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Obviously, black & white are the highest contrast. I also want 2 sets of colors, so that regions on the map can be colored with good contrast. For instance, one region might be red, another blue, and another green. Simultaneously, each of those regions may contain sub-regions that are cyan, yellow, and magenta. I could just pick dark versions of the 1st set and light versions of the 2nd set, but would like about 6 colors in each set. Also, simply picking colors that are numerically far apart doesn't lead to good visual contrast.

Any suggestions? (Colors are for on-screen display)

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That's because the visual colors we perceive are more psychological and specific to human vision than mathematical. If we had 4 or 2 color receptors instead of 3, our perception of color and the relative relationship between different colors would be completely altered. –  Lèse majesté Dec 22 '11 at 5:25
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True, but L*a*b* colorspace is supposed to approximate human perception of color/brightness difference. Sadly, OS color pickers seldom have a Lab mode. –  Jerry B Dec 23 '11 at 18:25

3 Answers 3

If you want to check contrast ratios, there's this tool.

It's designed to check color contrast ratios of text color against background color to see if it meets Web Content Accessibility Guidlines, but should work for any other purpose where contrast is important.

The ratios range from 21:1 (for black and white) down to 1:1 (for the same color).

Also, color blindness is something you might wish to consider. Here's a great introductory article, with lots of links to color blindess checking sites and further information.

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ColorBrewer is an amazing tool that does just that.

It's aimed at cartographers, support up to 12 colors, and has some nice options as well (such as the ability to generate colorblind-safe color sets)

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Thank you, just what the doctor ordered! Altho, efforts in the past month have led me to a simplified map (or more accurately, 5 simplified maps). Still, this link may be very handy in future, and much more helpful than "go study color theory". –  Jerry B Dec 23 '11 at 18:29

It's all about the contrast my friend. It basically comes down to being able to contrast colors using hue, saturation and tint/shade, or hsl.

Here is a nice way to experiment with colors: http://colorschemedesigner.com/

and here is a decent explanation of different ways to produce contrast in colors: http://www.colorsontheweb.com/colorcontrasts.asp

on the aforementioned color scheme site you can experiment with different color combinations (triads, tetrads) easily, and I highly suggest reading up on your color theory.

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