Color matching secret

A few years ago, a color scheme won the hearts of a few people: gray-white text with a base of orange, blue and dark gray chowder. In the words of William Gibson, the author of the science fiction “Nerve Waves”, this is “the color of the TV when it is transferred to the invalid channel.” These colors are part of the popular Mac OS code editor TextMate, a theme called “Dark Exposure”.

To be honest, when computers were just beginning to become popular, few people were concerned about color matching. But people soon discovered that staring at the screen all day will make you pay special attention to fonts and colors.

Not accidental
Many non-professional programmers like to use a code editor to write and organize notes. After switching from Mac to Windows, during the search for a work tool, I found “dark exposure” and its brother product “light exposure”, which all used the same 16-color palette.

The “exposure” color scheme has many loyal followers. Microsoft even bundled it with its popular code editor VS Code.

“If I open a terminal window without an ‘exposure, I don’t feel comfortable adapting.” Shortly after the release of “Exposure” in 2011, Zachary Burr, a programmer and artist from Richmond, Virginia, started using it. it.

The “exposure” color scheme is not an accidental product. It reflects the strong attention to detail by its creator, Ethan Skunoville. “Until I am 100% certain that I like all of the colors, and the scales are mathematically calculated, I will release it.” Scunoville said, “I have a lot of monitors, some are color-calibrated, Some are deliberately inaccurate. Sometimes I will show my work to my wife, she thinks I am crazy.”

Too much contrast
When designing “exposure” in 2010, Scunoville also worked as a designer and programmer in Seattle. At the time, he had just replaced the computer’s operating system and was very disappointed with the color scheme. Many applications offer only one of the simplest black and white color schemes, which can be traced back to older, text-based computer terminals. Moreover, Skunoville also found that these retro color schemes are even simpler than the color schemes in the retro monitors they are trying to imitate. This is because the background displayed on the display in the 1980s is not really black. The current LCD monitor makes this simple and flawless.

The best contrast that should be used on the text on the screen is controversial. Many people like high-contrast themes. But contrast is not the only concern for Scunoville. He found that most low-contrast color schemes also lack color diversity. Even the best-designed themes tend to use at least one brighter color that is more distracting than other colors. This is because the apparent brightness of the color will vary depending on its background. In other words, depending on the surrounding color, a particular blue shadow will appear brighter or darker.

This phenomenon, known as the Helmholtz-Korlausch effect, is especially problematic for programmers because the coding tool uses color to distinguish different parts of the code. For example, in the web code of a common text editor using the “Dark Exposure” theme, the page link is displayed in green; the formatted syntax (such as adding italics) is blue, and the comments written by the developer for itself are gray. . Ideally, colors should help distinguish these elements, but none of them should be more prominent than others.

Skunoville began looking for a set of colors that not only need to be put together to look harmonious, but also have the same brightness, because he wants to use the same palette in both light and dark themes. This makes this task even more difficult.

For very personal reasons, he chose blue and yellow as the starting color. Blue reminds him of his long-standing phobia—the fear of deep water, and yellow that reminds him of the memories and smells of childhood. “My parents are artists, so I am used to making choices based on intuition,” he said.

Based on these base colors, Scunoville found other colors that provide sufficient contrast between the elements and maintain the same contrast in both light and dark versions. “I think it’s a bit like creating music with only a limited number of notes,” Skunoville said. “There will be some rare and beautiful things.”

Free open source
In April 2011, Skunoville released an “exposure” for free on the code hosting and collaboration service platform GitHub. He said that he never intended to commercialize it. “This will kill its vitality and deprive it of its purity… I believe in open source software, I believe they can bring selfless help to anyone in the world.”

Although Skunoville tested the color scheme in various applications, he initially only installed the “Exposure” theme for some of the tools used in his work. Shortly after he announced the release of the “Exposure” theme on the Vim mailing list, the project was launched on the front page of the online community Hacker News. This is a color scheme for the programmer to hit the pain point, and soon became their heart. In 2013, “Dark Exposure” appeared on the developer screen in Facebook ads—“Look at the dark rectangles on these screens, paying attention to the faintly colored lines that pass through them.”

“Exposure” is slowly entering non-geek applications. Ulysses is a writing application in Mac OS that includes an “exposure” theme as an option. This color scheme was used in many graphics in the 2014 video game N++. The note-taking application MicroPad even uses “exposure” as a feature to promote it on its website. “For MicroPad, ‘dark exposure is especially useful for people who study late at night,” said Nick Webster founder Nick Webster.

However, “exposure” still does not really cross the mainstream, becoming the color scheme for major web applications or software suites. “When Apple introduced Dark Mode for Mac OS, I thought it was cool,” Virginia programmer and artist Burr said. “But I hope it’s ‘exposure.’

However, people who love the “exposure” theme will also usher in the dawn of hope. As more apps such as Google Chrome, Facebook, and Slack release dark mode themes, “exposure” may be a real day of exposure.