Color Picking 101: It's Easier Than You Think




This instructable is the first in a series designed to help you confidently choose colors for your projects. Whether you're looking to match fabrics for a quilt, design accessories, work in tile, or any other craft that requires you to pick your own colors.

Working in a fabric store and helping people choose fabric on a regular basis I'm always surprised how often I hear that people think that the fabrics they pick out won't look as good as a pre-chosen kit, or that they're scared to do it themselves. This id designed to make you more confident, so you can make beautiful things!

You can find links to other tutorials I've written on my blog at

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Step 1: Inspiration Is Closer Than You Might Think!

As the title says, inspiration for color choices is closer than you might think. In this first section of Colo Picking 101, we're going to head to the local do it yourself store for colors.

You're probably going to want to look for a larger chain type store for a few reasons (I like to hit up Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes). The first main reason is you're not actually going to buy paint. The second reason is not only are you not going to buy paint, but you're going to take color cards and you want a wide selection.

The first photo attached is probably what you're NOT looking for which is a pure color gradient. Unfortunately, there's not much difference in trying to choose from this selection than there is in walking into your local fabric store and choosing blindly from a color wall.

The second photo is the type of paint display you're looking for (this one is from my local WaltMart). Notice that there are lots of pre-coordinated room painting suggestions!

Step 2: Why Reinvent the Wheel?

So as you've probably guessed, we're going to use pre-coordinated paint chips to help guide our choice to coordinate colors for our projects.

This is part of my collection of paint chips and brochures from various stores, and various seasons. There are palettes to fit every style, pictured below are Disney, Major League Sports, Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, and several house brands of paint. I do try to pick up new cards about once a year, as colors and trends do change, though I do keep the old ones. This is also useful if you're crafting for a gift, and the recipient's style is completely different from your own.

Step 3: Stepping Out

So for an example we're going to choose two very different color styles and match fabric from the local shop to the chips. I chose the Magenta/Red/Burgundy Shaded grouping from Valspar and the Disney Tinkerbell by Behr as case studies.

Step 4: Digging Deeper

The cards both have complete collections of colors inside the brochures, and the work of picking complementary and contrasting colors has all been done for you.

Step 5: More Options

I also personally like to pick up the actual color chips in addition to the coordinated brochure (this is a big perk to chain stores as opposed to little stores, no one bothers you when you walk out with a huge bag of paint chips).

Notice the Valspar chips have neat little windows on them to match things with, and the Behr/Disney chips are dual colored.

Step 6: Picking Fabrics

As this is an example, and I work in a fabric store, I'm using fabric as an example but you could very easily be choosing scrap booking papers, quilting fabrics, embroidery floss or threads, or tile for a mosaic.

As I find a fabric that matches the paint chip (also another reason to pick up individual chips) I pull the bolt (or a fat quarter depending on what I'm looking for). I choose which ever piece of fabric most closely matches the chip I have in my hand. This is the easy part- Everyone can match!

Step 7: Ready to Move On!

You now have completed your color selections for your project and it was as easy as pie! You at this point could use all the colors, or select a few that you like, to create something with.

The fabric for the Tinkerbell colors were scattered through our color wall, but the fabrics from the Valspar colors are from Wyndham's Civil War III Reproductions and RJR's Thimbleberries. (see "Color Picking 102: Letting the Store do the Work for You" for more on fabric lines)



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    15 Discussions

    MYT CR8TiV

    6 years ago on Step 7

    Thank you for sharing ! I always wanted to try quilting but I always got so frazzled over color coordination. I'd find patterns that I adored but each pattern were in different colors and all the quilts I saw online were so nicely color coordinated so I felt intimidated if I made a quilt that wasn't color coordinated. This helped immensely ! I'll definitely be picking up some paint sample cards the next time I'm at the hardware store.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Linux users might wanna try Agave, a program which can generate a variety of color palates depending on criteria, and also acts as a general color sampler.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Although this seems to be picking colors for your house, it has inspired me to use a paint color-wheel for my web-design color picking. I came here because I hoped it was for that, and everyone out there who's seen my stuff knows I really really suck at that.

    6 replies

    It's not at all picking colors for your house, but using the prechosen colors from the home improvement places to make your color choices easier on your craft of choice (I did fabric as an example)

    I think zachninme meant for the home as in crafts and stuff and not paint for the house. Web colors and real colors (as in your colors) are often described similarly and I think zachninme just misunderstood before clicking, that this was for the real stuff. In any case, you've done a fine tutorial and is incredibly helpful for those of us who get quickly overwhelmed when selecting real colors. Thank you so much for it!


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Yes :P By "for your house", I sort of meant picking colors for anything that is in your house, but its fine, great instructable ;-)


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Picking colors for the text and background on your website is tricky, because if you're not careful, you can exclude colorblind people. Play with the wellstyled color scheme generator for a little while. It's a full-featured color wheel with the usual toys plus a hex RGB readout, just like all the other web color scheme tools. But it also allows you to simulate the view through various types of color-blindness, so you can see if the contrast falls flat for a certain segment of the population.

    Play with it for a while, it'll open your eyes. (ha!)


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, yes I know. That's not the hard part for me though :P I just can't pick colors period :P


    11 years ago on Introduction

    here is a great online colour resource too:
    it's a web-based colour community!
    there are a load of pre-set colour schemes you can choose from. these are created and shared online by people around the world but if you want to make your own combination, hit the "Create" link and you're away! V cool.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This is a clever idea, I never thought to use interior design color schemes for quilting! Great!