Color Table Development Notes

Anthony's X Icon Library


  • Why use a `standard icon color table'
  • Development of the color table
  • The current `standard icon color table'
  • Changes made to the color table
  • Why use a `standard icon color table'

    The icons individually use only a couple of colors (rarely more than 5), but when you use a large group of icons, you very quickly use up all the colors available on a standard pseudo-color Xterminal. Thus very soon a new application will appear to use many different colors than what it normally would use. This problem is made even worse by the "angry fruit salad" setup as Peter Norby <> puts it.

    "angry fruit salad" (n). --
    A bad visual-interface design that uses too many colors. This term derives, of course, from the bizarre day-glo colors found in canned fruit salad.) Too often one sees similar effects from interface designers using color window systems such as {X}; there is a tendency to create displays that are flashy and attention-getting but uncomfortable for long-term use.

    The need is a small set of colors, say 20 to 30, which all icons, and window managers can follow and MOST APPLICATIONS as well. Only a few applications should require extra colors outside this color table, in particular, graphic applications for, drawing, pictures, animation etc.

    The color table can, if the user desires, should be loadable as permanent shared color table entries, with the remainig colors (about 230 colors) usable by applications with special color needs (see above). This can be done.

    The colors used by a background picture or pattern, is also of concern in this matter. But I leave the choice of, and the number of, colors used up to the user involved. To this end I have not changed any colors used by the color background patterns, though some of these patterns could also follow the standard color table developed below.

    I tried to start a discussion in `' at the start of the year (Feb '93) about some sort of `standard color table' that icons should follow, however no response was received by the network on this matter.

    Development of the color table

    Developing a small color table for general use for icons is not easy to say the least. This is not a simple problem and no simple solution exists. Formulated solutions only work (in general) for color maps involving more than 100 colors (the large number the better). Previous problems of this type are usually solved by hand for the requirements at that time.

    A common solution is to use a 3x3x3 color cube to provide a total of 27 colors. This however is far from satisfactory. While the grey scale and primary/secondary colors provided by the color cube are well used by applications and icon images, the other colors are very dark and oppressive, which are often, just not used.

    Also an number of other important colors are not available in a 3x3x3 color cube. For example, no brown or tan colors are present, a very common need by most applications and icon images. Similarly certain shades in some of the primary colors are also usually required for various purposes. In particular, a blue color scale is often required by application writers for the purpose of 3 dimensional effects.

    All this is well and good but we still need some sort of color table. After great deliberation on this subject, I came up with the following requirements:-

    Toward the above requirements, I needed a small list of colors from the RGB color database which are already commonly used. To do this I looked at the various colors used by the various applications and window manager setups used on our local system. The results of this survey are as follows :-

    I was thinking of using this exercise with icons but most icons color selections already present in the collection seem to have no bearing on the RGB color name database.

    I used the above results to form `Color Groupings' and a few `Special Color Scales'. This resulted in the following list of color groups and scales. I have also places a few comments on particular colors.

       Color Groupings              Color/s
         Blue-Magenta       "purple"
         Dark Magenta       "maroon"
         -- magenta --
         Light Magenta      "violet",  "plum",  "orchid"
         Dark Red           "brown",   "firebrick",  "indian red"(?)
         -- red --
         Light Red          "coral",  "tomato",  "pink"(too light?)
         Red-Yellow         "orange"
         Dark Yellow        "gold",  "light goldenrod",  "goldenrod"
         -- yellow --
         Light Yellow       "lemon chiffon",  "light yellow"(too light?)
         Green-Yellow?      "green yellow",  "lawn green"
                                "chartreuse",  "yellow green"(?)
         Dark Green         "lime green",  "sea green",  "dark green",
         -- green --
         Light Green        "pale green",  "spring green"
         Green-Cyan         "aquamarine"
         Light cyan         "light cyan"(too light?)
         -- cyan --
         Dark Cyan          "pale turquoise",  "turquoise",  "dark turquoise",
         Very Light Blue    "light blue",  "powder blue"
         Lighter Blue       "deep sky blue",  "sky blue",  "light sky blue"
         Light Blue         "dodger blue",  "cornflower blue",  "royal blue",
                                "steel blue",  "light slate blue",
                                "slate blue",  "cadet blue"(?),
         Very Light Blue    "lavender"
         -- blue --
         Dark Blue          "navy",  "medium blue",  "dark slate blue"
       Special Color Scales
         Grey Scale         "black",  "dark slate grey",  "slate grey",
                                "dim grey",  "grey",  "light grey",
                                     "gainsboro",  "white"
         Brown Scale        "sienna",  "chocolate",  "peru", "orange",
                                "sandy brown" (close to orange), 
                                  "burlywood" (close to tan)
         Tan Scale          "tan",  "wheat",  "lemon chiffon",
                                "khaki"(a bit too yellow)

    The Current `Standard Icon Color Table'.

    The above exercise allowed me to select colors to form a (I hope) good standard color table to start with, and one which seems to cause minimal problems when recoloring the color icons already in the collection.

    I did not use all the color groups listed above. For example I have provide no light or dark cyan color in the current color table and so far have found no problems. Instead I have added an extra light blue color.

    The final color table, listed in various color scales is as follows :-

      Version 1.6 AIcons Color Table
      |    "black",     "dark slate grey",     "slate grey",            |     |
      |                         "grey",     "gainsboro",     "white"    |   6 |
      |               "purple",    "magenta",    "violet"               |   3 |
      |  "firebrick",  "red",  "tomato",  "orange",  "gold",  "yellow"  |   6 |
      |                "sienna",  "peru", +--^                          |   2 |
      |               "tan",   "wheat",   "lemon chiffon"               |   3 |
      |       "sea green",  "lime green",  "green",  "pale green"       |   4 |
      |      "navy",  "blue",  "dodger blue",  "sky blue", "lavender"   |   5 |
      |                          "cyan"                                 |   1 |
                                                                    Total: 30

    These colors are also displayed in the icon "colortable.xpm" in the `cl-misc' section of this collection. Also in this section is a icon with one pixel representing each color, "colormap.xpm". I convert this icon into the PbmPlus (ppm) format to use with the `ppmquant' program. This makes it easy to write a script to recolor icons, though you still need to check at how well it turned out.

    In the future, I may remove a few colors that do not seem to be used much and are fairly close to other colors (see below for the changes that have occurred. This is however becoming quite unlikely. The current colors under consideration are...

  • MediumSeaGreen -- as a fill in for the green scale (do we need it).
  • Misty Rose -- to complete the red scale (this is a bit too light).
  • ???? -- as a light color for the purple/violet scale.
  • Changes made from the original table to create the above

    Two pastel colors added to make a reasonable correspondance to the PC 16 color colormap. A mustard like color "dark khaki", and a dark cyan color "light sea green".

    One color "lavender" was added which seemed to round off the required blue scale. This brings the color table back to 30 colors.

    The original color "dark green", was replaced by a lighter color "sea green". The original dark green proved to be too dark for most situations, and too distant for the next green color "lime green". This change should (and has) allowed the better use of the green color scale.

    A new color "purple" added to provide better linkage between the red and the blue areas of the color table.

    The original color "maroon" was removed and the existing usage of this color switched to "firebrick" which it closly resembles.

    The color "sandy brown" removed as it too closly matches the color "orange".

    Creating a new total of 29 colors in standard table.

    Original color selections made -- 30 colors.

    Any suggestions on color choices, changes, and/or pointers to published material is most welcome.

      Anthony Thyssen - (SysProg @ Griffith University)
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