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How can I choose a color from a picture?


Choosing a color from a picture can be useful for many applications. For example, you may want to extract the dominant colors from a product image to create a color palette. Or you may need to sample colors from a photo to match them exactly.

There are a few ways to approach this task programmatically. The general process involves:

1. Loading the image into a software program or script
2. Analyzing the image to identify its color components
3. Selecting one or more colors based on pixels, color frequency, etc.

The specifics depend on your programming language and image processing libraries. But most modern languages like Python or JavaScript have libraries to load images, scan pixel values, and extract color information.

In this article, we’ll explore some common techniques for sampling colors from images programmatically. We’ll look at approaches in both Python and JavaScript.

Loading and Processing Images

The first step is loading the image file into a format we can analyze.

Most image processing libraries work with numeric arrays representing pixel colors rather than image files directly. So we need to decode the JPEG or PNG file into a pixel array.

In Python, we can use the Pillow library:

from PIL import Image

img =‘image.jpg’)
pixels = img.load()

This loads the image into a PixelAccess object. We can then access the RGB values of each pixel through pixels[x, y].

Alternatively, we could convert the image into a NumPy array:

import numpy as np

arr = np.asarray(img)

This gives us a regular NumPy array we can slice and process.

In JavaScript, we can use the canvas element:

const img = new Image();
img.src = ‘image.jpg’;

const canvas = document.createElement(‘canvas’);
const ctx = canvas.getContext(‘2d’);

canvas.width = img.width;
canvas.height = img.height;

ctx.drawImage(img, 0, 0);

const pixels = ctx.getImageData(0, 0, canvas.width, canvas.height);

This renders the image onto a canvas, then extracts the pixel data into an array-like ImageData object.

The key point is that we have numeric RGBA values for each image pixel that we can scan and manipulate.

Counting Color Frequencies

One approach for selecting a color is finding the most frequent or dominant colors in the image. We can do this by counting color occurrences.


1. Scan through all image pixels
2. Quantize / round RGB values into bins
3. Count occurrences of each quantized color
4. Find the most frequent bins

For example, here is how we could implement this in Python:

from PIL import Image
import numpy as np

img =‘image.jpg’)
pixels = img.load()

color_counts = {}

for x in range(img.width):
for y in range(img.height):

# Quantize pixel color
r = pixels[x, y][0] // 20 * 20
g = pixels[x, y][1] // 20 * 20
b = pixels[x, y][2] // 20 * 20

rgb = (r, g, b)

if rgb in color_counts:
color_counts[rgb] += 1
color_counts[rgb] = 1

sorted_counts = sorted(color_counts.items(),
key=lambda x: x[1], reverse=True)

dominant_color = sorted_counts[0][0]

This aggregates pixels into color bins, counts the bins, then extracts the bin with the highest count.

We could improve this with weighted averages rather than just the top color. But it shows the basic quantization approach.

Sampling Colors from Image Regions

Rather than analyzing the whole image, we can also sample colors from particular regions.

Some examples:

– Pick the center pixel of the image
– Average a small region like a 10×10 pixel block
– Sample pixels along edges or borders
– Select random points throughout the image

This code sample takes a random sampling of pixels from an image:

from PIL import Image
import random

img =‘image.jpg’)
pixels = img.load()

color_samples = []

for i in range(100):
x = random.randint(0, img.width-1)
y = random.randint(0, img.height-1)

color = pixels[x, y]

avg_color = [
sum(c[0] for c in color_samples) // len(color_samples),
sum(c[1] for c in color_samples) // len(color_samples),
sum(c[2] for c in color_samples) // len(color_samples)

This takes 100 random pixels, then averages their RGB components into a single color.

You could bias the sampling towards certain regions, like focusing on the center vs edges.

Extracting Prominent Colors with K-Means

A more advanced approach is using K-Means clustering to extract the most prominent colors.

K-Means is an unsupervised machine learning algorithm that clusters data points into k groups.

We can use it to cluster similar colors in the image palette. The center of each cluster will be a prominent color.

Here is an example in Python with scikit-learn:

import numpy as np
from PIL import Image
from sklearn.cluster import KMeans

img =‘image.jpg’)
pixels = img.load()

pixel_values = []
for x in range(img.width):
for y in range(img.height):
pixel_values.append(pixels[x, y])

pixel_values = np.array(pixel_values)

kmeans = KMeans(n_clusters=5).fit(pixel_values)
cluster_centers = kmeans.cluster_centers_

prominent_colors = [tuple(map(int, c)) for c in cluster_centers]

We extract all the RGB pixels, reshape them into a 2D array, then feed them into KMeans.

The cluster_centers contain the RGB means for each of the 5 clusters. We convert these back to integer tuples to get the final colors.

K-Means lets us efficiently distill thousands of pixels down to the most representative colors. The k parameter can be adjusted to give more or fewer colors.

Color Spaces

One more consideration when sampling colors is the color space.

