5 Essential Color Palette Tools for Design-Challenged Exhibitors

Monday, 10:38 AM: Small business owner Mike walks over to Jen’s cubicle with a flyer in his hand. “Jen,” he says, “I think we should get a booth at this upcoming trade show. All of our competitors will be there, so it’s important that we show up. I know we’ve never done this type of thing before, but I feel confident that you can get the job done.” Jen smiles and nods, pleased to have earned Mike’s trust. Mike turns to leave, but then stops and turns back around. “Oh, I forgot to mention,” he adds. “The show is in 3 weeks.” Mike walks away, whistling along to a jingle from some TV commercial that he can’t seem to get out of his head.


If this story sounds familiar to you, then you are likely working for one of the nearly 500,000 small-business start-ups that open their doors in the U.S. every year. And getting ready for your company’s first trade show exhibit is no small endeavor.

So, where do you begin?

Apart from scrutinizing your marketing budget and calculating your booth production timelines, the next big challenge is defining the look-and-feel of your booth. If you’re working for a start-up, it may well be that the only graphics you have at your disposal are a company logo, a small website, and a printed brochure.

Don’t panic … those are all great places to start!

Your company logo should provide at least one color that you can use as your base or anchor color; the website will usually provide an overall design schema (light versus dark, photorealistic images versus line art, etc.); and a printed brochure will oftentimes provide additional visual resources such as high-resolution photos, charts, or other graphics. If you’re lucky, all three will mirror a similar look-and-feel.

Establishing a Color Palette Is Key

As discussed in an earlier blog post, color has a strong impact on how customers “feel” your brand. How and where you use color is truly paramount to the overall public perception of your trade show booth. Nothing is more critical to your booth’s success.

But with experts estimating that the human eye can perceive anywhere from 2.4 to 7 million different colors, tones, and shades, it can be quite challenging to try to get everyone in your small office to agree on a color scheme. No two people will see color in the exact same way!

For this reason, if your company doesn’t have a well-established color scheme with which to begin your display design, we recommend using a color palette generator tool, which will dynamically choose complementary colors based on the base color you select.

Whether you’re a start-up company trying to scramble together your first trade show booth design, or a professional designer just looking for some new inspiration, here are a few online color palette generator tools that you may find helpful:

  • COLOR SCHEMES BASED ON YOUR LOGO OR WEBSITE: Using any number of free online tools such as Hex Color Scheme Generator or Paletton’s Color Scheme Designer, you can select or input specific RGB or hex color codes (provided by your web or print designer), and the programs will generate color palettes based on those.
  • COLOR SCHEMES BASED ON PHOTOS OR BROCHURE GRAPHICS: If there’s a particular photo or graphic that is central to your marketing materials because it really speaks to your brand, consider not only using that photo or graphic in a printed fabric (pillowcase) display, but also building a color palette based on the colors in the picture. We know of two really nice online programs—Color Hunter and Pictaculous—that allow you to enter an image URL or upload an image and dynamically generate a color palette showing all of the colors and tones used in the image. And what if you don’t have that perfect photo that precisely complements your brand? Another online tool called Tin Eye can actually search for Creative Commons images based on any color that you specify.

Finally, your trade show exhibit will only succeed at showcasing your brand if the people who create it truly understand your brand. That’s why we always recommend hiring a professional trade show marketing firm like EXHIB-IT! to help you navigate your way through designing, setting up, and staffing your display booth.

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