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30/12 — 2019
14.39 cm   1.4 min

Color Conundrum

This piece aims to highlight (pun intended) some of the reasons behind my color free editor setup.

Imagine highlighting an entire book because all of it is important. That is exactly what (most) syntax highlighting does. It is difficult for the human eye to filter out noise in rainbow barf. Use color to draw attention, not diverge it.

At the same time, a book devoid of color is boring! What is the takeaway from this 10 line paragraph? What are the technical terms used?

Prose and code are certainly different, but the fickle minded human eye is the same. The eye constantly looks for a frame of reference, a focal point. It grows tired when it can’t find one.

The following comparison does a better job of explaining (none, ample and over-the-top highlighting, from left to right):

Without highlighting (far left), it is hard to differentiate between comments and code! The florid color scheme (far right) is no good either, it contains too many attention grabbers. The center sample is a healthy balance of both. Function calls and constants stand out, and repetitive keywords and other noise (let, as) are mildly dimmed out. Comments and non-code text (sign column, status text) are dimmed further.

I’ll stop myself before I rant about color contrast and combinations.


I'm Akshay, programmer and pixel-artist.

I write open-source stuff to pass time. I also design fonts: scientifica, curie.

Send me a mail at [email protected] or a message at [email protected].

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