Some tools for extracting a limited colour palette from a picture

Some tools for extracting a limited colour palette from a picture

Extracting a simple palette of the main colours that are prominent in a picture. It should be so simple, so easy.


Sure, you can do it by hand, and fairly quickly. But maybe also miss a few possibilities, or not quite get the picked shade right in terms of its average. But if you want the process to be automatic, such things are not easy to find outside of Adobe-land. Which is presumably why everyone and his dog has a upload/cloud service to do it for you, automatically. And there are so many of these because there are some free bits of open source javascript for this. Colormind is said to be one of the best of the online services, as it’s added AI and more to the process. Though as you can see here, even this has lost the green. The super-clever AI is not clever enough to know that splashes of bright green are kind of important in such dappled forest images…


Also, uploading to a service is not so useful if your image is large and you have a slow upload link and a deadline to meet. Or if you are working offline. Or if you don’t wish to share client images with some dubious Mr. Dude in Whereizitagin. Or if you want something that will last for years, without changing the UI or going 404.

Surely there must be a simple free automatic local plugin to do this? One that doesn’t need a university degree in Colour Science Theory to operate, plus mad skillz with HEX codes? Or that doesn’t shackle you to an Adobe CC subscription? Ideally one that also works in PhotoLine or at least in its super-plugin Paint.NET.

Ok, so let’s look at some options:

1) One older option that still works is the free paint.NET and its free plugin TR’s Color Reducer and palette maker. It’s a good try, but it’s not ideal. As you can see here, we can get to 24 colours easily enough, but they’re not very representative. Where has that lavender-purple come from? And the salmon-pink? Also, it only saves the palette to .TXT file.


There was also a paint.NET plugin called ‘Selective Palette’, but that now appears to be un-downloadable.

2) A clever, but not ideal, way of doing it in Paint.NET is to go Effects | Distort | Pixelate. At about a setting of “12” you get this…


Not ideal, but at least very easy to operate. But there’s no way to then re-sort the chipped colours by Hue.

3) There’s a Color Palette Extractor Photoshop Plug-in on GraphicRiver, which is said to work with Photoshop CS5+. However, it’s an .ATN Action, not an .8BF plugin suitable for PhotoLine.


4) The $12 Prisma Palette Photoshop plugin on Gumroad is probably a better choice, at least for those with later versions of Photoshop. It appears to also automatically generate and append “colours as they would look in the shadows”, which seems rather useful for digital painters…


However it appears to be a panel-based plugin for Photoshop CC 2015.5 or higher, and this is not much use for PhotoLine or those who just want a quick exportable palette without launching the lumbering behemoth that is Photoshop. May not work with more recent versions of Photoshop.

5) Another solution is the genuine Windows freeware Cyotek Color Palette Editor. This is standalone desktop software that can load an image, create a relatively limited colour palette from it, sort the palette’s colours by hue, and then export to a variety of formats from Adobe to GIMP to Paint.NET. Or to PNGs.


The drawback is that its palettes are rather large in range, and don’t really emulate the dozen picks that a human would make, when looking for the most prominent colours in a picture. Certainly it’s a useful bit of freeware, but as it stands is not really all that useful for digital painters.

6) Simpler and similar desktop Windows freeware is Pictures to Color 1.0. Super quick, super-simple, and it has automatic Hue sorting. Nice. But… it is a webmaster’s tool and is both a bit too simple and provides too large a colour range. It can only export to HTML. One wonders if a converter could be written, to take this HTML into PhotoLine?


Nice, but not quite. Still, the “set on top” option may make it of interest to digital painters, as it keeps the window on top of others. You also get the original as a squint-able thumbnail.

7) ColorImpact 4.0, $40 Windows standalone trial-ware, which in version 4.0 introduced “Extract color palette from images”. It’s from 2010, though, old and… would it still even be purchasable? Besides, what’s needed here ideally is freeware and/or something that’s an older Photoshop plugin. It’s a possible, but seems unlikely in 2020.

8) There’s a standalone $6 Mac tool that it seems will do what’s needed. Color Palette from Image Mac 2.0.1. But it’s Mac-only and Intel-only too, so perhaps likely to be defunct when Apple drop Intel and force their users to ARM. Also interesting for Mac users may be Spectrum by Eigenlogik, or ColorSquid.

9) You can do it in a Chrome-based Web browser with an addon like Color Thief, but it’s a bit clunky to load. And, as you can see here, the selection is not great. We’ve lost both the background yellow and the off-whites in the hair…


There are a dozen or so browser addons like this, but many hide the fact that they actually need to upload your image to a cloud service to work.

10) Other software? In late 2019 Adobe Illustrator was “previewing a feature we’ve been working on that allows you to extract a color palette from any image or photograph”. But… it’s Illustrator. And Adobe. Blurgh.

There’s also a $6 Palette Maker but it’s for PaintShop Pro.

You’d think that GIMP, Krita or the G’MIC filter set would have something like this by now, but it seems not. GIMP is supposed to have it, but the ‘image import’ on the panel is greyed out for me.

Update: I finally got GIMP to auto-import a palette from the test picture, but the colours it picked are incredibly dull…

I suspect GIMP has an “average everything” approach?


I then looked again at PhotoLine itself. Turns out there is a somewhat roundabout, but relatively fast way to do it: Tool | Color | Reduce Colors.


Type in “12” or “24” colours and then switch to the Palette sub-tab, and you can save out a .PAL file.



From there you display PhotoLine’s Colour Lists panel, and rip it off so it’s free-floating.


This panel allows you to load the .PAL you just saved out. Switch it to ‘Large Mode’ display to see the colour chips at this size…


Nice, and pretty close to what’s required. But the extraction/import process can’t be Action-ised and the panel itself can’t then re-sort by Hue. And we can’t load the .PAL to Cyotek Color Palette Editor for a quick re-sorting by Hue, as for some reason PhotoLine’s variety of the .PAL format is not readable by Cyotek. So we need other software to do that. Can we load it to GIMP and re-sort? Nope, GIMP doesn’t understand the PhotoLine variety of .PAL either. Krita? Nope. Ok, what about Photoshop CS6? Where would you even begin to load a .PAL to Photoshop? Not in the Colors or Swatches panels, it seems. You don’t load it, it turns out. Not allowed, as .PAL is a JASC PaintShop Pro format. Finally, IrfanView can load .PAL, but… nope.

So obviously the .PAL files written from PhotoLine are non-standard and un-readable by other software, though PhotoLine will load its own .PAL saves back in again fine. And it’s own .PAL is the only format it can save in, for now.

You can however re-order a PhotoLine .PAL by moving individual colour chips, which is just about feasible if you only have 12 colours. More than that and it gets very confusing, though switching to a different Color List display-mode may help (the colour chips can also display text labels). This sorting process can be done speedily via click-drag-drop, to build a new sequenced pallette at the end of the current one, then you shift-click to delete the unwanted originals. But it’s not as ideal as a simple automatic “sort by hue” would be.

One can add further manual one-colour Eyedropper picks, and these can then be matched by the Harmony tool inside PhotoLine.

Right click on your Eyedropper pick, choose Harmony to open a full-featured ‘complementary colours’ palette maker…

You can also just copy-paste or drag-drop your new Eyedropper pick chip into the Color List, if there’s a prominent colour that’s missing.

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