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Is the periodic table color coded?

The periodic table is one of the most recognizable scientific tools, displaying all the known chemical elements organized by their atomic number. While the standard black-and-white version is familiar to most, color-coded periodic tables have become increasingly popular for visualizing different properties and trends of the elements.

History of Color Coding the Periodic Table

Although Dmitri Mendeleev is credited with creating the first periodic table in 1869, it did not originally contain any color coding. The idea emerged in the 20th century as chemists looked for ways to better visualize the relationships between elements.

In the 1950s, American chemist Edgar Fahs Smith created one of the earliest color-coded periodic tables, using colors to categorize metals, nonmetals, and inert gases. Subsequent chemists introduced additional color schemes to illustrate properties like electronegativity, electron configuration, and more.

Today, many varieties of color-coded periodic tables exist. While there is no universally accepted standard, certain color schemes have become more widely used, like highlighting metals in yellow/orange, nonmetals in green, noble gases in purple, alkali metals in pink, alkaline earth metals in blue, and halogens in light green.

Common Color Coding Schemes

Here are some of the most common ways color is used to differentiate elements in modern periodic tables:

  • Metals, Nonmetals, and Metalloids: Metals are often colored orange/yellow, nonmetals green, and metalloids a combination.
  • Groups/Families: Elements in the same group or family are colored identically, like halogens in light green.
  • Periods: Elements in the same period or row can be colored identically to show trends.
  • Blocks: The s-, p-, d- and f-blocks can be colored distinctly to visualize patterns.
  • Phases: Colors indicate phase at room temperature – solids, liquids, and gases.
  • Electronegativity: A gradient scale visualizes increasing electronegativity values.
  • Electron Configuration: Colors group elements by common electron orbital patterns.

Benefits of a Color-Coded Periodic Table

Color-coding the periodic table offers many benefits for students, teachers, and researchers alike:

  • Makes patterns and relationships between elements more visible.
  • Improves memorization and recall of elemental properties and categories.
  • Allows quick differentiation of metals, nonmetals, and semimetals.
  • Highlights trends like electronegativity, electron shells, and reactivity.
  • Distinguishes groups and periods at a glance.
  • Demonstrates the basic organization principles of the table.
  • Engages students and makes the table less abstract and more approachable.

Overall, the color visualization transforms the periodic table from a basic chart to an informative, useful tool for analysis and understanding.

Key Properties Highlighted by Color

Some of the key elemental properties and periodic trends that different color schemes emphasize include:


Color-coding elements by their state at standard temperature and pressure (usually solids, liquids, and gases) shows the distribution of phases and highlights anomalies like mercury as a liquid metal.

Metals vs. Nonmetals

Metals, nonmetals, and metalloids occupy very different regions of the table. Color-coding them makes those domains clear at a glance.

Valence Electrons

The number of valence electrons is an important factor in chemical bonding. Colors can group elements with equal valence electron counts.


A color gradient from least electronegative (like francium) to most electronegative (like fluorine) visualizes this important periodic trend.

Electron Shells

Elements with equal numbers of electron shells can be colored alike to illustrate shell filling patterns.

Chemical Families

Groups or families with similar properties are easier to locate when coded by color (such as the noble gases or halogens).

Atomic Radius

Atomic radius tends to decrease moving left to right across a period. Colors can demonstrate this gradient clearly.

Using Different Color Schemes

With the flexibility of digital periodic tables, it is easy to switch between color-coding systems depending on what property needs emphasis. For example:

  • A teacher may use a metal/nonmetal scheme for an introductory lesson.
  • When discussing electronegativity, a gradient may be used instead.
  • Blocks highlighted for a lesson on electron configuration.
  • Phases highlighted when discussing states of matter.

Easy interchangeability of color schemes makes the periodic table adaptable for any area of instruction.

