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The Pythonically Natural Color and Hue Editor

Project description

Welcome to PYnche

This is the Pythonically Natural Color and Hue Editor.

Pynche is based largely on a similar color editor I wrote many years ago for the SunView window system. That editor was called ICE: the Interactive Color Editor. I'd always wanted to port the editor to X but didn't feel like hacking X and C code to do it. Fast forward many years, to where Python + Tkinter provided such a nice programming environment, with enough power, that I finally buckled down and implemented it. I changed the name because there were too many other systems have the acronym `ICE'.


A modern day warrior

As of Python 3.11, Pynche is finally removed from the CPython repository and moved into its own repo. Given that the code in CPython wasn't even Python 3 compatible, this was long overdue.

I don't intend to support this too much, but I'll keep it working (with your help!) and it still makes a nice demo of using tkinter from Python, so I guess here ya go. Contributions and collaborators welcome!

I've done the most minimal work to port this to Python 3. On macOS (where I test things), you need to brew install python-tk to get it to work.

To run it: python3 src/pynche.

Other than that, reach out if you want to play along.


Pynche is a color editor based largely on a similar program that I originally wrote back in 1987 for the SunView window system. That editor was called ICE, the Interactive Color Editor. I'd always wanted to port this program to X but didn't feel like hacking X and C code to do it. Fast forward many years, to where Python + Tkinter provides such a nice programming environment, with enough power, that I finally buckled down and re-implemented it. I changed the name because these days, too many other systems have the acronym `ICE'.

Pynche should work with any variant of Python 3 but as only been tested on macOS with brew installed Python 3.9 and TclTk 8.6.12 (via python-tk) since the separation of the source code from the CPython repo.

Pynche must find a text database of colors names in order to provide nearest color matching. Pynche is distributed with an rgb.txt file from the X11R6.4 distribution for this reason, along with other "web related" database (see below). You can use a different file with the -d option. The file xlicense.txt contains the license only for rgb.txt.

Pynche is pronounced: Pin'-chee

Running Standalone

On Unix, start it by running the pynche script. On Windows, run pynche.pyw to inhibit the console window. When run from the command line, the following options are recognized:

--database file -d file Alternate location of the color database file. Without this option, the first valid file found will be used (see below).

--initfile file -i file Alternate location of the persistent initialization file. See the section on Persistency below.

--ignore -X Ignore the persistent initialization file when starting up. Pynche will still write the current option settings to the persistent init file when it quits.

--help -h Print the help message.

initialcolor a Tk color name or #rrggbb color spec to be used as the initially selected color. This overrides any color saved in the persistent init file. Since # needs to be escaped in many shells, it is optional in the spec (e.g. #45dd1f is the same as 45dd1f).

Running as a Modal Dialog

Warning: this mode has not been tested since the CPython repo separation. All of the information here is pretty ancient.

Pynche can be run as a modal dialog, inside another application, say as a general color chooser. In fact, Grail 0.6 uses Pynche and a future version of IDLE may as well. Pynche supports the API implemented by the Tkinter standard tkColorChooser module, with a few changes as described below. By importing pyColorChooser from the Pynche package, you can run


which will popup Pynche as a modal dialog, and return the selected color.

There are some UI differences when running as a modal vs. standalone. When running as a modal, there is no "Quit" menu item under the "File" menu. Instead there are "Okay" and "Cancel" buttons.

When "Okay" is hit, askcolor() returns the tuple

((r, g, b), "name")

where r, g, and b are red, green, and blue color values respectively (in the range 0 to 255). "name" will be a color name from the color database if there is an exact match, otherwise it will be an X11 color spec of the form "#rrggbb". Note that this is different than tkColorChooser, which doesn't know anything about color names.

askcolor() supports the following optional keyword arguments:

color the color to set as the initial selected color

master[*] the master window to use as the parent of the modal dialog. Without this argument, pyColorChooser will create its own Tkinter.Tk instance as the master. This may not be what you want.

databasefile similar to the --database option, the value must be a file name

initfile[*] similar to the --initfile option, the value must be a file name

ignore[*] similar to the --ignore flag, the value is a boolean

wantspec When this is true, the "name" field in the return tuple will always be a color spec of the form "#rrggbb". It will not return a color name even if there is a match; this is so pyColorChooser can exactly match the API of tkColorChooser.

