How do I make Cohesive Color Palettes on Aseprite?

I’m trying to do Mr Mislav’s lessons on Udemy and I am confused with this part, TBF I was already confused with the colour stuff from previous lessons

Not sure how to do this, it’s for platformer tilesets and the like

When you’re starting out with pixel art, making your own palettes can be kinda hard and even overwhelming. This is why I’d recommend using other people’s palettes at first - there are tons of them at Lospec (Palette List), and seeing what makes them good, thus learning from them.

If you still want to give this a shot, I’ll try to explain my process of making a palette. I don’t know Mislav or his tutorials, so this might differ from his methods.

  1. Choose how many shades per color you want. That is lighter and darker shades of a base color. Most people recommend going for 4 to 5 colors (I mostly do 5 myself, but I also use them for borders). You can go higher or lower than that, but it gets harder if you do. There are sprites that have used as little as 2, or even 1 color, sometimes to great effect, but that’s a hard thing to do.
  2. Choose your base colors - that is, red, green, blue, yellow, orange, browns, whites and blacks, and whatever other colors you need. Pick a middle shade for each of them, and don’t make it too saturated, which a lot of beginners do. If you need, base your palette on one of the ones at Lospec. I use a little program called Pixie (Pixie / Nattyware) to pick screen colors from there and elsewhere, which automatically copies its hex code, ready to be pasted into Aseprite’s color slider window (Press F4 to show/hide it). There are similar simple color picker programs that can make your life easier for every platform out there.
  3. Make brighter and darker shades of each color, up to the number of shades per color you decided earlier. For example, if you want to go with 5 shades per color, make 2 brighter and 2 darker tones of your base color. This is trickier than it sounds though. I’d highly recommend using the HSV sliders (press F4 and switch to HSV tab). Now change the saturation and value sliders, according to what you need, but don’t forget to change the hue a little bit aswell. This is what makes palettes good - the hue shift between shades of the same color. Generally, brighter tones will go a bit towards red/yellow (warmer tones), and darker tones will go towards blue/purple (cooler tones). This is because how light works in the real world - the sun casts a warm yellowish light, because its blue spectrum gets scattered in the atmosphere and is reflected only in the shadows, giving them a cooler hue (this is why the sky is blue btw).
  4. Don’t be afraid to make transition colors between two tones or anything else you might need or feel limited by not having. Also don’t be afraid to use colors from other tones (like using the dark yellows as your bright browns) or making colors that are less or more than your predefined amount, should you need to. Here’s a screenshot of my very own palette that I made using these steps:
    sshot-2021-01-26-11-18-53

(wow this turned to be a wall of text)

To add to BloodRaven’s post:

  • Changing the hue for the darks and lights is called “hue shifting”. You’ll generally want to pick consistent hues for this. The hue your lights shift towards will read as your light source’s colour, and the hue your darks shift towards will read as your ambient light colour. It’s common to use a warm main light and a purplish ambient colour because these work decently well in most scenarios a game will have, which saves the artist the trouble of making differently coloured versions of the sprite for each location.

  • Try to think in terms of ramps, your various colours going from dark to light. To have fewer colours and give your art more unity, try to have these ramps intersect. For example, a deep orange could be a mid-red, and the darkest point of each ramp might be the same purple. When designing palettes, it helps to work on a canvas where you can have the colours arranged in these ramps, instead of just a swatch list.

  • Consider what you’ll be drawing with your palette. Larger sprites generally need more shades of each colour to look smooth, and the darkest regular shadow doesn’t need to be as dark, while smaller sprites generally can only fit fewer shades and generally need greater contrast (usually darker shadows) for the colours to actually be readable. 4-5 per ramp is a good number for large sprites and props, but is too much for 16x16 sprites, for example, where 2-3 is usually all you can fit.

  • Don’t be afraid to push your hue-shifting. It’s perfectly fine if in isolation, your darkest green looks dark blue and your lightest green looks yellow.

  • Don’t create palettes in isolation. As soon as you have a few colours, sketch a mock-up with them, and test test test everything. Know what you want to create with this palette, and test it in an appropriate scenario. You can also recolour existing art using the palette, but make sure it’s art that fits your use case. An inappropriate test context will lead to palette decisions that won’t work in your intended context.

I tend to have smaller palettes than BloodRaven’s example, and this is my general approach for those:

  1. Choose my midtones, these will be the most varied hues and will be the hearts of my ramps. Draw their swatches side by side.
  2. Choose my darkest colour (“black”, actually a dark purple or blue) and my lightest colour (“white”, actually some sort of yellow usually). Draw their swatches above (white) and below (black) the colours from before, leaving some space for the intermediates, based on how different they are. These swatches will be wider, spanning the same width as all the ramps combined, since the ramps will terminate in these colours.
  3. Add in as many transitional colours for each ramp as I want, going from my starting hues to my white and black. Usually this’ll be 2-3. Instead of doing a straight blend, I usually make these more saturated and shifted towards some hue (usually orange/yellow for lights, and purpler or bluer than the shadow for the darks). Straight blends tend to look dull!
  4. Merge any colours that look a bit similar by blending them together, with small manual tweaks to get a colour that appeals to me.

Here’s a palette that was designed this way, at step #3 and then finished (except these are rotated, so the black and white are on the sides rather than top and bottom):
image
(Well, not exactly step 3, as you can see the 2nd lightest and the 2nd darkest colours are already the same for all the ramps. This is because I knew I wanted them to be shared by the ramps.)

image
In this one, I also moved the whole blue ramp over because the pink and purple were very similar and I didn’t like how the blue, which I was really using as a main colour, was in the same location as the shadow colours for the other ramps. Notice how although my shadow is blue, my blue ramp goes through purple and green shadows, and how the orange ramp goes from a dark orange to green with no transitional hue. These are “strange” decisions, but they work well in the context this palette was made for, which is why it’s so important to be testing your colours constantly as you work!

For larger palettes, my process is more like BloodRaven’s, except I tend to arrange my ramps on a canvas and they turn corners or arc because I want them to intersect. For very large palettes (more than ~40 colours), I tend to not pre-design the palette at all and just make some assets and add what I need, and reuse colours as I go.

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