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5 Things Every Developer Should Know About Colors and Contrast

Sergejs Ivcenko Sergejs Ivcenko
6 min read 28 Apr 2023

As a web developer, you know how important website project planning is for creating a beautiful and fully accessible website. But when it comes to choosing colors, it’s not enough to pick a few. You need to consider color contrast as well. Color contrast plays an important role in accessibility, usability, and overall user experience.  It’s important to consider these factors when planning your website. In this blog, we’ll explore five things that every developer should know about colors and contrast to avoid common mistakes in color selection.

The Importance of Color Contrast for Accessibility and Usability

Comparison of two wireframes
Sergejs Ivcenko (2023)

Color contrast is an important aspect of website accessibility and usability. Color contrast affects the legibility and readability of text and other design elements. For users with visual impairments, such as low vision or color blindness, color contrast can make the difference between being able to use a website effectively or not. Poor contrast between text and its background can make it difficult to read, causing eye strain and fatigue. This can also affect users with cognitive or learning disabilities, as they may have difficulty processing information presented in low contrast.

            In addition, good color contrast is important for mobile and responsive design. On smaller screens, low contrast can make it harder for users to read and interact with content. Good contrast also helps users navigate a website by highlighting important elements, such as calls-to-action or navigation links. Good color contrast is essential to creating an accessible and usable website that can be used by all users, regardless of vision or device type. 

Choosing Colors: How to Align Colors with Your Website Purposes and Goals

Colors wheel
Sergejs Ivcenko (2023)

When choosing colors for your website, you should consider the following factors: contrast, color blindness, brand identity and target audience.

  1. Contrast is a difference in brightness and color between two elements, such as text and background. You should use high contrast to make your text clear and easy to read. To measure and adjust the contrast ratio of your colors you can use contrast checkers like WCAG Color Contrast Checker.
  2. Color blindness is a condition where a person has difficulty distinguishing between certain colors, especially red and green. Better to use these colors only for links, buttons, or errors. You can use a tool like a Coblis - Color Blidness Simulator to simulate how your website looks to people with color blindless.
  3. Your website colors should align with your brand identity. Use your logo as a starting point. Your logo is often the most recognizable aspect of your brand, so it's a good starting point for choosing colors. Look at the colors used in your logo and consider how they can be used throughout your website. Use a Color Palette Generator to create color palettes from your logo colors.
  4. Different colors can evoke different emotions and associations, so consider your target audience when choosing colors. For example, if your target audience is primarily women, using pink or pastel colors may be more effective than using bold, primary colors.

Planning with Accessibility in Mind: Meeting Contrast Ratio Requirements

A screenshot of the color contrast checker
WCAG Color Contrast Checker (2023)

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) recommend a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. This helps ensure that text is legible and readable for people with visual impairments, color blindless, or other disabilities that affect visual perception.

To meet these requirements, there are a few things to keep in mind during the website planning process:

  1. Use high-contrast color combinations: dark text on a light background or light text on a dark background are both good options. Avoid using low-contrast combinations, such as light grey text on a white background, which can be difficult to read.
  2. Test your designs: Use accessibility tools such as WCAG Color Contrast Checkers to ensure that your color combinations meet the minimum contrast ratio requirements.
  3. Contrast ratio is important not only for the text but also for images and other elements. Make sure that all elements meet the minimum contrast ratio requirements.
  4. Stay up to date with accessibility guidelines.

Create a Contrast, Harmonious and Eye-Catching Color Palette

Color palette
Sergejs Ivcenko (2023)

To create a contrast, Harmonious and eye-catching color palette, you need consider the following:

  1. Choose a primary color: select a primary color that will as a primary color of your palette. This color will be most prominent and set the tone for the rest of the colors. To create color palette from one color you can use https://mycolor.space
  2. Create color palette from image: if you have banner image for your website you can generate color palette from that image. You can use https://color.adobe.com/create/image
  3. Use Color Wheel: is a great tool to help you choose colors that complements each other. Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel and create a high-contrast effect when used together. One of the best Color Wheel tools is https://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel

Avoiding Common Mistakes: Best Practices for Web Developers

To avoid common mistakes bellow you will find best practices for web developers to follow when you are choosing colors for your website:

  1. Consider Accessibility Guidelines: there are accessibility guidelines that recommend a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for small text and 3:1 for large text. This contrast ratios for text and background colors. Use tools like a WCAG Color Contrast Checker to ensure that your color meet accessibility standards.
  2. Keep it Simple: don’t use to many colors for your website. A simple color palette of 2 -3 colors is usually enough for a website. You can use a primary color, accent color and a neutral color.
  3. Choose Complementary Colors: complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel and create a high-contrast effect when used together.
  4. Use Color Psychology: different colors are different emotions and feelings. Consider the mood or message you want your website to convey and choose colors that reflect that. For example, blue represents confidence and stability, while red represents excitement and urgency.

Summary

By understanding and following these five things, web developers can find colors for their websites that are not only visually appealing but also accessible and user friendly. By following these best practices, web developers avoid mistakes by choosing right colors on website planning stage, that will help avoid failures with color contrast and accessibility on website building stage.

References

Sergejs Ivcenko. (2023). High and Low Contrast Wireframes Compare [Figma design]. Available at https://www.figma.com

Sergejs Ivcenko. (2023). Color Wheel [Figma design]. Available at https://www.figma.com

WCAG Color Contrast Checker. (2023). [Screenshot of color contrast result]. Retrieved from https://accessibleweb.com/color-contrast-checker

Sergejs Ivcenko. (2023). Color Palette [Figma design]. Available at https://www.figma.com