[*] these arguments must be specified the first time askcolor() is used and cannot be changed on subsequent calls.

The ColorStrip Window

The ColorStrip Window

The top part of the main Pynche window contains the "color variation strips". Each strip contains a number of "color chips". The strips always indicate the currently selected color by a highlight rectangle around the selected color chip, with an arrow pointing to the chip. Each arrow has an associated number giving you the color value along the variation's axis. Each variation strip shows you the colors that are reachable from the selected color by varying just one axis of the color solid.

For example, when the selected color is (in Red/Green/Blue notation) 127/127/127, the Red Variations strip shows you every color in the range 0/127/127 to 255/127/127. Similarly for the green and blue axes. You can select any color by clicking on its chip. This will update the highlight rectangle and the arrow, as well as other displays in Pynche.

Click on "Update while dragging" if you want Pynche to update the selected color while you drag along any variation strip. Click on "Hexadecimal" to display the arrow numbers in hex.

There are also two shortcut buttons in this window, which auto-select Black (0/0/0) and White (255/255/255).

The Proof Window

The Proof Window

In the lower left corner of the main window you see two larger color chips. The Selected chip shows you a larger version of the color selected in the variation strips, along with its X11 color specification. The Nearest chip shows you the closest color in the X11 database to the selected color, giving its X11 color specification, and below that, its X11 color name. When the Selected chip color exactly matches the Nearest chip color, you will see the color name appear below the color specification for the Selected chip.

Clicking on the Nearest color chip selects that color. Color distance is calculated in the 3D space of the RGB color solid and if more than one color name is the same distance from the selected color, the first one found will be chosen.

Note that there may be more than one X11 color name for the same RGB value. In that case, the first one found in the text database is designated the "primary" name, and this is shown under the Nearest chip. The other names are "aliases" and they are visible in the Color List Window (see below).

Both the color specifications and color names are selectable for copying and pasting into another window.

The Type-in Window

The Type-in Window

At the lower right of the main window are three entry fields. Here you can type numeric values for any of the three color axes. Legal values are between 0 and 255, and these fields do not allow you to enter illegal values. You must hit Enter or Tab to select the new color.

Click on "Update while typing" if you want Pynche to select the color on every keystroke (well, every one that produces a legal value!) Click on "Hexadecimal" to display and enter color values in hex.

Other Views

There are three secondary windows which are not displayed by default. You can bring these up via the "View" menu on the main Pynche window.

The Text Window

The Text Window

The "Text Window" allows you to see what effects various colors have on the standard Tk text widget elements. In the upper part of the window is a plain Tk text widget and here you can edit the text, select a region of text, etc. Below this is a button "Track color changes". When this is turned on, any colors selected in the other windows will change the text widget element specified in the radio buttons below. When this is turned off, text widget elements are not affected by color selection.

You can choose which element gets changed by color selection by clicking on one of the radio buttons in the bottom part of this window. Text foreground and background affect the text in the upper part of the window. Selection foreground and background affect the colors of the primary selection which is what you see when you click the middle button (depending on window system) and drag it through some text.

The Insertion is the insertion cursor in the text window, where new text will be inserted as you type. The insertion cursor only has a background.

The Color List Window

The Color List Window

The "Color List" window shows every named color in the color name database. In the upper part of the window you see a scrolling list of all the color names in the database, in alphabetical order. Click on any color to select it. In the bottom part of the window is displayed any aliases for the selected color (those color names that have the same RGB value, but were found later in the text database). For example, find the color "Black" and you'll see that its aliases are "gray0" and "grey0".

