Jason C. Fisher, Reto Stauffer, Achim Zeileis

Graphical User Interface for Choosing HCL Color Palettes


A graphical user interface (GUI) for viewing, manipulating, and choosing HCL color palettes.


Computes palettes based on the HCL (hue-chroma-luminance) color model (as implemented by polarLUV). The GUIs interface the palette functions qualitative_hcl for qualitative palettes, sequential_hcl for sequential palettes with a single or multiple hues, and diverging_hcl for diverging palettes (composed from two single-hue sequential palettes).

Two different GUIs are implemented and can be selected using the function input argument gui ("tcltk" or "shiny"). Both GUIs allows for interactive modification of the arguments of the respective palette-generating functions, i.e., starting/ending hue (wavelength, type of color), minimal/maximal chroma (colorfulness), minimal maximal luminance (brightness, amount of gray), and a power transformations that control how quickly/slowly chroma and/or luminance are changed through the palette. Subsets of the parameters may not be applicable depending on the type of palette chosen. See qualitative_hcl and Zeileis et al. (2009, 2019) for a more detailed explanation of the different arguments. Stauffer et al. (2015) provide more examples and guidance.

Optionally, active palette can be illustrated by using a range of examples such as a map, heatmap, scatter plot, perspective 3D surface etc.

To demonstrate different types of deficiencies, the active palette may be desaturated (emulating printing on a grayscale printer) and collapsed to emulate different types of color-blindness (without red-green or green-blue contrasts) using the simulate_cvd functions.

choose_palette by default starts the Tcl/Tk version of the GUI while hclwizard by default starts the shiny version. hcl_wizard is an alias for hclwizard.


Returns a palette-generating function with the selected arguments. Thus, the returned function takes an integer argument and returns the corresponding number of HCL colors by traversing HCL space through interpolation of the specified hue/chroma/luminance/power values.

HCL Color Palettes


Qualitative, sequential (single-hue and multi-hue), and diverging color palettes based on the HCL (hue-chroma-luminance) color model.


The HCL (hue-chroma-luminance) color model is a perceptual color model obtained by using polar coordinates in CIE LUV space (i.e., polarLUV), where steps of equal size correspond to approximately equal perceptual changes in color. By taking polar coordinates the resulting three dimensions capture the three perceptual axes very well: hue is the type of color, chroma the colorfulness compared to the corresponding gray, and luminance the brightness. This makes it relatively easy to create balanced palettes through trajectories in this HCL space. In contrast, in the more commonly-used HSV (hue-saturation-value) model (a simple transformation of RGB), the three axes are confounded so that luminance changes along with the hue leading to very unbalanced palettes (see rainbow_hcl for further illustrations).

Three types of palettes are derived based on the HCL model:

The corresponding functions are qualitative_hcl, sequential_hcl, and diverging_hcl. Their construction principles are explained in more detail below. At the core is the luminance axis (i.e., light-dark contrasts): These are easily decoded by humans and matched to high-low differences in the underlying data. Therefore, sequential_hcl palettes are always based on a monotonic luminance sequence whereas the colors in a qualitative_hcl palette all have the same luminance. Finally, diverging_hcl palettes use the same monotonic luminance sequence in both “arms” of the palette, i.e., correspond to two balanced sequential palettes diverging from the same neutral value. The other two axes, hue and chroma, are used to enhance the luminance information and/or to further discriminate the color.

All three palette functions specify trajectories in HCL space and hence need either single values or intervals of the coordinates h, c, l. Their interfaces are always designed such that h, c, l can take vector arguments (as needed) but alternatively or additionally h1/h2, c1/c2/cmax, and l1/l2 can be specified. If so, the latter coordinates overwrite the former.

qualitative_hcl distinguishes the underlying categories by a sequence of hues while keeping both chroma and luminance constant to give each color in the resulting palette the same perceptual weight. Thus, h should be a pair of hues (or equivalently h1 and h2 can be used) with the starting and ending hue of the palette. Then, an equidistant sequence between these hues is employed, by default spanning the full color wheel (i.e, the full 360 degrees). Chroma c (or equivalently c1) and luminance l (or equivalently l1) are constants.

sequential_hcl codes the underlying numeric values by a monotonic sequence of increasing (or decreasing) luminance. Thus, the l argument should provide a vector of length 2 with starting and ending luminance (equivalently, l1 and l2 can be used). Without chroma (i.e., c = 0), this simply corresponds to a grayscale palette like gray.colors. For adding chroma, a simple strategy would be to pick a single hue (via h or h1) and then decrease chroma from some value (c or c1) to zero (i.e., gray) along with increasing luminance. For bringing out the extremes (a dark high-chroma color vs. a light gray) this is already very effective. For distinguishing also colors in the middle two strategies can be employed: (a) Hue can be varied as well by specifying an interval of hues in h (or beginning hue h1 and ending hue h2). (b) Instead of a decreasing chroma a triangular chroma trajectory can be employed from c1 over cmax to c2 (or equivalently a vector c of length 3). This yields high-chroma colors in the middle of the palette that are more easily distinguished from the dark and light extremes. Finally, instead of employing linear trajectories, power transformations are supported in chroma and luminance via a vector power (or separate p1 and p2). If power[2] (or p2) for the luminance trajectory is missing, it defaults to power[1]/p1 from the chroma trajectory.

diverging_hcl codes the underlying numeric values by a triangular luminance sequence with different hues in the left and in the right arm of the palette. Thus, it can be seen as a combination of two sequential palettes with some restrictions: (a) a single hue is used for each arm of the palette, (b) chroma and luminance trajectory are balanced between the two arms, (c) the neutral central value has zero chroma. To specify such a palette a vector of two hues h (or equivalently h1 and h2), either a single chroma value c (or c1) or a vector of two chroma values c (or c1 and cmax), a vector of two luminances l (or l1 and l2), and power parameter(s) power (or p1 and p2) are used. For more flexible diverging palettes without the restrictrictions above (and consequently more parameters) divergingx_hcl is available. For backward compatibility, diverge_hcl is a copy of diverging_hcl.

To facilitate using HCL-based palettes a wide range of example palettes are provided in the package and can be specified by a name instead of a set of parameters/coordinates. The examples have been taken from the literature and many approximate color palettes from other software packages such as (RColorBrewer), CARTO colors (rcartocolor), scico, or virids. The function hcl_palettes can be used to query the available pre-specified palettes. It comes with a print method (listing names and types), a summary method (additionally listing the underlying parameters/coordinates), and a plot method that creates a swatchplot with suitable labels.


qualitative_hcl, sequential_hcl, diverging_hcl return a vector of n color strings (hex codes).

The function hcl_palettes returns a data frame of class "hcl_palettes" where each row contains information about one of the requested palettes (name, type, HCL trajectory coordinates). Suitable print, summary, and plot methods are available.

Color Spectrum Plot


Visualization of color palettes (given as hex codes) in HCL and/or RGB coordinates.


The function specplot transforms a given color palette in hex codes into their HCL (polarLUV) and/or RGB (sRGB) coordinates. As the hues for low-chroma colors are not (or poorly) identified, by default a smoothing is applied to the hues (fix = TRUE). Also, to avoid jumps from 0 to 360 or vice versa, the hue coordinates are shifted suitably.

By default (plot = TRUE), the resulting HCL and optionally RGB coordinates are visualized by simple line plots along with the color palette x itself. The x-axis simply gives the ordering of the colors in the palette The y-axis depicts the following information: (1) Hue is drawn in red and coordinates are indicated on the axis on the right with range [0, 360] or (if necessary) [-360, 360]. (2) Chroma is drawn in green with coordinates on the left axis. The range [0, 100] is used unless the palette necessitates higher chroma values. (3) Luminance is drawn in blue with coordinates on the left axis in the range [0, 100]. Luminance (and hence also chroma) is on the left axis because it is arguably most important for understanding the type of palette (qualitative vs. sequential vs. diverging). To facilitate reading the legend the reversed order Luminance / Chroma / Hue is used so that the legend labels are closer to the axis they pertain to.

For comparing two palettes, specplot(x, y) can be used which adds lines (dashed, by default) corresponding to the y palette HCL/RGB coordinates in the display.


specplot invisibly returns a list with components


a matrix of HCL coordinates,


a matrix of sRGB coordinates,


original color palette x.

Palette Plot in HCL Space


Visualization of color palettes in HCL space projections.


The function hclplot is an auxiliary function for illustrating the trajectories of color palettes in two-dimensional HCL space projections. It collapses over one of the three coordinates (either the hue H or the luminance L) and displays a heatmap of colors combining the remaining two dimensions. The coordinates for the given color palette are highlighted to bring out its trajectory.

The function hclplot has been designed to work well with the hcl_palettes in this package. While it is possible to apply it to other color palettes as well, the results might look weird or confusing if these palettes are constructed very differently (e.g., as in the highly saturated base R palettes).

More specifically, the following palettes can be visualized well:

To infer the type of display to use, by default, the following heuristic is used: If luminance is not approximately constant (range > 10) and follows rougly a triangular pattern, a diverging display is used. If luminance is not constant and follows roughly a linear pattern, a sequential display is used. Otherwise a qualitative display is used.


hclplot invisibly returns a matrix with the HCL coordinates corresponding to x.


Zeileis A, Hornik K, Murrell P (2009). Escaping RGBland: Selecting Colors for Statistical Graphics. Computational Statistics & Data Analysis, 53, 3259–3270. doi: 10.1016/j.csda.2008.11.033 Preprint available from

Stauffer R, Mayr GJ, Dabernig M, Zeileis A (2015). Somewhere over the Rainbow: How to Make Effective Use of Colors in Meteorological Visualizations. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 96(2), 203–216. doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00155.1

Zeileis A, Fisher JC, Hornik K, Ihaka R, McWhite CD, Murrell P, Stauffer R, Wilke CO (2019). “ccolorspace: A Toolbox for Manipulating and Assessing Colors and Palettes.” arXiv:1903.06490, E-Print Archive.