Colour in the computer

This project explores how colour is represented as numbers in a computer, by showing the colours you can mix on your screen, from the basic red, green and blue that a monitor can produce. It assumes you know about for-loops and functions. It introduces the idea of tuples to represent colour.

Red, Green, Blue

Start the project by making an empty file Right-click and open it with IDLE. Type in the editor:

# Explore RGB colour
from turtle import *

def square(a, c):
    for i in range(4):

Save and run this file. Then in the shell type:

>>> square(50, "lime green")

You should get a filled square of size 50.


This command, and the code in most other projects in this set, select colours by name. It is difficult to know what names you can use, or what they mean. (Look up “X11 colour names” in Wikipedia if you care about the difference between “light goldenrod” and “papaya whip”.)

Run the program again, just to clear the screen, and type:

>>> square(50, (.2, .8, .2) )

You should get exactly the same filled square as before.

In the turtle module, the names for colours are turned into 3 numbers, that can be written in like this (r, g, b). This is called a tuple in Python. A tuple is a lot like a list, except that you can’t change what’s in it.

The numbers in a colour tuple have to be between zero and one. They represent the amount or red, green and blue in the colour, in that order. (1,0,0) is red, (0,1,0) is green, (0,0,1) is blue, and (0,0,0) is black. Every other colour is a mixture of some kind. We call this the “RGB model”. Try a few mixtures:

>>> square(50, (.5, 0, 0))
>>> square(50, (.5, .7, 0))
>>> square(50, (.5, .3, 0))
>>> square(50, (.5, .3, .6))

Remember, you don’t have to type all this: pull down the previous line with up-arrow and the enter key, then change the parts that should be different.

An RGB colour square

Let’s write a program to experiment some more with RGB colours.

We need a program that will step though colour combinations, and show each of them to us. Because there are three colours, this is a little messy, but for two colours we can make a grid of little squares. Add this function to your code:

def rg_square(a, blue=0, N=10):
    # N+1 little squares wide so ...
    a = a/(N+1)
    start = position()
    for i in range(N+1):
        green = i/N
        # Go to start of row i
        setposition( start + (0,i*a) )
        for j in range(N+1):
            # Draw square j on row i
            red = j/N
            c = (red, green, blue)
            square(a, c)

And at the end add this short program to your code:

# Program


There are two loops in rg_square, one inside the other. The inner one draws a row of squares with increasing amounts of red. The outer one chooses increasing amounts of green in each row. Save and run. You should see 121 different combinations of red and green.

Finally, let’s experiment with adding blue. Add this function to your code:

from time import sleep

def rgb_cube(a, N=10):
    for b in range(N):
        blue = (b+1)/N
        rg_square(a, blue, N)

Change your program to call the new function instead of rg_square:

# Program


This begins with the same red-green square as before, then it adds more and more blue (in 10 steps). You can think of these as layers of a cube that has red-green on the bottom, and increasing amounts of blue as you go higher. What you see at the end is the top of the cube. Just for fun, try bigger values of N.