Solarized – A Crisp, Scientifically-Based Color Scheme For Your Apps

Erez Zukerman 09-06-2011

solarized color schemeColor is everywhere around us. For most people, color is about beauty or aesthetics. But if you spend your days in front of a computer monitor, color can be an important tool in the fight against fatigue and eye strain. Just about every text editor supports syntax coloring, and many editors come with an array of color schemes for you to choose from. There are virtually thousands of other schemes available online, and yet I’ve never seen one that’s quite like Solarized.


For starters, Solarized isn’t aimed at one particular editor or piece of software. You can get Solarized for Vim The Top 7 Reasons To Give The Vim Text Editor A Chance For years, I've tried one text editor after another. You name it, I tried it. I used each and every one of these editors for over two months as my primary day-to-day editor. Somehow, I... Read More , Emacs, IntelliJ and six other editors, for four different terminal emulators, and even for Mutt (a console email client). It is also available as a color palette for Photoshop or GIMP.

Solarized author, Ethan Schoonover, did not just pick colors he felt were pretty. Instead, he used something called Lab color space to figure out the exact differences in lightness various screen elements should have, and selected the colors based on fixed color wheel relationships (some of the hues are analogous, some are Triad-based, etc.). Sure, the result is pretty, but it’s also very readable.

The Solarized color schemes are available both with a light and dark background. Here’s what the light-background variation looks like:

solarized color scheme

And here’s the dark variation of the same file:


solarized colors vim

You can see how similar both modes are. They feel like one color scheme, but both are very readable. In fact, they’re both readable to the same exact degree: they have symmetric lightness differences, so switching between dark and light background retains the same perceived amount of contrast between scheme elements.

It’s a minimalistic scheme, with just sixteen colors. The number of colors can even be brought down further, to just five specific hues, and it would still be quite readable.

Another thing that’s very impressive about Solarized is the presentation. Most color schemes are just a single text file with hardly any documentation. Solarized has a gorgeous webpage (colorized according to the scheme, of course), where the author lays down his reasoning for the scheme and its advantages in excruciating detail. The two screenshots above were taken from that very page, where you can find many other screenshots showing different file types in Vim, as well as many other applications.


I’ve been using Solarized for a few weeks now, mainly in Vim via Putty. For this particular scenario, installation was not trivial: I’ve had to configure Solarized for PuTTY, and then configure it for Vim as well. Even so, the colors I get on my own screen seem somewhat different from what I see on the Solarized website. I do like the look I ended up with, but you’ll have to agree it doesn’t look exactly like the beautiful screenshots above:

solarized color scheme

That’s the only drawback really. If you just use a single application (say, GVim or another local text editor), you should have no problem installing Solarized on your system. But if you need to get it working via PuTTY and Vim, you’re in for a bit of a challenge. Having said that, if any of you manage to replicate the exact Solarized look using Putty/Vim, I’d love to hear about it in the comments — perhaps you can teach me a thing or two!

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  1. Stephen
    August 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

    I would like to know how you got it working with putty at all. I have imported the putty .reg file but it pretty much doesn't change anything.

    • Anonymous
      August 17, 2011 at 9:44 am

      Heya! Here's how:

      Copy/pasting from there:

      Import the .reg files to create new sessions using the Solarized color scheme which you can modify/duplicate as you see fit.
      To copy the color settings into an existing session, edit solarized_dark.reg or solarized_light.reg and replace Solarized%20Dark in the third line with the name of the session you want to modify.
      PuTTY Tray can store sessions in text files as opposed to the Windows registry. To modify an existing session to use Solarized colors, open the file in a text editor and replace the lines beginning with Colour## (0-21) with the version from solarized_dark_puttytray.txt orsolarized_light_puttytray.txt.