The Dangers of Choosing Bead Colors From Charts
Now, this is not a ‘new’ topic. In fact, it is an issue that has frequently caused controversy in the beading world. But it’s an important issue to discuss from the perspective of design. Specifically, color in design. And the topic is: the dangers of choosing bead colors from charts. So, what am I talking about?
What bead color charts do I mean?
Beading software has come a LONG way since the days when I first started beading. Back then, if I wanted to create a Peyote bracelet, I needed to print off a peyote chart, grab my coloring pencils, and color the design I wanted.
Then, I needed to choose bead colors to represent my chosen coloring. And finally, I had to bead the bracelet by actually reading my colored-in chart.
So, that took a lot of different skills.
- First, the skill of designing a pattern.
- Second, the skill of choosing bead colors that would work together. (If that’s a skill you need to learn, then check out this online class).
- Third, the skill of reading a Peyote pattern chart. (Again, if that’s something you need to learn, I have an online class to teach you those skills too – access it at this link).
Then, along came fancy beading programs. I’m thinking of things like BeadTool.
This amazing software does everything for you. First, you select the kind of graph paper you need. Then, you select your bead colors and create your pattern design. Finally, press a button and the software generates a word chart that saves you having to read your pattern chart AND gives you the exact bead colors you need to buy.
And, at first appearances, a tool that can let you create a bracelet pattern (say) in under an hour. You can generate an image of the pattern that looks a lot like the finished bracelet. And then you can sell your image and word chart without ever picking up an actual bead.
Nice work if you can get it, right?
The dangers of choosing bead colors from charts
Not so fast…
If you’ve ever worked with beads, then you’ll know just how tricky it is to put together color combinations that really work well.
You’ll also know that the bead colors look different when you use them to how they look in their tubes. (If you want to know why that is, then check out this blog post).
I’m sure you have also realised that bead colors look different on a computer screen to how they look in a tube. So, with all these different renditions of the same bead, how has the software managed to generate the miracle of creating a color combination that works?
The answer: it hasn’t.
You see, it isn’t able to replicate the way in which light plays on the beads. Nor can it convey the subtle color variations in something like an Iris, or AB, or Picasso finish.
Now, this isn’t in any way a criticism of the software. It does a brilliant job in creating a starting point, and, best of all, that word chart to follow.
But take a look at these two images and ask yourself how well the chart represents the beads…
To my eye, the pink of the beads looks very different from the pink in the chart (‘B’ beads). And as for the ‘E’ beads in the chart…do they even look like the mauve/purple areas you see in the photo? The photo doesn’t show the ‘C’ beads from the chart at all, but it does show you three of the ‘A’ beads – can you spot them?
What if I hadn’t beaded any samples?
I’ve also missed out a part of the story here. My original chart used five bead colors that I had hand-selected from my actual stash. That created a chart that looked like this:
Now, I thought that looked pretty good on paper. But I knew I needed to test the bead colors before I committed to making my beaded box.
And, it’s just as well that I did. I began making little samples, and found that the ‘D’ beads – that lovely bright green/yellow that makes a great highlight in the pattern – just got lost in the sample…
So, I began swapping out colors until I had a selection that I felt worked in the beads. Then, I went back and changed my pattern chart to reflect this. But, I think the pattern chart (the original image I showed you) actually looks duller and less interesting than the beads.
The important thing is that the beads work, not that the pattern chart works.
Why does any of this matter?
To be honest, maybe this doesn’t matter to you.
But I do know beaders who have spent their money (money they could have spent on beads or another tutorial), on a tutorial that had never been tested in actual bead colors. A tutorial that had simply been generated from a color chart. Rather than being thrilled with their resulting project, these beaders felt disappointment as the color scheme in the beads looked less impressive than it had done in the chart.
Now, this is very much a matter of opinion. Everyone sees their bead colors differently. I think people also have different expectations of what their end result will be. So, I daresay, for every disappointed beader, someone else enjoyed that un-tested project.
I’m not condemning anyone here. Neither am I preaching to anyone to work in a specific way. We all make our own choices and for our own reasons.
All I want to say is this…
Bead colors are a law unto themselves. They are unpredictable, and that’s what makes them so fun (and frustrating) to work with. So, do not be fooled into the idea that a color chart on paper can give you a good representation of an item of beadwork. Just be aware of the dangers of choosing bead colors from charts.
And, this, by the way, is the finished box for which I was generating that chart…
Advice for designers
I ‘get’ the temptation to generate your pattern chart and word chart and not spend the time agonising over bead colors. If you choose to follow that route, just make sure it’s a conscious decision and you know about the dangers of choosing bead colors from charts. Make sure you are prepared to have some disappointed customers to deal with if you’re selling your tutorials.
And remember, disappointing a customer once doesn’t always just stop there. It will almost certainly guarantee that they don’t come back to purchase from you again. But, in this age of social media, it may also mean they share their feelings about your product across online beading groups.
So, all I’m saying here is, be aware and make a conscious decision. Don’t end up ruining your business because you simply didn’t understand how all this works.
Advice for beaders
If you see a tutorial that doesn’t show the finished product – or at least a sample – in actual beads, then be wary.
If you’re happy selecting your own bead colors, then purchase the tutorial. At least, if the bead colors on paper don’t look good in reality, you’ll have the skills to take the time to make substitutes that work.
But if you rely heavily on someone else choosing colors for you, then just be aware. If you can’t see evidence of how the colors look in beads, you may get some surprises. You may also find you have purchased beads for the project, but don’t like the end results. And would you know how to make some swaps that will work?
And, if this is advice that helps you in some way, please share it with your beading buddies by sharing this article online.