Pixels are typically represented in RGB format. But RGB has some limitations:

– The component values are correlated
– It doesn’t correspond to human color perception
– Similar colors can have very different RGB values

Alternative color spaces like HSV and LAB address these issues. They better separate chrominance and luminance and align to how we see color.

It often helps to convert to a different color space before sampling:

from PIL import Image
import colorsys

img =‘image.jpg’)
pixels = img.load()

for x in range(img.width):
for y in range(img.height):

# Convert RGB to HSV
r, g, b = pixels[x, y]
h, s, v = colorsys.rgb_to_hsv(r/255, g/255, b/255)

# Use HSV components for sampling…

This lets you directly analyze colors by hue, saturation, value rather than the underlying RGB storage.

Some colorspaces like LAB are device-independent, meaning the values don’t depend on the sensor capturing the image. This can help when comparing colors from different images and cameras.


Let’s discuss some real-world applications where sampling colors from images is useful.

Product and Brand Colors

Ecommerce sites can extract the prominent colors from product photos to suggest related items in that color palette. Or to show color swatch choices on product pages.

Brands can also build a color palette from their logo and product images to create style guides and branding assets.

Background Color Extraction

Applications like background removal can analyze an image to detect foreground vs background colors. This allows extracting and removing the background cleanly.

Dominant Scene Colors

Analytics for image and video understanding often look at dominant colors as a feature. Scene colors give clues about the setting, landscape, emotions, genre, etc.

Computer vision models can extract the prominent colors from an image for classification and search indexing.

Color Palette Generation

Artists and designers can sample colors from reference images to inspire color schemes for digital art, web pages, UIs, etc. Extracting a palette from photographs provides a starting point.

Design tools like Adobe Capture CC have automated features to generate five color palettes from images.

Augmented Reality

AR experiences can read the colors from real world scenes to apply effects and overlays that match the environment. For example, anchoring virtual objects to physical surfaces with similar colors.

Image Compression

Some image compression techniques like PNG reduce file size by consolidating colors used across the image. Analyzing pixel colors helps optimize and reduce the palette for smaller files.


There are some challenges to keep in mind when sampling colors from images:

– Image noise can skew results for algorithms that look at pixel frequencies.
– Highlights and shadows can throw off analysis in RGB colorspace.
– Complex textures, gradients and patterns are hard to quantify into colors.
– JPEG artifacts and compression can introduce color banding.
– Consumer cameras don’t match human vision or print colors perfectly.

Preprocessing and conversions to less correlated colorspaces help overcome some of these limitations. But adjusting algorithms and using human judgement is still required for optimal quality.

For product images and computer vision, additional controlled lighting when capturing images improves results. User uploaded images are harder to account for variances in.


Here are some software libraries and tools that provide color analysis and sampling from images:

– Pillow and OpenCV in Python
– Pixels.js and Color Thief for JavaScript
– Paletton and Adobe Color for color palettes
– ImageColorPicker for sampling tools
– Swatches and Pic2Polor for mobile apps
– kmeans and scikit-learn for clustering

Many photo editing applications also include eyedropper tools, color histograms, and palette analysis.

Online APIs like Unscreen and Cloudinary provide image color extraction as a service.


Programmatically sampling colors from images unlocks many useful applications in design, computer vision, ecommerce, branding, and beyond.

While seemingly simple, robustly extracting colors involves considerations around image processing, colorspaces, clustering, and sampling techniques.

Most programming languages provide image processing libraries to load pixel buffers and manipulate color data. Scanning pixels, clustering, and sampling from regions yield representative colors from the image.

Converting RGB to more perceptually relevant spaces like HSV or LAB improves results before sampling. And selecting parameters based on use cases balances performance and quality.

With careful implementation, color extraction from images can enable automation and new capabilities across many domains. The explosion of computer vision and graphics continue to drive techniques forward.

Technique Description Benefits Drawbacks
Count Frequencies Quantize and count pixel colors Simplicity, detects dominant colors Affected by noise, misses nuance
Sample Regions Select pixels from areas like center, edges, randomly Better for specific applications Can miss dominant colors
K-means Clustering Unsupervised ML groups pixels into clusters Reduces colors systematically Requires tuning, more advanced
Convert Colorspace RGB to HSV, LAB, etc before sampling Model human perception better Adds computation

This table summarizes the key techniques discussed for sampling colors from images, along with their relative pros and cons. Frequency counting is simple but can be noisy. Sampling gives user control but may miss dominants. K-Means condenses systematically but requires tuning. And colorspace conversions aid perception at the cost of computation.

The optimal approach depends on your specific application needs and constraints. In many cases a hybrid solution with multiple techniques will deliver the best results.


-PIL/Pillow Python Imaging Library:

-Pixel.js JavaScript Image Processing:

-K Means Clustering – An Introduction:

-Color Spaces in Image Processing:

-Image Color Picking Tool:

-Adobe Capture CC Color Palettes: