Colorgorical: Creating discriminable and preferable color palettes for information visualization

IEEE Trans Vis Comput Graph. 2017 Jan;23(1):521-530. doi: 10.1109/TVCG.2016.2598918.


We present an evaluation of Colorgorical, a web-based tool for creating discriminable and aesthetically preferable categorical color palettes. Colorgorical uses iterative semi-random sampling to pick colors from CIELAB space based on user-defined discriminability and preference importances. Colors are selected by assigning each a weighted sum score that applies the user-defined importances to Perceptual Distance, Name Difference, Name Uniqueness, and Pair Preference scoring functions, which compare a potential sample to already-picked palette colors. After, a color is added to the palette by randomly sampling from the highest scoring palettes. Users can also specify hue ranges or build off their own starting palettes. This procedure differs from previous approaches that do not allow customization (e.g., pre-made ColorBrewer palettes) or do not consider visualization design constraints (e.g., Adobe Color and ACE). In a Palette Score Evaluation, we verified that each scoring function measured different color information. Experiment 1 demonstrated that slider manipulation generates palettes that are consistent with the expected balance of discriminability and aesthetic preference for 3-, 5-, and 8-color palettes, and also shows that the number of colors may change the effectiveness of pair-based discriminability and preference scores. For instance, if the Pair Preference slider were upweighted, users would judge the palettes as more preferable on average. Experiment 2 compared Colorgorical palettes to benchmark palettes (ColorBrewer, Microsoft, Tableau, Random). Colorgorical palettes are as discriminable and are at least as preferable or more preferable than the alternative palette sets. In sum, Colorgorical allows users to make customized color palettes that are, on average, as effective as current industry standards by balancing the importance of discriminability and aesthetic preference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.