The Web Designer’s Guide to Plaid

If you look in my closet, you’ll see a common “thread” – plaid. My collection has been growing for years now, and it’s not surprising why I’m drawn to this style.

When you break it down, many of the features that make up plaid, I use in web design every day: color, pattern, and cultural reference. Let’s take a look at plaid from the eyes of a designer.



One of the key elements in a good plaid shirt is color. There are infinite color combinations in plaid shirts, which may be why I’m so drawn to them. Shopping for them creates an endless search for “what’s new.” Depending on the type of store you frequent, your palettes will change (ex. Pacific Sunwear vs. Ralph Lauren).

Depending on the person, color combinations can range from conservative “neutral/muted” to an extreme “vibrant/energetic.” This color choice in a person’s clothing tells a story about them:

  • Do warm or cool hues reflect your personality?
  • Do you gravitate towards neutrals, or go all out?
  • How many shades of blue are there in your closet?

Being able to mix 2-6 colors can produce really interesting results and create a unique look and feel. Within a plaid pattern, you’ll see these mixed colors when the bands of horizontal and vertical color overlap.

Most of my plaids are on the cooler side with bright “pops” of color. I’m typically drawn to tertiary color mixes of blues, greens, and blacks, which go well in most places I go – but I do have a few warmer shirts that dive into the yellow and red families for the right occasion. Living in a mountain community, I’ve noticed a trend in darker base color bands, accented by subtle uses of bright color bands.



Patterns say a lot about the individual…how experimental in your plaid patterns are you?

The patterns can vary, but are all built on the concept of layering a horizontal and vertical band to produce a halftone mixture. Depending on the material and overall style choice, the twill can also affect the texture of the overlap, creating a halftone pattern. A thicker twill will create a more visible diagonal pattern. I’ve noticed this halftone/crosshatch technique in fine art as well as digital art. I like the connection between the physical woven thread of a shirt and the digital translation to pixels. As a designer, being able to control this can give depth to overall flat/square shapes.

Working with the elements of plaid, designers can produce really unique looks. Some of the key design elements include: squares, rectangles, lines, thickness, thinness, alternating or symmetric patterns. The designer has the freedom to experiment with these to create a cool, dynamic visual rhythm.



Over the years, an evolution in style can be seen in those who wear plaid. It has been an influential style since the 1500s, when it was worn to distinguish one Scottish clan or region from another. Plaid has often been associated with being a rebel, and staking your claim as an individual.

Some more modern adoptions of plaid have been:

Grunge Rockers
  • Muted colors, blocky symmetrical patterns, simple design.
Skaters, Snowboarders, Surfers
  • Dark colors with bright accents, combinations of thick and thin shapes, asymmetrical patterns, complex design.
  • Ranges from conservative (pale or pastel colors, smaller bands of color) to extreme (bold or vibrant colors, larger bands of color).
  • Limited color palette, simple checkerboard pattern, thick twill (diagonal pattern).
  • Lighter colors, small symmetrical patterns, traditional approach to overlapping shapes.

Each of these distinct groups carry a unique “look” in their plaid. Variations in the color palette, width of the bands, and tightness of the pattern are ultimately associated with a particular type of audience.

After all, whether choosing a shirt or picking colors for a website, being able to represent yourself through color, pattern, and texture is all about appealing to a certain type of crowd.


Want to design your own?

If you’re ready to ditch boring single-color displays and explore the wide, wonderful world of plaid, here are some great places to start your education and exploration: