Re: Last call comments on CSS3 module: color

Hey Dylan,

Sorry for the short delay in responding to this, but I looked into where the
X11 colors came from and thought I'd answer your question. Also I was
only 16 when you asked, and Google hadn't quite indexed all the old X11
newsgroups, so it's unlikely that I could have helped you at the time.

> This isuue has been brought up several times before by myself and others:
> This discussion dates back to at least 1996, when I was first learning
> css.  It is interesting that at almost every point, someone has
> suggested a new naming mechanism, myself included.

This (1996) seems to be mostly correct. Browsers at this time were
including the X11 colors inconsistently. Chris Lilley makes some mention
of the system in passing, though. Not much actual discussion. 2001
really kicked things off, as far as I can tell. (With the colors eventually
being included just prior to this email on March 5th, 2001).

> Color names aren't that useful, so I don't use them.  If I was creating
> an application that used named colors, I'd break use of the standard
> naming conventions and map an alternative naming scheme to RGB.

Seems like you eventually gave up the good fight, but I don't blame
you. It's certainly extensible in a way that allows for a better naming
system, even if those are the X11 values.

> If anyone out there knows the history of X11 colors, would you please
> provide more information, or a few links?  My searches only bring up
> sites which list the X11 colors, and the link in the draft is broken, by
> the way.

I found a little!

Luckily, google now has some of these old newsgroups archived.!forum/

# Original Release

The original colors were released by MIT on June 7th, 1986 along with the
X10R3 release. The same list made it into the first X11 release (X11R1)
on September 18th, 1987. Version control wasn't quite up to par, so as far
as I know, it's unknown who the original author of the 'rgb.txt' file is.
Though, there are potentially some other clues later on.

There were 69 original colors. All of them were in the file twice, once with
spaces between the lowercase words, and once with CamelCase. e.g.

lavendar blush

The project was being developed on DEC VT240 computers at the time
and the colors would have matched that display most closely.

The colors were listed in "mostly alphabetical order."

# R2

In the second release, on March 24, 1988 (almost exactly 26 years ago!)
they only added a few updates. 'brown' and 'gray' were added. 'grey' was
also added because some guys at HP couldn't remember which way to
spell it.

# R3

Lots of colors that never made it into the CSS version of the colors were
added on October 27, 1988 in X11R3. Namely, 101 versions of gray.

gray0 0,0,0
gray1 3,3,3
gray2 5,5,5
gray99 252,252,252
gray100 255,255,255

(increments at a 3, 2 interval all the way to 255)

Naturally these were all duplicated as 'grey'. At this point in time they
had to change 'white' from 252,252,252 to 255,255,255 because
'gray100' was "more white" than 'white'. Now gray100 and white were the

There was also the addition of a few more new colors, but not many.
My favorite of these new colors was SandyBrown. The new colors were
listed in the changelog[0] as "a few random colors were added" and don't
give much reasoning behind them.

Color names become case insensitive in this release, although there was
a spelling error in the release notes[0] and they were instead listed as
"case insensative". I don't believe that had any long-term repercussions,

# R4

This is the release where the majority of the X11 colors as we know them
today come from. It was released on January 29th, 1989. Technically the
colors were added after the initial release of this version, but were merged
in prior to the next version.

Two people, who were now using different equipment, posted their
personal color lists to the newsgroup. It seemed like a popular option for
companies that were building on top of X11 to modify the rgb.txt files to
suit their own needs, and I think these two guys were just the first ones
to share their modifications. They were not otherwise contributors to the
project as far as I can tell.

## Paul Raveling

He posted his color list[1] while working at ISI on October 19th, 1989. He
used his personal HP monitor to tune them.

He added more light and off-white colors. Most of the names and color
values were taken from several Sinclair Paints colors samples. He
claims that he wanted to find ANSI standard colors, but that ANSI
took his money and never sent him the specification, even after a
repeated attempt. He goes on to say 'Nuts to ANSI & "ANSI standards".'

He added some of his 'favorite shades of gray'.

He also added colors on a spectrum. This is actually most similar to the
proposals that were later made on this list. He would pick a base color
running from "generally blue" to "generally green" and "generally red."

He would then use a postfix number to make these colors darker to 4
degrees. These colors did not make it into the CSS3 colors. While the
wikipedia article on X11 colors[2] claims that his formula was to multiply
color 2 by 93.2%, color 3 by 80.4%, and color 4 by 54.8% - in reality
he just used an "approximately logarithmic" scale.

## John C. Thomas

John Thomas probably added most of the colors that made it into CSS3
outside of the original list of 69 colors. He posted his list to the group
on October 31, 1989. It was posted as a reply to another post titled
"This is pink??"[3]

It was his job at Tektronix at the time to pick some better colors and
names, and so he shared his list. His list was closely matched to his
set of 72 Crayola Crayons, and their respective names. He matched
on his SONY monitor.

If you're wondering: MediumGoldenrod was removed, but fortunately
PaleGoldenrod, DarkGoldenrod, LightGoldenrodYellow, LightGoldenrod
were all added.

He mentions that over 50% of the crayon colors were already represented
in the rgb.txt file. This could either be because there are many common
known colors, or because crayons were also used in the initial list.

### Jim Fulton

A guy named Jim Fulton claims[4] to have had some part in this, but
from what I can tell, he's just the one at MIT who merged them together,
and set it as the new rgb.txt. Though, I haven't done an extensive diff.

Perhaps he is the original author of the original list, though?

In the same thread, Perl inventor Larry Wall tells them that they're
probably doing it wrong, and that each person should be able to match
their own set of crayons to the colors. This is a similar suggestion to
the one you made above. However, he did not intend on writing the
system for doing this.

# R5

After 5 years, on May 18th, 1994, Gray was changed from
192,192,192 to 190,190,190.

# End

That's pretty much the set of colors that the browsers started
implementing. There were forks on color values in different systems,
so not all browsers actually displayed the same values.

That's more or less where the names come from: Sinclair Paint samples
and Crayola Crayons. Probably worse than you expected.

> -Dylan Schiemann
>> Ches wrote:
>> I have to agree with Andrew on this one. Please do not require them.
>> Sincerely,
>> Franchesca Havas
>> McKinney, Texas
>>    `,,`
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> From: "Andrew Clover" <>
>>> To: <>
>>> Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 9:19 AM
>>> Subject: Re: Last call comments on CSS3 module: color
>>> --------------snip----------------
>>> Authors should not be encouraged to use the X11 colours.
>>> --
>>> Andrew Clover
> --
> Dylan Schiemann

I hope that's helpful!


Alex Sexton

Received on Thursday, 13 March 2014 20:54:46 UTC