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The Secrets Behind Colourways and Coordinates

As a surface pattern designer as well as being able to create beautiful designs, another key skill you need is to be able to create colourways and coordinates. Colourways and coordinates are designs that go with your main design to form part of a range. Let’s take a look at the secrets behind colourways and coordinates

The Secrets Behind Colourways and Coordinates


So, what is a colourway?

A colourway is a design that is created in an alternate colour palette to the original design. In other words, all elements of the design will remain the same and only the colours will alter. The number of colours in a colourway can change but more often than not they will remain the same e.g. if the original design has 6 colours then the colourway will also have 6 colours.

Why do we create colourways?

The key reasons that colourways are created are:

  • it will allow your design to appeal to a larger market
  • you can alter colours to suit a different target market e.g. if your design is created in blue tones for boys, you could create your design in pink tones for girls
  • you can change a design to suit a season e.g. you can change the colours to be a winter palette or summer palette
  • colourways will give your design a greater chance of  being sold


There are 2 main ways to consider creating colourways:

  • you can create colourways that have the same look and feel as your original design by using colours of a similar tonal value
  • you can create contrasting colourways e.g. if your original design has a light background your colourway could have a dark background. This will allow you to create a different mood or feel to your design


Here is an example of a design in 2 colourways:

learn how to create colourways and coordinates for your surface pattern designs

learn how to create colourways and coordinates for your surface pattern designs


Click here to read more about using colour within your design and get your colour cheat sheet below


Coordinate designs are those that go with or complement the main design. They are intended to be used with the main design as part of a range yet they are a design in their own right.

The main methods used to ensure that coordinate designs work with the original design is by colour, theme, and style. 


One way of ensuring your coordinate design goes with the main design is by using colours from the same colour palette. Keep in mind, the number of colours used does not need to be the same e.g. the hero design may have 8 colours and the coordinate could use just 3 of those colours. You can also play with the proportion of colours in the coordinate designs. Using the same colour palette will help tie your designs together.


You should also be consistent with your theme, style and handwriting. Your coordinate designs shouldn’t stand out as being different and not fitting in with your main design. Even though your coordinates are separate designs it is also important to consider that the main design should always remain the hero and the coordinates should complement the main design.

Coordinate designs generally use there own motifs or images however if you are designing your coordinates as part of a range for one client they may be happy to let you use some elements from the main design in your coordinate designs e.g. if your main design was a floral design with large flowers and flower buds, your coordinate design could be a pattern using the flower buds.

Also, consider that coordinate designs don’t have to be based on motifs, they can also be stripes, checks or spots etc. 

Here is an example of a main design with a coordinate design.

learn how to create colourways and coordinates for your surface pattern designs

learn how to create colourways and coordinates for your surface pattern designs

One of the most common markets where coordinate ranges are used is in homewares, particularly bedlinen. A bed linen design often has the main design on the front of the quilt cover with a coordinating design on the reverse, a coordinating sheet set, and coordinating cushions.

Coordinates and colourways are essential skills for a surface pattern designer so make sure you practice and get into the habit of creating coordinates and colourways to go with your designs.

The Secrets Behind Colourways and Coordinates

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