Layout 101: Color Choices
When creating a theme or cover for a book, putting together a logo for your company, or simply picking a banner for your social media account, the colors you choose to incorporate in the design play a large part in communicating intent and purpose. Depending on the colors present, it will instill different emotions in those looking at it.
This is not an exact science, as colors mean different things depending on a number of factors. How the colors work together, the cultural lens, and the message attempt to communicate are all things to consider when selecting color stories for your projects.
In western culture, the culture I am most familiar with and the culture which most fantasy RPGs are based on, we have learned to associate certain colors with certain emotions. Red is often used to represent love and passion, while also being the color used on stop signs and symbols marking danger. Among D&D 5e products, horror genre and Ravenloft supplements often utilize red to symbolize the horror and danger found within.
Green is associated with nature, spring, and growth, but when used in the wrong context that meaning could be lost. Books that focus on nature tend to use green as a prominent color as it immediately connects to the fields and forests.
Black and white can, in most cases, be paired with any other color and compliment it. Depending on the lightness of the color in question, adding black or white can wash out the colors or make them pop in sharp contrast.
When it comes to actually colors that go well together, there is a system established that can aid in choosing your color story. These are rules about what colors go well together and which do not, and there are different methods you can use. As an overall term, these methods are referred to as color harmonies, and they are incredibly important when you are choosing what colors to use for a theme or product cover.
The most utilized of these color harmonies are analog, monochromatic, triad, and complementary. Adobe has an online color picker tool that can be used to quickly and easily create your own color stories using a preset series of harmonies, including the ones mentioned above. You can find it here.
When colors lie fairly close together on the color wheel, but do not overlap the harmony is considered analog. Examples could be green, yellow green, and yellow, or red, red violet, and violet. Black and white are not needed to create an analog harmony, though they can be used to change the tone of the chosen colors.
Monochromatic colors consist of one color that is made darker or lighter using black and white. This is not often seen on book covers, at least in comparison to the other harmonies, as the colors flow together more and thereby create less contrast.
Example is Sir Alkian’s Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse by Anne Gregersen.
Because its use makes it difficult to successfully maintain a completely serious tone, triad harmony is not frequently used in TTRPG cover design . To create a triad harmony, imagine laying a perfect triangle on top of the color wheel and then selecting the colors where the points of the triangle touch. An example could be using the three primary colors of red, blue, and yellow, or the secondary colors of orange, green, and violet.
This is by far the most used and popular color harmony. It is understandable, since this is easy to use and incredibly effective at getting the attention of onlookers because of the contrast it creates. To make a complementary color harmony, simply choose one color and then pick the color on the opposite side of the color wheel. Examples could be red violet and yellow green, or the classic blue and orange.
Anne Gregersen is a writer of RPG content and a student of Digital Design at Aarhus University in Denmark. She has released multiple titles for Dungeons & Dragons on DMsGuild and on DriveThruRPG, including her own bestselling 5e world setting and a detailed guide on creating apocalypses in the world’s greatest roleplaying game. You can support her work on Patreon.