Are You A Color Scheme Copycat?

When you set out to create a new design, how do you select your color scheme? You might choose colors based on the values a given brand wants to imbue. You might employ your designer’s intuition or use a color wheel to find complementary colors. Or, you might browse other design work or a color palette showcase site such as ColourLovers for inspiration. If you go the latter route, you have to ask yourself: are you a color scheme copycat?

If you are, there’s no need to despair. Myriad designs employ nearly identical color schemes. How many red, white and blue designs are out there? To be sure, given that only so many color combinations are attractive, it’s impossible to not copy color schemes on occasion, even if done unintentionally. As a Tasty Placement infographic demonstrates, the world’s top brands employ similar colors on a large scale: a whopping 37 percent of top brands have blue logos, while another 27 percent have red logos.

Fonts & Colors That Drive the World’s Top Brands - Google Chrome_2013-08-23_08-26-53-Optimized

Infographic design by Tasty Placement on

That being said, “blue” isn’t just blue – there are hundreds of hues and shades of blue, just as there are of any other color – which makes potential palettes that include these colors nearly limitless.

Directly copying another designer’s color scheme might be considered lazy. In some cases, it can even be considered copyright infringement. A recent case involving Seven Towns, the makers of Rubik’s Cube, versus Dayan, demonstrates that while color schemes themselves can’t be copyrighted, the order and placement of colors can be. It’s why Dayan replaced its orange with purple.

Moreover, ColourLovers covers the topic in their FAQ, saying that the colors in a palette cannot be copyrighted, but the order of the colors as well as their names can be.

In my opinion, directly copying another’s color scheme is dangerous territory for three reasons:

  1. Brand images suffer for lack of differentiation
  2. It undermines your skills as a designer, making you less marketable
  3. It could land you in legal hot water

While there are instances of similar or even identical color schemes that have been independently developed, directly copying another designer’s color scheme without permission and using the colors from that scheme in a similar manner in your design work represents copycatting. You’re not only copying the scheme, you’re copying the design – and that can most definitely be construed as copyright infringement.

Finally, it’s more rewarding to develop your own color scheme and incorporate it into a successful design. At the end of the day, you’ll have more pride in your work, your clients will be happier, and your portfolio will be more robust.

So tell me: are you a color scheme copycat? Is it OK to copy color schemes for your own work?

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