FAQ ID # 162
How Computers See Colors in Graphics
Last Update : 2021/06/10
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Question / Issue
Why does Buzz-2-Stitches think my graphic has so many colors? It looks like only four to me.

Answer / Solution

Even though an image appears to have only a few colors, it might actually have a lot more as far as a computer is concerned. For example, one of our customers hand colored a picture of a dog using four marking pens and scanned it into her computer. When she tried to auto-digitize it, she ended up with an embroidery design with a lot more colors than she wanted. We opened the image into a graphics program for analysis and discovered that although she had only used four colored markers, the graphics program registered over three hundred individual colors! This is because the computer must register each small color and shade difference as a separate color for it to display accurately on screen and in print.

Look at image below and you can see the many different shades of brown and black. If you were to open this image into a graphics program and zoom in really close, you would even see yellows, greens and purples mixed in with the browns and blacks. A human can easily see the image of a dog in the complete drawing and can intelligently combine multiple shades into one color where needed. But the computer doesn't see a dog, it only sees spots of colors and doesn't know if these are important to the image or not. Do they represent one color fill or are they actually intended to show shading or texture?

Auto-digitizing programs, such as Buzz-2-Stitches, do a great job of interpreting and combining similar colors. However, sometimes there is too many colors and too much information for these programs to make smart choices. In these cases, it is easier to reduce the number of colors in a graphics program before auto-digitizing than it is to try to change thread colors or merge colors after.

We opened the above graphic in Microsoft paint and drew over some of these areas to show you what a difference single color brown and black makes as far as the computer is concerned. We edited this manually with the paintbrush in Microsoft Paint just to give you a quick idea of what we're talking about.  

Some graphic programs allow you to automatically reduce the number of colors in the color palette. Paint Shop Pro, for example, will count the number of different colors and allow you to set a number of colors you want your graphic to have. It will then automatically merge like colors together based upon what IT THINKS are similar colors – again the software does not know that this graphic is a dog, to the computer it’s just a bunch of adjacent colors.

A graphics program might also have a feature for manually merging colors. For example, you might open the current color palette and combine colors by dragging and dropping them onto each other. You don't need an expensive graphics program for this type of editing. In fact, there are some free graphics programs that will work. Just look for a program with the ability to reduce the number of colors in a graphic color palette.

Related FAQs
Can I use scanned pictures or drawings for input into Buzz-2-Stitches?
Buzz-2-Stitches Scanned Graphics

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