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While it's great that Terminal now has built-in support for changing the ANSI colors, I find it annoying that it automatically adjusts the colors to improve contrast, which means the colors that I actually pick often end up washed out or off in some other way. Here's a screenshot explaining the problem:

screenshot of OS X color settings

This bugs me because I like to use the same color scheme in Terminal and MacVim, and with this handling of colors by Terminal, they don't match up to the ones in MacVim.

Does anyone know of a solution to this, besides switching to iTerm 2 (which I'd rather not – I like the rest of Terminal, especially some GUI touches like the pulsating visual bell). Thanks!

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Good question – adjustments also seem to be made for window transparency, never mind sub pixel rendering… –  kopischke Oct 28 '11 at 9:25
@kopischke, the minimum-contrast adjustment does not take into account the background color opacity, if that's what you mean. –  Chris Page Nov 8 '11 at 9:14
It would help if you posted a screenshot showing the expected colors on a black background. Numbers aside, I can't really see a difference between the color swatches in the preferences window and the text colors in the terminal in your screenshot, so it's hard to tell how significant the difference is. –  Chris Page Nov 8 '11 at 9:15

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Here's the trick that you need to know: Values set via RGB get mangled, those set via HSB do not.

I had a similar problem using the (great) Solarized color scheme: MacVim had a darker (and correct) background color than Terminal, even though I was setting all of the correct RGB values per the Solarized spec. See here:

Basically you need to know what your color values are supposed to be for each of the Terminal ANSI, text, and Background (note this one is on the Window tab) colors and then set them via the HSB picker instead of RGB. See this example:

For whatever reason (I suspect some type of profile thing, or perhaps a contrast tweak as you suggest), the RGB color you enter is not what you get. You'll also notice that once you've set the values via HSB, switching to the RGB picker will show options different than you'd expect. The Solarized value conversions all agree according to Photoshop; it seems to be something that the Apple color picker is doing for you.

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This is an unbelievably good answer. –  Jason Salaz Mar 14 '12 at 16:52
Looks like RGB isn't mangled as such, just modified by the pickers opacity settings as per the answer by @eirnym - combination of the 2 not only explains it, but solves it in 2 ways. Great! –  stuffe Mar 17 '12 at 0:07
Not to rain on the parade, but I can’t confirm this fixes the issue – keeps modifying values I input in HSB color space, even when setting the background to the correct values (including opacity 100 % and blur 0 %) first. Bright values seem to be less prone to this, the non-bright more so. Maybe the color picker in is seriously buggy, maybe it tries to be “smart” about contrast and color range (I wouldn’t put either past Apple) – be it as it may, the solution above does not work on my system. –  kopischke Mar 31 '12 at 23:05
… investigating some more, the issue seems to be rooted in the mapping of Solarized colors from device independent (LAB / HSB color space) to device dependent color space (RGB). Consistent results can be achieved when selecting HSB color space, as shown above, but only when also expressly mapping to device RGB (in the drop down menu behind the tiny arrow on the small color square left of the color space dropdown). Differences in the RGB values to the Solarized color tables are explained by the fact Solarized maps to sRGB, while the color picker always implicitly maps to device RGB. –  kopischke Mar 31 '12 at 23:45
… which goes to tell the OS X color picker has been designed for people who actually know what this color space stuff is about (i.e. graphic designers), not us Terminal grunts :). [yeah, OT, I know] –  kopischke Mar 31 '12 at 23:46

choosing 'Device RGB' from the Apple Color Picker swatch dropdown

  1. Open the color picker
  2. Choose the sliders tab
  3. Click on the swatch below the magnifying glass, to the left of the slider dropdown
  4. Choose Device RGB

Now colors specified by hex value will not be subjected to color space conversion.


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Cool - thanks for this! For all of Apple's design prowess, it is totally non-obvious that clicking on this would reveal a menu. –  Ryan Dlugosz Apr 22 '12 at 12:39

Color profiles are definitely important, but there's another issue lurking here: automatically brightens any color when displayed over the default background. Here, for example, are the colors output by running the Solarized color theme, as measured with DigitalColor Meter in sRGB mode, and compared against the canonical Solarized sRGB values.

When presented over a black (or any other color) background, produces approximately the correct colors; however, on the default background, all colors except the default and default bold text are substantially too bright.

a color test in Colors are as expected when presented over colored backgrounds, but brightened when presented over the default background.

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Open Window settings for your theme, toggle background color, set blur to 0% and Opacity to 100%. After this your colors will be same as you want. Also you should check every color you pick for text for this parameters.

enter image description here

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