Color Picker 2014-07-20

This post is a bit of a rant about the current state of color pickers in different applications. It also talks a bit about a color picker I created myself, and how I decided to make it different from most other color pickers.

The Terrible JColorChooser

The default color picker interface in the Java Swing API is terrible. I have been using it in Chunky because there was really no simple alternative. Here is a screenshot of the Swing color picker:

Swing JColorChooser

Out of the three tabs in the dialog, the first one is the second least useful. I won’t even show the unspeakably bad third one. I hate the above tab because the color swatches in the palette are too small – it would have been better if that palette was just a continuous gradient of colors. I also hate that the palette has a grid in it with some kind of bevel effect – if there is some grid between the colors in a palette it should just be one solid achromatic color. With the current small color swatches the grid muddies up the perception of the individual colors. It’s a real shame that the above tab is the default one, it makes the JColorChooser much shittier than it would have been if the second one was the default tab.

So, let’s look at the second tab:

Swing JColorChooser

This second tab is better, but still bad. Here are a few problems I have with it:

  • I can not click on the hue bar. To change hue I have to either use that stupid little text field or the shitty slider that is clipped for some reason. Oddly, though, the nice big color palette to the left of the hue slider does not update while dragging the slider – only after you let go of the slider thumb. That makes it very annoying to try to find the correct slider position, it would have been so much better if the color palette updated ASAP while tweaking the hue value.
  • The RGB display. I do not care what the RGB values for the current color are! Give me the hexadecimal number for the color instead!
  • The HSL text fields are pointless. I can not think of any situation where I’d want to input a color by hue, saturation, and lightness unless I want to copy a color from another application, in which case a hexadecimal input would have been much superior. What matters here are the colors, not the numbers.
  • The color preview area at the bottom is too cluttered with stuff. It should have just been one solid swatch of color. The idea of displaying the color side-by-side with black and white for comparing brightness is good, but here it just went overboard.

The Problem

I’ve been looking at other color pickers in different applications and most of the ones I’ve seen so far are awful. The main problem is usually that the interface is very fiddly, due to too small sliders or sliders that are otherwise difficult to adjust. There seems to be some weird idea that the components in a color picker should be small and compact, but the smaller they are the worse they are to use. As a user I want big palettes that can display a color gradient over a large area so I can get a better idea of the different nuances at a glance.

Another common problem is that color pickers lack a good color preview. The preview should be one large swatch of the color, uninterrupted by other crap.

The Fix

After being irritated that I had to use JColorChooser for far too long I finally decided I would invest the effort required to rid myself of JColorChooser for good. This is what I created:


The interface is really simple, and it has only the features that I needed, but I think it is superior to most other color choosers I have tried. What makes it so good?

  1. The sliders are nice and large, and you can click anywhere in the sliders and the thumb jumps directly there. The saturation and lightness sliders update directly whenever any one of the other sliders is changed.
  2. The preview swatch is huge. It shows the current color in all its glory.
  3. There are some smaller swatches with previously selected colors, and a series of colors generated pseudo-randomly from the current color. These give some interesting alternative colors. Again, these swatches are much larger than they would be in other color pickers.
  4. Click the big swatch when you are satisfied to close the dialog. If the dialog loses focus it is closed automatically. These are nice features which make the “Cancel” and “Done” buttons obsolete, however the buttons are still there in case you forget.
Categories: Uncategorized
  • Barik Tarri says:

    Looks really nice!

    Totally agree with your issues with the standard dumb Java way. But I can’t seem to figure out how to make a nice colour picker myself. Any chance I might have a peek at your code for this one?

  • Thank you for the comment Barik! I don’t look at the comments here too often, so I’m sorry for the late reply.

    My color picker code is Open Source, but it’s part of a larger project and I haven’t separated it out into a nice self-contained library so you will have to separate out the dependencies if you want to use it. The current version of the color picker is in JavaFX, and is available here:

    The old version for Swing is somewhere in the commit history.

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