Examples of Colorful Periodic Tables

Many colorful and artistic periodic tables exist both in print and online formats. Here are a few popular examples:

  • Solar System Style: This rendering visualizes each element as a planet-like sphere color-coded by properties.
  • Digital Rainbow: Elements flow from least to most electronegative in a seamless color gradient from red to purple.
  • Element Blocks: Small blocks colored distinctly for metals, nonmetals, etc. are arranged in the standard table layout.
  • Element Tiles: Soft pastel tiles color-code metals, nonmetals, and gases against a greyscale background.
  • Minimalist: Bold essential color-coding of element categories stands out against a black background.

These demonstrate the diversity and creativity possible with color-coded tables.

Using Color Coding in Education

Color-coded periodic tables offer many benefits as teaching tools:

  • Provide engaging visual aids for students to reinforce learning.
  • Assist students struggling to grasp abstract concepts like electron configuration.
  • Help differentiate element categories clearly for introductory students.
  • Allow teachers to adjust color schemes for different topics.
  • Highlight periodic trends and relationships between elements.
  • Serve as useful memory aids for students learning the elements.
  • Add interest to periodic table related lessons.

Studies on Color Coding Effectiveness

Research studies into color coding strategies have found positive impacts, especially for student learning and engagement:

  • A 2014 study found that colored periodic tables helped 8th grade students categorize elements, improving scores by nearly 50% versus plain black-and-white tables.
  • A 2016 study of high school classes found that colorful periodic tables made lessons more interesting and helped students focus on key patterns and relationships.
  • A 2009 study reported increased retention of elemental data like groups, periods, metals vs. nonmetals, and reactivity when color coded.
  • Multiple studies have found color visualization enhances student attitudes toward science topics and improves classroom attentiveness.

Evidence clearly supports the benefits of color coding for making the periodic table more pedagogically effective and engaging.

Creating Custom Color Schemes

With digital periodic tables, custom color coding schemes are easy to generate using graphics programs or specialized online tools. Teachers or students can create schemes tailored to specific topics or learning objectives.

For example, a custom table could:

  • Use a color gradient to visualize electronegativity across periods.
  • Highlight diagonal relationships by coloring boron, silicon, and germanium identically.
  • Label metals, nonmetals, and metalloids with color-coded text boxes.
  • Use contrasting colors to emphasize chemical families.
  • Apply a color gradient to atomic radii changes within periods.

The possibilities are endless for color coding creativity and customization.

Online Periodic Tables

Online periodic tables provide great options for easily generating color-coded tables:

  • – Customizable table with ability to color code by element property and toggle color schemes.
  • RSC Periodic Table – Modern interactive table by the Royal Society of Chemistry with color coding tools.
  • Chemicool – Includes a color coded table visualizing electronegativity and one by element blocks.
  • Periodni – Creative tables color coded by various properties with ability to customize.

These user-friendly sites make visually engaging, interactive color periodic tables easily accessible.

Is Color Coding Widely Accepted?

While no single color scheme is standardized across all periodic tables, coding by metals, nonmetals, gases, etc. is widely accepted among most scientists and educators.

Various color schemes may be more or less popular for different applications, but all aim to enhance visualization of patterns within the table. As color periodic tables continue growing in use, particularly in classrooms, certain color conventions are likely to become more standardized over time.

Overall, color coding the periodic table is a broadly accepted strategy to make this vital scientific tool more informative, engaging, and pedagogically useful.


Color-coded periodic tables have evolved significantly from the original black-and-white version pioneered in the 19th century. While no universal standard exists, color visualization is broadly accepted for emphasizing elemental properties and trends. Carefully color-coded tables transform the periodic table from a basic chart to an engaging, pedagogically powerful tool, especially for student learning and memory. With the flexibility of digital tables, generating custom color schemes is easy and allows creativity tailored to any learning objective. The growing use of color periodic tables will likely lead to greater standardization of color conventions over time. Regardless of the specific scheme, coloring the periodic table makes an abstract, complex scientific concept more accessible, meaningful, and memorable.

Element Atomic Number Atomic Mass Metal or Nonmetal
Oxygen 8 15.999 Nonmetal
Iron 26 55.845 Metal
Potassium 19 39.0983 Metal
Helium 2 4.002602 Nonmetal
Calcium 20 40.078 Metal