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<Color Theory for Developers ⁄ >

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Color theory may sound like a subject for the Art Department, not for developers. But we've all had the experience of choosing a color scheme using the property grid to select named colors and ending up with a really garish color scheme. In an ideal world it might be the case that only our software's functionality really mattered but, in the world that we actually live in, users are likely to prefer software with a sophisticated color scheme over software with an ugly color scheme.

Many small companies don't have an Art Department, while in medium sized companies, the Art Department is often a single person who simply doesn't have the time to help you choose colors. So often the developer is stuck choosing colors.

Now, choosing colors that go well together is a matter of taste, and while taste can be acquired and improved, it's not something that the average developer has ever spent much time on. Fortunately, color theory provides a developer-friendly way around the issue: a few simple principles govern not only how colors interact, but also what makes a color a good foreground color or a good background color.

The first thing you need to know about color theory is that the familiar RGB (Red-Green-Blue) model is really just a sort of implementation detail. RGB is not a very good way to think about color. (This will probably come as no surprise to anyone who's tried to tweak color by changing the RGB values and found that, say, decreasing the red component made the color look grayer, not more blue-green.) Intead, the HSB [Hue / Saturation / Brightness] model provides a much more realistic way of controlling color. This article summarizes the HSB model; introduce a few HSB-oriented rules for combining colors; and shows some code that uses the HSB model to generate random color schemes for simple bar charts.

As you know, RGB uses three numbers to describe any color. The Red, Green, and Blue components map directly to the number of red, green, and blue photons a given pixel is putting out. RGB is very close to the monitor's color-generation hardware.

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