Looking for color palettes for LED themes

I’ve written a few plugins that use a limited set of colors, to save space, the latest of which is FingerPainter. This last one is the most interesting for the question I’m about to post here, so allow me to describe it briefly: it is a LED mode that lets you edit the colors on the fly. You enter edit mode, and when you tap a key, it cycles through a 16-color palette, allowing you to create any theme you like, on the keyboard itself, without additional software. It is pretty awesome.

Current state of things

But herein lies my problem: for this to work, you need a palette. At the moment, there is an option to set a default palette, which, for the time being, is the EGA Palette:

EGA/CGA Palette

This looks okay on a monitor, but in practice, the difference between the dark & light pairs is almost indistinguishable in most cases. Not to mention that for most cases, four shades of grey (black, light, dark, white) are an overkill.

So I’m looking for a palette that would work for the keyboard. Something that would work well with a small canvas. I think we do not need light/dark pairs for all colors (but it helps to have a pair for some of them, like black/white, or brown/yellow), and grey is something we can do without.

Options so far

The VIC-20 palette looks a bit better, but not quite:

VIC-20 palette

Less shades of grey, but still pretty much paired colors.

Mind you, we do not necessarily need all 16 colors, we can make do with less, too (with black & white added at the two ends):

The Question

So, what I would like your help with, is finding one or two reasonable palettes the plugin could ship with, which could be used as a default palette? Keep in mind, that we are limited to 16 colors, but we don’t have to use all of them, and our canvas is tiny.


Here’s someone’s attempt at finding a 16-colour palette that’s well-distributed: http://alumni.media.mit.edu/~wad/color/palette.html


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I would guess the C64 color palette would suit, if you want to stick to 16 colours. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_8-bit_computer_hardware_palettes for some ideas.


Yep, had a look at those (and the 16-bit ones too). The C64 palette has too many greys, and paired colors, and is close enough to the VIC-20 that I didn’t want to mention it explicitly. (In hindsight, I should have, if for nothing else, then because it’s the C64)

Oh, and, for the record:

These are the EGA palette (part of the dark colors), and the pastel palette (the last one from my original post above) on the keyboard. They look much better in real life, the photo quality does not do them much justice. At the moment, both are shipped with the plugin, as an optional default (but that’s just that, a default, and one can set up their own palette easily).


Here’s another one to try:

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we are limited to 16 colors

Perhaps pick the most contrasty from the 27 at


I like the GNOME colors too, they look like a bit more vibrant than the pastel colors I was using before, but not as strong as the EGA palette (which feels a bit crude to me).



Perhaps Ethan Schoonover’s “Solarized” palette, with all of the accent colors, and (say) one dark and one light background tone, one content tone, and an additional black and white:

Designed “with both precise CIELAB lightness relationships and a refined set of hues based on fixed color wheel relationships. It has been tested extensively in real world use on color calibrated displays (as well as uncalibrated/intentionally miscalibrated displays) and in a variety of lighting conditions.”


I love solarized, currently in use on my notepad++. Hi Erik MH.


How on earth could I forget about Solarized? Thanks for the reminder!