Tuesday 23 February 2021

Colour Names 2

The companion colournames.html web page, contains experiments with naming colours.

As mentioned previously, HTML5/CSS colour names are highly subjective and lists have developed organically over many decades. As the 140 unique names mentioned in the first post derive from the original X11 list, I'll refer to them as X11 colours.

When plotted in RGB space, it is obvious that named X11 colours aren't evenly distributed:

The 140 unique X11 colours plotted in RGB space

There is a large cluster of very pale (near white) colours. But what about hue distribution?

A simplistic mechanism for dividing a colour space is to slice it up according to HSL parameters. If we use the following pseudocode, we get nine colour groups:

if lightness >= 95% then group = "whites"
else if saturation <= 15% then group = "blacks"
else if hue < 20° or hue >= 320° then group = "reds"
else if hue < 45° then group = "oranges"
else if hue < 75° then group = "yellows"
else if hue < 155° then group = "greens"
else if hue < 185° then group = "aquas"
else if hue < 255° then group = "blues"
else group = "purples"

For the X11 colours, we get 12 whites, 9 blacks, 23 reds, 20 oranges, 12 yellows, 17 greens, 14 aquas, 19 blues and 14 purples. This sounds like a fairly good distribution until you plot them as the number of colour names per degree of HSL hue:

X11 colour names per degree of HSL hue

We can see that the red-orange-yellow hue range is much more crowded.

One way to deal with this lack of uniform distribution is to pick colour points that are uniformly distributed and then name those points according to some dictionary. Our first attempt could be to pick RGB colours at regular intervals.

Web-safe colours are limited to six levels for each RGB channel (0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and 100%) for a total of 216 distinct colours. However, they are mostly unnamed. If we reduce the number of levels to five (0%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%), we get 125 distinct colours, similar to the number of X11 colours. Obviously, the X11 colours won't align perfectly, so there must be some fettling.

In the process of performing this experiment, I found that jan Misali has attempted something very similar. But it's an experiment, right? So repeating it cannot hurt.

The names in the so-called RGB-125 dictionary come from a variety of sources:
I also wanted the colour names to be single words, without qualifiers and unambiguous. For instance, "Chocolate" has very different RGB values in the various source dictionaries. "Lavender" is another example.

To compare colours objectively, I used the CIELAB ΔE*(1994) colour difference metric purely because there was a JavaScript function readily available. I should probably have used CIEDE2000, not least because the CIE94 algorithm is frustratingly quasimetric , i.e. CIE94(a, b) ≠ CIE94(b, a).

I had to invent ten names: "majorelle", "leaf", "lagoon", "felicia", "frog", "lettuce", "roxo", "sororia", "limon" and "kovidar".

See the full RGB-125 table here.

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