Using Color

Using color is one of my favorite parts of scrapbooking. Yet new scrappers often tell me they feel intimidated by it. They hear a phrase like “tertiary colors” and feel they need to take an art class or consult a color wheel before choosing their papers. That’s simply not true! If you can get dressed in the morning, you can choose the right colors for your page.

It’s All Personal
Part of picking colors will depend on your personal taste. I LOVE red, and choose it often for my pages (and for my cards, and clothes and throughout my home). You might be partial to blue, green or brown. You may love bright colors, or prefer more subtle earth tones. Go with your instincts. You’ll find the colors you love are easier and more fun to work with—and scrapbooking is, after all, about having fun.

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My Color-Picking Process
I always choose my paper based on color. Don’t worry about finding a paper patterned with the perfect theme. I know scrappers who drive themselves crazy because they feel they can’t scrapbook those gymnastics photos on anything other than paper patterned with little gymnasts. It’s a very limiting way to approach scrapbooking, and will make the process very slow!

Instead, I choose a paper color that looks good with my photo. I’ll pick a few papers I like, then place the photo on top and see how it looks. Some papers automatically look great, and others don’t. If you can’t decide, stand up and look down at your paper and photo to get a different perspective, or walk away for a few minutes and come back to it.

The Importance of Photo Mats
I always mat my photos before putting them on my background paper—even if my background is a solid color, and especially if I’m using a patterned paper background. A mat is just a paper frame for your photo. Here’s how to do it: Glue your photo onto a solid paper, then trim a border around the edge of the photo. I leave anywhere from a 1/16” border to 1/2” border. A white or cream mat can help lighten dark photos, while a black or navy mat brightens light photos. You can use a colored mat, too—but when in doubt, black and white are always a safe bet.

Make Sure the Photo Stands Out
Placing a dark photo on a dark background can look, well...dark. Slip a piece of light paper or cardstock underneath the photo as a temporary mat and see if that makes a difference. If not, opt for a lighter paper—and vice versa. If the colors in the photo are light, a dark background paper will make the picture stand out.

Match or Contrast the Background Colors in the Photo
A child sitting on the grass will always look good on a green background paper. A photo with lots of blue sky will look great on a blue or gray paper. Conversely, another option is a paper that contrasts those colors.

Match or Contrast the Clothing Colors in the Photo
This tip follows the same principle of matching or contrasting. For example, a bride in a white dress will look beautiful on a white or a black background paper. If your photo has a lot of different (or clashing) colors, you can always change your color photo into black and white and put it with any paper you want! Changing color photos to black and white also helps minimize patterns or graphics on the subject’s clothing—it’ll tone down your brother-in-law’s Hawaiian shirt and the Little Mermaid on your daughter’s bathing suit.

Match the Mood of the Photo
Color is about conveying a message. A formal wedding looks terrific when scrapbooked with subtle colors, as do older heritage photos or formal portraits. Kids pages, however, are perfect on bright, colorful backgrounds that convey energy and excitement.

Color Associations
We’ve all experienced color association: Baby boys wear blue, little girls wear pink. Color association can make it faster and easier to choose scrapbooking paper, too. Don’t have Christmas paper for your holiday layout? Then pick a red and green plaid paper to evoke the theme instead!

Getting Warm, Staying Cool
When you start to feel comfortable with colors and patterns, you might start using “warm” and “cool” colors. “Warm” colors include red, orange, peach and yellow, while “cool” colors are blue, purple and teal. Warm colors generally look good together, as do cool colors.

If your background paper is brown, try a cream colored paper as a photo mat instead of a stark white. Mat with the white when your background paper is a cool blue. And yes, you can combine warm and cool colors—there are exceptions to this rule! For example, red, white and blue look great together!

Naturally Neutral
Neutrals are the great basics of color—those colors which don’t compete with other colors. White, off-white, grey, black and beige are all neutral colors and you can use these for just about any look or theme.

So you see—using color is really just about what makes your photo look best. And you, after all, are the judge of what looks good on your page. Have fun, experiment and enjoy using color!


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