have.


Difference Between Primary and Secondary Colors

Primary colors are those that our eyes perceive (RGB), and secondary ones are those that result from a mixture of these:

Green + Blue = Cyan

Red + Blue = Magenta

Red + Green = Yellow

Red + Blue + Green = White

how-to-choose-the-right-color-scheme-for-your-infographic-primary colors secondary colors

These secondary colors are obtained by adding (additive synthesis) the primaries and the sum of the three will result in the color white.

And how do you get black? Good question! The color black is obtained from the secondary colors through another process called subtractive synthesis:

Magenta + Yellow = Red

Cyan + Yellow = Green

Cyan + Magenta = Blue

Cyan + Magenta + Yellow = Black


Tertiary Colors and Impossible Models

Finally, note that tertiary colors are obtained from the mixture of equal parts of a primary color and a secondary color.

This mixture allows for the extension of a chromatic range so that we can see nuances between colors, such as orange-yellow or orange-red. They are similar, but not the same.

Before concluding this brief summary, I want to warn you that these models (better known as RGB and CMYK) are only theoretical models, not physical ones.

The colors we perceive are a result of how our brains respond to the stimulation of light in color receptors located in the iris, not a property of light.

That’s why we speak of impossible models, because colors vary according to the person and, of course, the species.

how-to-choose-the-right-color-scheme-for-your-infographic-how women and men see colors

In fact, some women also have yellow cones in addition to RGB cones, so they perceive colors that other people will never perceive.


How to Create Color Schemes

infographic is like the stage for your story
Now let's get back to adulthood: It’s time to apply all this theory to infographic design and the process of choosing the right color schemes.

I like to define infographics as "scenes in which a story unfolds," as if they were the stage of a play.

This stage is one of the key parts of an infographic, and the story told must be authentic or your visual will not achieve its intended effect. The stage sets the scene for the story and its elements should be easily identifiable for the target audience.

These scenes should contain:

how-to-choose-the-right-color-scheme-for-your-infographic-identifiable elements consistent scheme simple combinations

Easily identifiable elements, related to the story that is told, as in this infographic about how to become an infographic design "ninja." By setting the scene with elements related to ninjas, we've created a visual theme which helps viewers assimilate the story.

A consistent color scheme. If your infographic has a Christmassy look and feel, it doesn't make sense to use a chromatic range containing colors like pink or sky blue. Traditionally, we associate Christmas with red and green.

Simple color combinations. If you stick with me till the end of this post, you will see a few color combinations that work. But keep in mind: It’s always better if you stick to two or three colors that combine well with each other.

To breathe life into these scenes, you must choose a color scheme that fulfills both of these functions: allows for easy reading and is visually attractive.

In order to create these schemes, you must take into account something I mentioned at the beginning of this article: the target audience. You should not use pink in a business infographic, nor the color black in an infographic about child care.

These guidelines should help you choose a color scheme:

Professional infographics about services. In the business world, blue and gray are two of the most used colors. It's an unwritten rule that you don’t have to stick to, but I don’t recommend childish colors or pastel colors that are too soft.

Infographics about high-end or exclusive products or services. Black is a color associated with luxury, but it’s difficult to apply in an infographic without creating a depressing mood. When done correctly, it is often part of a simple color scheme such as the black-white used by Chanel or the dark brown and black used by Nespresso.

Infographics for the millennial audience. Fortunately, millennials have a more open mind, though they also have their preferences. In general, bright colors are more pleasing to them than dull and sad ones, most likely because they use social media daily.


Types of Color Schemes

types of colors schemes monochromatic triadic complementary

There are three ways to choose colors according to the color wheel: monochrome color schemes, triadic color schemes and complementary color schemes.

If you aren’t an expert designer, you should take great care in choosing appropriate color schemes. The reason is that the theory does not always work well when other elements such as typefaces or pie charts with data come into play.


Monochromatic Color Schemes

These can be created by selecting a single color and modifying other characteristics such as the value and saturation to arrive at other tones and shades of the same hue.

monochromatic color schemes

The value is the amount of black or white that we add to a certain color, so that the chosen color becomes lighter or darker. It is a very simple way to choose a color scheme and it always works.

You can also use saturation to get variations of the same color and complete the scheme.

Saturation affects the brightness and purity of the color, but you should choose it wisely because unlike with value, not all saturation combinations work well together.

My recommendation: If you want to use a monochromatic color scheme and you do not have much experience as a designer, modify the value to obtain variations of the same hue that combine well with each other. But do not use the whole range. Choose only three colors that exhibit enough contrast so that they are able to be overlapped without losing clarity.


Triadic Color Schemes

Following this type is considered the easiest way to choose color schemes for beginners, although you must be careful when choosing them. You can create this type of color scheme by choosing three colors that are equidistant from each other on the color wheel.

My recommendation: Try to darken the two colors that form the base of the triangle. This way, you will create more contrast with the main color and using overlays in your design will be easier, like when you place text on top of a colored background.


Complementary Color Schemes

This type of color scheme combines contrasting colors on the color wheel, like red and green or blue and orange.

This system works best if one of the colors is dominant and the other serves to create contrast. You should choose color variations carefully to avoid creating a jarring effect.

My recommendation: It is not easy to create harmonious color schemes with this method. If you want to create this type of combination, I advise you to use pre-created schemes, such as those found in Paletton.


How to Choose Colors for Charts and Graphs

how to choose colors for charts and graphs

If you think choosing a color scheme for your infographic is complicated, then wait till you have to choose colors for your graphs and charts.

