Have you heard of making shade cards as a way to plan out colorwork projects? It's a technique I learned from weaving, but it's useful for knitting too. It's simple, easier, and faster than swatching, plus it doesn't mess up the yarn by getting it all crinkly. A win-win-win, if you ask me.
All you have to do is wrap yarn around an index card, like I've done in the photo above. Use more yarn for colors you plan to use more of, and less for accent colors. You can do this as blocks of color, or you could sprinkle the accent color across a background of your main color - whatever works for you.
There are two things I like about using this method instead of just piling balls of yarn together.* First it lets me play with relative quantities of each color. Second, I can try out many different color combinations and compare them to each other - something that's hard to do with yarn in the skein unless you have lots and lots of it.
And another thing: unlike swatching, which leaves your yarn all curly and could mess up your gauge if you re-use it without steam blocking, wrapping your yarn around an index card keeps it as nice as it was in the skein. This is also great for more delicate yarns that start to look fuzzy if they're ripped and re-knit.
Of course, swatching might still need to be a next step (especially if gauge is important). In the swatch above, I quickly scrapped my original color palette to add more depth on each end of the reds range. I found that there wasn't as much contrast between the pink and the red as I thought, and played around with different colors. But that's the beauty of it - I at least had a starting point that gave me a solid idea of what I was working with.
So there you have it! A super easy way to play with color combinations. How do you plan out the colors for your colorwork projects?
*Which I still love, and do as a first step. The color cards are the second.