If the color has no aliases you'll see "<no aliases>" here. If you just want to see if a color has an alias, and do not want to select a color when you click on it, turn off "Update on Click".

Note that the color list is always updated when a color is selected from the main window. There's no way to turn this feature off. If the selected color has no matching color name you'll see "<no matching color>" in the Aliases window.

The Details Window

The Details Window

The "Details" window gives you more control over color selection than just clicking on a color chip in the main window. The row of buttons along the top apply the specified increment and decrement amounts to the selected color. These delta amounts are applied to the color strips specified by the check boxes labeled "Move Sliders". Thus if just Red and Green are selected, hitting -10 will subtract 10 from the color value along the red and green variation only. Note the message under the checkboxes; this indicates the primary color level being changed when more than one slider is tied together. For example, if Red and Green are selected, you will be changing the Yellow level of the selected color.

The "At Boundary" behavior determines what happens when any color variation hits either the lower or upper boundaries (0 or 255) as a result of clicking on the top row buttons:

Stop When the increment or decrement would send any of the tied variations out of bounds, the entire delta is discarded.

Wrap Around When the increment or decrement would send any of the tied variations out of bounds, the out of bounds value is wrapped around to the other side. Thus if red were at 238 and +25 were clicked, red would have the value 7.

Preserve Distance When the increment or decrement would send any of the tied variations out of bounds, all tied variations are wrapped as one, so as to preserve the distance between them. Thus if green and blue were tied, and green was at 238 while blue was at 223, and +25 were clicked, green would be at 15 and blue would be at 0.

Squash When the increment or decrement would send any of the tied variations out of bounds, the out of bounds variation is set to the ceiling of 255 or floor of 0, as appropriate. In this way, all tied variations are squashed to one edge or the other.

The top row buttons have the following keyboard accelerators:

-25 == Shift Left Arrow -10 == Control Left Arrow -1 == Left Arrow +1 == Right Arrow +10 == Control Right Arrow +25 == Shift Right Arrow

Keyboard Accelerators

Alt-w in any secondary window dismisses the window. In the main window it exits Pynche (except when running as a modal).

Alt-q in any window exits Pynche (except when running as a modal).


Pynche remembers various settings of options and colors between invocations, storing these values in a persistent initialization file. The actual location of this file is specified by the --initfile option (see above), and defaults to ~/.pynche.

When Pynche exits, it saves these values in the init file, and re-reads them when it starts up. There is no locking on this file, so if you run multiple instances of Pynche at a time, you may clobber the init file.

The actual options stored include

  • the currently selected color

  • all settings of checkbox and radio button options in all windows

  • the contents of the text window, the current text selection and insertion point, and all current text widget element color settings.

  • the name of the color database file (but not its contents)

You can inhibit Pynche from reading the init file by supplying the --ignore option on the command line. However, you cannot suppress the storing of the settings in the init file on Pynche exit. If you really want to do this, use /dev/null as the init file, using --initfile.

Color Name Database Files

Pynche uses a color name database file to calculate the nearest color to the selected color, and to display in the Color List view. Several files are distributed with Pynche, described below. By default, the X11 color name database file is selected. Other files:

html40colors.txt -- the HTML 4.0 guaranteed color names

websafe.txt -- the 216 "web-safe" colors that Netscape and MSIE guarantee will not be dithered. These are specified in #rrggbb format for both values and names

webcolors.txt -- The 140 color names that Tim Peters and his sister say NS and MSIE both understand (with some controversy over AliceBlue).

namedcolors.txt -- an alternative set of Netscape colors.

You can switch between files by choosing "Load palette..." from the "File" menu. This brings up a standard Tk file dialog. Choose the file you want and then click "Ok". If Pynche understands the format in this file, it will load the database and update the appropriate windows. If not, it will bring up an error dialog.

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