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FOTW colour guide

Last modified: 2016-08-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: fotw | color | palette | browser safe colors |
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About Pantone and RGB Colors

There is no one-to-one equivalency between RGB and Pantone (or any other system for that matter), because the techniques of gaining colours are so different and dependant on many things. How an RGB shade would look like on the screen depends on how your screen is adjusted - could be warmer or brighter or darker or whatever... If the image would then be printed it would involve another translation that shall distort it even further... So, one should understand the RGB shades are for screen purposes only and the relative consistency of these could be obtained only on calibrated monitors which as a rule are not to be found in general public.
Željko Heimer, 8 February 2006

The FOTW colour guide

Computer colours on monitors are made up of a mixture of red, green and blue (RGB). On each of these three variables, there are 256 values, which means that we can make more than 16.7 million different colours.

In the early days of FOTW, discussion led to a set of 32 "Browser Safe colours" - colours that could be viewed on all monitors with no dithering (adjacent pixels of alternating colours, to obtain a colour in between). The RGB values of the FOTW standard colours are:

Color RGB Value FIAV code

Very light red 255-102-102 R--
Light red 255- 51- 51 R-
* Red 255- 0 - 0 R
* Dark red 204- 0 - 0 R+
Very dark red 153- 0 - 0 R++

Very light blue 51-204-255 B--
* Light blue 51-153-255 B-
* Blue 0 - 0 -255 B
* Dark blue 0 - 0 -204 B+
* Very dark blue 0 - 0 -153 B++

Very light green 0 -255- 51 V--
Light green 0 -204- 0 V-
* Green 0 -153- 0 V
* Dark green 0 -102- 0 V+
Very dark green 0 -51- 0 V++

Very light yellow 255-255-204 Y--
Light yellow 255-255-153 Y-
* Yellow 255-255- 0 Y
* Dark yellow 255-204- 0 Y+

Light orange 255-153- 0 O-
* Orange 255-102- 0 O

Gold 255-204- 51 Au

* Light grey 204-204-204 G-
Grey 153-153-153 G
Dark grey 102-102-102 G+
Very dark grey 51- 51- 51 G++

Light brown 153-102- 0 M-
* Brown 102- 51- 0 M
Dark brown 51- 0 - 0 M+

* Purple 102- 0 -153 P

* Black 0 - 0 - 0 N

* White 255-255-255 W

Those colours marked with * are the 16 most used colours. Using a 16-colour palette will reduce file size, so it should be applied if possible.

FotW uses this set of standard colours. There is nothing to be gained by having flags with basically the same or even exactly the same shade of blue being GIFfed with several different RGB values for the blue. We request that images use the standard palette as a default. The question of whether colours must be from this palette ("browser-safe") is therefore only relevant when there is already good reason to use a more specific colour.

Even in that case, however, it is better to have some sort of standard. Clearly, if a flag is defined with particular RGB values, these should be used, but in general there is no unique way to represent on a computer screen a particular shade defined in terms of ink, cloth, etc - any RGB value is an approximation. Allowing too much variation in RGB values gives a false impression of accuracy. In reality, the differences between different representations of the same shade can be more than the differences between the relevant browser safe colours. So it makes sense to use some standard, and the 256 browser safe values are a reasonable standard to choose.

As a result, I think that the question is not "Why do we restrict ourselves to these colours?", but "Why do we need other colours?" I don't think the rules need to be overly prescriptive, and if a particularly special case comes up, it should be treated on its own merits. However, I think these would be few and far between. At any rate, if it is argued that the "browser safe" palette is too restricted, the answer is not to allow the use of any colours, but to come up with a more comprehensive palette.
Jonathan Dixon, 17 March 2007

FIAV codes are international codes for shorthand colour description in vexillology.

If it is not used in the flag image, Light gray (G-) should be used for transparent color.

If you intend to start making GIFs and want to send them to the FOTW mailing list, you should consider using FOTW-standard colours.

Of course the FOTW colour guide is not meant as a rigid and universal new colour standard. It is meant as a guide to colour management for those FOTW mailing list members who want to send images to the list. Naturally, the ultimate authority concerning colours of flags is still the legal specification laid down by those who adopt flags. However, such specifications are usually intended for textiles or printing, and do not give much meaning for computer colours on screen.


I went into my Photoshop color chart. There, they have every color label there is from CMYK, to RGB, to Pantone etc.. According to Photoshop, Pantone 465 or "buff" is RGB 194-150-121. That translates FOTW wise to 204-153-102 which is what I used on New Jersey flags. I tried 204-153-153, but that color is way too mauve or pink. Buff is really a bit closer to tan when the literal color tones are used. However, a pure tan for FOTW purposes is really difficult to produce.
Clay Moss, 21 February 2009

I looked at six examples of coats of arms of quartermaster battalions plus the arms of the Quartermaster Corps itself on the US Army Institute of Heraldry website, and found buff depicted with a different RGB value in each case - notwithstanding that in flag form all would use the same color officially designated "buff." The RGB suggested by Clay comes out much more purplish than these quasi-official representations. 195:170:120 is pretty much in the middle of the TIOH variations.

Perhaps this is just one of those cases where we have to abandon "browser-safe" orthodoxy for the sake of accuracy. Anything in BS numbers is either too purple, too yellow, too gray, or too orange.
Joe McMillan, 22 March 2009

Palettes for use with various software

Most of available drawing programs allows you to define color palettes used in your image. Here are several palettes ready for you. See your drawing programs reference how to use them.

Manufacturer Program Version OS 16 colours palette 32 colours palette Palette made by
Adobe PhotoShop any Win3x/95/NT/XP fotw16.act fotw32.act Uros Zizmund
Corel PhotoPaint ? Win3x/95/NT/XP N/A fotw32.gif David Kendall
(JASC before October 2004)
PaintShopPro any Win3x/95/NT/XP fotw16.pal fotw16.pal Željko Heimer
OSCS NeoPaint ? Win3x/95/NT fotw16np.pal* N/A David Kendall
GIMP, Inkscape  open source     fotw16.gpl fotw32.gpl Zach Harden

32 colours palette example:

16 colours palette example:

* NeoPaint have no possibility of making BSP GIFs. The palette is as close to BSP as possible, but should be converted to BSP before posting to FOTW.