Color palette of glorious hues of the golden age of comics

Ed Piskor sez, "I located an 'antique' chart of the exact mixtures for the 64 colors which were used in comics and newspaper strips for decades and I created a PSD file to share so that people can use these hues digitally. It's sort of a tool that also will remind guys to practice some restraint when doing their own work. I can't think of a reason anyone would need to use thousands of colors on a page, but a lot of colorists insist on it. Forward this to your illustrator friends."

Color Chart of Yore

old comics 64 color guide PSD (ZIP file) (Thanks, Ed!)


  1. I dunno– the whole article seemed to read like “you kids get off of my lawn.”

    “In MY day, comics were written on strips of tree bark! And we had only two color– charcoal and blood! And we LIKED it!”

  2. But there is a point to be made out of it beyond the many good reasons for using tree bark for comic publications. Many illustrators tends to splash allot of colour on any illustration (I do atleast) and like Ed said – it may help us practice restraint. Or (as I tend to do some times) help us stop using colours as a crutch.

  3. I didn’t like the linked article with the Blue Vs. Black lines:

    Because I saved each picture and put them in MS Paint next to each other and used the eyedropper to compare colors.The writer lied to me. The Purple of his cape and Red in the trees in that figure are different between the two pictures. I’ve taken color theory and its quite true that the adjacent colors can change how you perceive one color but his example showed a lie :(

  4. I don’t see how this is very special: it’s a simple CMY (cyan-magenta-yellow) chart with 25% steps… kinda the simple version of the large 10% steps books we had for picking a color back in the last century… this just just simplifies the picking process a great deal.

  5. Yeah, and while we’re at it, what’s with all the newfangled continuous tones these days? Designers should still be forced to deal with screening and dithering.

  6. Those who don’t learn from history, are doomed to repeat it…
    then other times, we intentionally learn from history in order to recreate it…
    I think this palette will come in very useful for recreating a vintage 4 color look… much thanx for the link!

  7. Remember web-safe colors? We all wrote web pages so they would display reasonably well on a 640×480, 256 color display without dithering.

  8. The artists were merely working within the technical limitations of the presses, paper and inks. Comic books of the day were printed on the cheapest, crappiest pulp paper imaginable, which simply could not hold dot fidelity to where they could opt for actual full-color offset printing. Thus, this approach with a limited palette of flat colors…and, of course, the ubiquitous coarse magenta dots for “flesh tone”.

  9. Why do people feel the uncontrolable inclination to complain about stuff?

    @Darren Garrison: I didn’t get that at all. I think all his claims ring true.

    @g0d5m15t4k3: He linked that article for the good/bad colour comparisons at the bottom of the page. While I agree that the colours change between the two images, it is most likely a result of bad photoshop skills and jpeg compression (you can see the compression noise in the blue line version), not dishonesty. A bit of ooccam’s razor is good to apply before calling shenanigans.

    @Joergen Geerds: You could have done it, but you didn’t. Yes, this look similar to other CMYK charts, but it has been laid out in 25% increments because it is designed to emulate the colour combinations used in the vintage printing processes. This google image results page will demonstrate that amonst the plethora of CMYK charts available you won’t see (m)any examples of charts laid out like this one.

    Thanks to the creator for making this chart!

    1. I think the urge to complain is triggered by the tone of Ed Piskor’s original comment.

      It’s not “Hey, look at this awesome thing” — it’s “Everyone is doing it wrong! Forward this to your friends and tell them that they’re doing it wrong!”

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have an instinctive reaction to push back on that.

  10. The DCT artifacts in that are screaming for the example to be a .gif file, not a .jpg

  11. One reason you might want thousands of colors:

    Skin tones

    Old comics weren’t very good with coloring non-whites.

  12. When I first started collecting comics in 1986 there was an issue of “Marvel Age” that included a color chart like this, and it displayed the colors in the halftones actually used in comic books (since it was, itself, a comic book). It helped me understand coloring the rest of my comic-collecting life. I remember being fascinated that the color red was actually produced by a combination of yellow and magenta.

  13. It’s like I’ve always said, the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa are incredibly over-wrought and DaVinci was a terrible painter. Maybe his other stuff was ok, but get him near a paintbrush and whap. Always with the color foo-faw, that guy. Very distracting.

  14. When I did the colors for the Watchmen parody comic Watchmensch (iPhone edition — the paper comic was done in black in white, with great artwork Simon Rohrmuller), I had to go back to the color guides from the original Watchmen to recreate the look.

    It’s very challenging to not have tricks like gradients, randomized textures, fall back on and rely on a limited palette for your mood. Well worth doing in some cases, but the minute you want to do realistic fleshtones for different ethnicities, or have a person with black hair, you start to appreciate modern tools.

    John Higgins pulled off a miracle back then, an atmosphere you don’t see in other comics of the era, or today’s, and the mechanical separation process from the old days was time-consuming and error prone, as the separators would cut tone from the color guides, and often got things wrong.

  15. Granted, I’m far more familiar with photo/video additive (RGB variants) colorspace than the subtractive (CMYK) methods of print. One thing is true, though: People, irrespective of their ethnicity or ancestry, are pretty much all the same “color” – a somewhat reddish orange. The real differences are found in the saturation and value of varying skin tones.

    That a printing process is not capable of reproducing a certain combination of hue, saturation, and value is not, repeat NOT attributable to any motive on the part of anyone, it’s a function of reflected vs. transmitted light and getting enough accuracy out of a fairly minimal technology.

    I remember similar silly remarks made on the release of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” where a reviewer commented on Ernest Dickerson “overcoming the inherent racism found in Kodak film stock” or some such nonsense. The reality is, it was still early in his career and he was finally beginning to understand holding accurate reproduction in the lower value areas of the film’s capture range – and no one gave any credit to the color timer at whatever lab they used, either!

    All reproduction technologies are an approximation of reality. So is perception, for you solipsists out there.

    The complaints about trouble reproducing nonwhite skin tones seem somehow akin to complaining about being unable to tighten a 7/8″ bolt with a 13/16″ box wrench. (As in, you got the wrench part right, now go find the right one for the job.)

  16. The nature of cartooning is simplification, so a limited palette of skin tones makes sense, so long as the colors are reasonably natural–no yellow and red people. The idea that having infinite colors allows someone to give each group of people their proper color is kinda silly–there’s variety of skin tone within every group.

    1. Oh wow, great! That was one of my favorite features. My comics are currently in a storage space.

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