Why? Because the colors chosen should help viewers understand the data more quickly in order to make decisions.

That's why in this case, it's best to put aside risky choices in favor of clarity.

If the graph represents a progression, my recommendation is that you use single-color gradations, whereas if the graph represents the comparison of more than two variables, the colors should have enough contrast to be distinguishable at first glance.

When choosing color schemes for graphs, keep these tips in mind:

how to choose colors for charts and graphs

  • It’s better if the bars or parts of the pies charts are brightly colored, while the numbers may be muted colors like gray. This will highlight the general progress of the chart and the reader will not be distracted by details.
  • If you want to highlight specific data points, use the brightest color and a larger size. At a glance, the reader will perceive the message.
  • Finally, if it is not necessary, do not include numbers on the x and y axis scales. Readers will only perceive the general trend or conclusion to which you want to guide them.


How to Choose Color Schemes for Text

how to choose colors for text

In addition to graphics, problems also arise when choosing colors for text. Although color theory works best when applied to graphics, when it comes to text, keep these recommendations in mind:

Contrast is important. If the text cannot be easily read, your color scheme needs to be modified.

Colors that are too bright may have unexpected results when viewed on different devices.

Always remember that the Internet is governed by a system of colors called "hexadecimal values."

These colors are part of a numbering system that allows them to look the same on all devices. Their range is much less (216 colors) and they are represented by a code of 6 letters or numbers.

Black text on white background will always read better than the inverted version: When the text is white, the black background tends to eat up the white space. If this happens, use bold typefaces to make the white mass larger.


Final Recommendations

To conclude, I want to summarize everything we've reviewed and boil it down to 10 tips on how to choose the right color schemes for your infographics.

1. If you are not a professional designer, choose simple color schemes, such as those based on a color and its variations of hue and saturation.

2. The chosen colors should have sufficient contrast between them.

3. If you do not want to take the time to choose your own color schemes, use tools like Coolors or Visme, which comes with 50 ready-to-use color presets.

4. Black text on white background reads better than the opposite.

5. Keep the user in mind when you plan infographics.

6. Never act without a plan.

7. If you use pie or bar charts, choose a color and then create gradations of that same color.

8. For comparative graphics, choose colors with sufficient contrast.

9. There are colors that are traditionally associated with a target audience: Respect this rule.

10. It is not necessary to be a designer to create infographics with harmonious color schemes. Look for inspiration in social media.


Your Turn

Would you like to share your own experience applying color theory principles to infographics? What is your process for choosing harmonious color schemes for your infographics?

Let's chat in the comments section and hope to see you on social media!

Create Stunning Content!

Design visual brand experiences for your business whether you are a seasoned designer or a total novice.

Try Visme for free

    We’re stingy and don’t share emails with anyone.

    About the Author

    Carmen Díaz is a content marketing manager based in Madrid, with over 15 years of experience creating custom infographics for small businesses. The marketing guru behind Social Media Pymes, she works with all types of clients who want to generate leads through actionable, user-centered content for social media and company websites.

    16 responses to “10 Expert Tips on How to Choose Color Schemes for Your Infographics”

    1. carlos says:

      Un pedazo de artículo. Muy completo y visual tal y como requiere el tema. Mi enhorabuena!

    2. Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the challenges.
      It was really informative. Your website is useful.

      Thank you for sharing!

    3. Lori P. says:

      Very informative article with good visual examples. Thank you!

    4. Eric Schmieder says:

      Excellent article, especially for someone like myself who feels more technical than artistic most days. I do feel the need to encourage you to revise part of the article, however.

      Primary colors are not RGB (Red, Green, Blue) as you stated. Neither are Secondary colors CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). RGB is a subtractive model for creating colors from red, green, and blue that is used primarily in web and other screen imagery. CMYK is an additive model used primarily in print.

      Primary colors are Red, Yellow, and Blue. Mixing any two primary colors gives you the secondary color set of Orange, Green, and Purple. Mixing any primary color with the neighboring secondary color (for example Red and Orange) gives you the tertiary color.

      Excellent information otherwise in the article! Thanks for putting it together.

    5. […] que sea imposible. Cuando tuve la oportunidad de publicar en el blog de Visme el artículo “Cómo elegir el esquema de color adecuado para tu infografía” me di cuenta de que no se andan con […]

    6. Rajan Cherian says:

      Hi Carmen,
      Very informative…especially for a beginner like me. Just before going through your article I happened to go through the video by Payman (Episode 5: How To Make a Presentation – Choose the Best Color For Your Slides ), in which he mentions that the primary colors are red, blue and yellow. Please let me know which is the right one.

      • Hi Rajan,

        Thanks for your comment. You’re right, the primary colors are red, green and blue. This colors are not universal for every animal on earth. We (humans) have a physiological response to light. That is, our eyes have certain receptors (called cones) that make us see these three primary colors: red, green and blue.

        Thanks again for your comment. I hope this article help you to star designing infographics!

    7. kelly merrill says:

      Primary hues are red, yellow blue. Secondary are green, purple and orange. I’d make that distinction between light and hue especially when your images are at the top of google image searches.
      -Art Teacher

    8. Antonio says:

      I am just learning about infographics and this was really helpful. We are trying to help people with health problems, your article will be part of our tools to help.

      Muchas gracias

    9. Samuel Kimani says:

      Thought this article was great but the free Non-designers guide to creating visual slides has utterly blown my mind. Can’t believe it’s free. Thank you so much Carmen and Visme team.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Now Available: Become a Certified Presentation Expert for FreeTake the Course