I'm looking to color-code a textual list displayed on a white background, and have trouble finding a good tool to help with that. There seem to be lots of tools to aid in finding a color palette for different purposes, but in this case I need a set of about 10 colors that are fairly distinct from each other, and provide good contrast against white. Is there a systematic way to make a good set if I have selected a couple of colors to start?

Here is what it looks like right now:


But I'm not quite happy with it. The colors will be used to draw shapes on a map. I will need to also make sure the colors do not get confused with other map elements, which is why I want a larger set so that I can disqualify some colors and still have options left. It's not critical that the user remember them by heart, as the list is always visible for reference.

Edit: this is not for extended reading, but for a list of items, 1-3 words each, one item per line. Typical lists would be a handful of items, perhaps 20 at most.

What I'm asking for is a way to come up with such colors either with a tool or some other algorithm so that I can generate colors in a more scientific way than just poking around a color wheel.

  • Are you color coding because the user is supposed to remember that certain colors refer to a certain category of item? 10 might be a lot in that case and am wondering if color would be the best way to segment your list. Feb 9, 2015 at 20:09
  • Are you asking for a tool that will do this, or are you asking about the usability issues of text colors? Feb 9, 2015 at 20:09
  • You might have to provide additional info/pictures such as the surrounding design, whether or not this is a table, whether or not this list is enclosed in something, etc...
    – MonkeyZeus
    Feb 9, 2015 at 20:11
  • sample screenshot added
    – SaltyNuts
    Feb 9, 2015 at 20:23
  • 1
    This is all merely a matter of preference. The only thing to be aware of is to keep the contrast ratio correct for readability.
    – Scott
    Feb 9, 2015 at 22:21

1 Answer 1


Coming up with a few good, readable colors is not difficult. You just need to maintain yourself above a determined contrast ratio as Scott has mentioned in the comments.

You main issue with this, however, will be finding 10 colors that look distinctively different from each other. You can automate the contrast detection, but if you want something that looks nice you will need to do this manually. I think a manual approach is better in this case also because you are dealing with text, and text is usually thin - so thin that you can't really see the color correctly, you see shades of it with different transparencies against the white background.

As others have mentioned, perhaps it's time to ask yourself if you really want to use color as a way of distinguishing objects. 3 to 5 is doable, 10 will get you a headache for sure.

If you want something that can aid in quickly recognizing 10 different elements, I suggest you use icons instead. Or, if you need to use color, maybe consider adding bullet points or some other chunky element that displays the color better.

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