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A Detailed Analysis of Website Colors Choices

One of the most important choices to make when designing a website is your website color choices. It is important to have a web color scheme for your site. Besides choosing the colors themselves, you must choose what format to declare your colors with.

To decide what color format to use you will need to know where the colors are going to be declared. If you are going to declare your color names in a CSS or XML file you have different options then you would have if you declare your colors in an HTML file.

First let's look at the color formats. Listed below are descriptions of the different color formats in a loose order of relativity to website color choices. Of all of the choices listed below, only RGB and HEX (Hexadecimal) colors are really popular for web design, but the others are noted for other reasons related to making your website color scheme decisions.

Types of Color Formats

RGB Colors

Syntax: RGB(red value, green value, blue value)
Example usage: <body bgcolor=“RGB(0,55,255)”>
Range: From: RGB(0,0,0) To: RGB(255,255,255)

The RGB color format is based on light and therefore is really only practical for using in designs that are sure to be displayed on a lighted screen, so are mostly used only in web design, television and in movies. RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue and this is the order that the numbers which represent the colors are placed. RGB colors use a straight and simple base ten numbering system (consisting only digits from 0-9) and the three individual color values range from 0 to 255. There are two major drawbacks to using RGB colors in web design.

First and most important to note, is that they are not cross browser compatible to use in HTML documents. For example, RGB colors in HTML will work in the latest version of Internet Explorer 7, but do not work in any Firefox browsers to date. However, that does not mean that you have to rule out RGB colors all together. The RGB color format is very cross browser compatible when used in CSS and XML documents. Using them in CSS style sheets, which is the standard these days, RGB colors will work great in either Firefox or Internet Explorer browsers.

The second drawback of using RGB colors in web design is that they will not show up on paper the same way that they do on your monitor. They will often look dull or not as bright due to their dependency on light to generate them. I think they are great for web design though and if they ever become cross browser compatible for HTML documents, I would use them all the time because they are easy to use and understand. Here is a link to a great RGB color designer.

Hexadecimal Colors

Syntax: #RedGreenBlue
Example usage: <body bgcolor=“#99FF00”>
Range: From: #000000 To: #FFFFFF

Hex (Hexadecimal) colors are probably the safest web design color choice you can make because they are cross-browser compatible no matter whether you are using them in HTML, CSS or XML. There are 216 possible colors that will work in most browsers. You may use other colors than the specified 216 web safe colors, however most browsers will convert the colors to one of the standard 216. You can find a standardized Hex 216 color chart that lists all of the web safe Hex codes. While hexadecimal colors are based on the RGB system, they use a base 16 numbering system instead of a base 10. A base 16 number system uses 0-9 and A-F in that order. So to count in base 16, you would do this: 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,A,B,C,D,E,F. Shades of grey can be made by repeating three identical numbers for the respective RGB values. This works with hexadecimal (i.e. #343434 or #676767 both make shades of grey) or standard RGB color formats (i.e. RGB(22,22,22) or RGB(111,111,111) both will make shades of grey).

Color Names

Example usage: <body bgcolor=“yellow”>

You may also call colors in your HTML or CSS documents by their respective names. There are dozens of color names that will work, however, if you want your HTML or CSS to validate, the W3C has specified 16 color names that you can use: aqua, black, blue, fuchsia, gray, green, lime, maroon, navy, olive, purple, red, silver, teal, white, and yellow.

CMYK colors: CMYK colors are often referred to as four color printing because they are widely used in the printing industry. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and they K represents Black, the four colors used in CMYK colors. CMYK colors have a limited range and are often combined with pantone colors to make a wider range of available colors. while great for printing on paper, it is not a choice for making colors on the web. They are mainly used to compare colors to printed material and are converted to Hex or RGB format for use in web design.

Pantone colors: Pantone colors, named after the Pantone corporation are a standard in color design used most widely in the printing and painting industry. If you have had printing work done for your company, you have probably dealt with Pantones. The greatest benefit that Pantone colors bring us is that they ensure that the same color tone is used from print job to print job. Pantone colors are made from mixing a specified set of inks to get solid colors. The most common uses for pantone colors are logo design, letterhead, business cards and envelopes. Again not an option for web design colors, but worth mentioning simply because of the fact that Pantone standard colors are a good way to match colors. When choosing colors for your website's design, you may use the Pantone system to find out what Hex color code or RGB colors are closest to the color of your printed logo. Pantone puts out color swatches that are used widely for matching colors. For web design, that often means holding the paper color swatches up to your computer screen to find the color that is the closest to that of your printed work.


Which Color Format Should you Choose?

While RGB colors are the simplest to understand and use, they are not always the best choice for all situations. Hexadecimal colors have gained my approval for use in any web design situation. I use them the most simply because I know they will work in any browser or document type combination. If the RGB format was universally accepted, I would most likely use it as my format of choice, however, since it is not, I will continue to use Hex colors.

It is also best to choose from the 216 common colors that are listed on many charts on the internet. Color names are also very practical when you are in a hurry and do not care to look up the Hex code. I often use color names as my web design color choice when I need a simple color that is one of the 16 included in the W3C standard. If I just need a standard red or blue, it is just easiest to write the name out.

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