How To Create Custom Color Palettes

Graphics applications usually come with predetermined or stock color palettes, covering the basic RGB, CMYK and Pantone Matching System color models (Figure 1).

The Corel Graphics Suite offers these basic default palettes as well as a large assortment of palettes that contain colors based on titles and themes such as nature, skin tones, candy, summer, etc.

That is a wide assortment of color palettes. The CMYK library alone consists of over 45 various color palettes. With the release of the Corel Graphics Suite X5, specialty Roland color palettes were introduced as well as the Document and Color Styles Palettes. It can be overwhelming as well as confusing to the novice user and designer, and ultimately can cause issues during the entire production process from designing to color separations to printing.

With over 20-plus years in the apparel decorating industry, I have had my fair share of customer and so-called “professionally” designed art supplied to me where the colors came from various palettes and color models. This practice is most likely due to the lack of knowledge of color, color models and ultimately the software in general.

Working with color in this fashion can, and usually does, cause issues later down the road in the design process, especially when it’s time for color separations. I’ve heard many stories of getting ready print separations only to find multiple black plates. There are many reasons why this happens; mostly, it is due to the designer using black from various color palettes. Whether completely designed by one person or elements added from various sources (such as client supplied art, clip art, etc.), these varying sources means the designer will need to edit and fix the art in order to properly color separate it. This can add a good amount of time to the art and separation process, resulting in a loss on the job depending on the amount of time needed to fix the art

An overlooked and highly underrated feature of CorelDRAW and other graphics applications is the ability to create custom color palettes. Most screen-print shops carry a set of stock inks, and it is in their best interest to create a custom color palette based on these inks. This standardization between the art department and production department has many benefits, such as ease of designing, ease of color separations and consistency from design to press. Most if not all ink manufacturers and their suppliers should have the RGB, CMYK and PMS values to match their inks.

The biggest hurdle with creating custom color palettes is finding the time. Yet I would highly recommend setting aside an afternoon to set up a couple custom palettes based on your inks and even your automated separation programs, which also use a set of standard inks.

CorelDRAW offers multiple ways to create custom color palettes. There are three main ways to create a custom palette: Create from the Palette Editor, Create Palette from Document and Create Palette from Selection.

CorelDRAW offers a Color Palette Manager in docker form (Figure 2).

This docker gives you the option to manage multiple palettes and palette colors. Every feature available for color palettes can be found here, from opening palettes to creating new ones. I would suggest familiarizing yourself with it for easier use and navigation. Every aspect of creating, editing and modifying a Color Palette can be done right within this docker.

“It is in a shop’s best interest to create a custom palette based on its stock inks.”

Creating a custom color palette based on your inks using the Palette Editor is real simple. The easiest way in CorelDRAW is as follows:

Create a handful of rectangles with the rectangles tool found in the tool box on the left side of the drawing window. Fill each rectangle with the PMS equivalent to your stock inks using the default fixed Pantone color palette (Figure 3).

Next, once you have your rectangles filled with a PMS color for each of the inks you keep in stock, select them all.

Go to Windows on the menu bar, choose Color Palettes and then choose Create Palette from Selection (Figure 4).

A Save As dialog will open asking you to name and save the new Color Palette. Name and click save (Figure 5).

By default, the new color palette will dock to the right of the drawing window (Figure 6).

You can undock and move the palette wherever you like within the graphics application.

You can also create a palette from a selected bitmap. This is a great tool when working with both raster and vector images where you want to match colors used in the raster image. Creating a palette from a raster image is just as simple as the other methods of creating palettes. With an imported bitmap selected, just go to Windows › Color Palettes › Create Palette from Selection or Document. By default, the palette will be saved in the My Palettes Folder. Name your palette and choose Save. A new dialog will open, Add Colors From Bitmap. This dialog asks how many colors you wish to include in the new color palette (Figure 7).

Note that there is a limit of 255 colors. Play with the number of colors until you have a palette you are happy with and click save. Your palette will open on the right side of the drawing window, the default palette position.

All color palettes can be modified, as well as the colors within a palette. Familiarizing yourself with the Color Palette Manager allows for quick and easy palette creation and editing.

There are many uses for custom color palettes in the decorated apparel industry, such as creating palettes for your various vendors. Many shops create comps when sending art for approvals; creating a palette to match the various vendor apparel and products is another way to help ensure more accurate proofs and consistency. Spending a little time to learn the features of the Color Palette Manager will be time well spent for any designer or shop.

Richard Reilly is a freelance graphic designer specializing in T-shirt illustration color separations and consulting. He is an industry veteran who owns an automated screen-printing and embroidery shop in Jacksonville, Florida. A self-taught CorelDRAW user, he was named CorelDRAW® Master in 2012 by Corel Corporation. Contact him at and visit his website at