When choosing colors to display for a list of items (example: Map, Bar or line chart) I have run into the issue of too many colors (13) being used to differentiate between unique items. So my question is how do you prevent confusion amongst the users when the only way to differentiate between items is by color?


User1: The light pink...

User2: Do you mean the deep peach one?

  • I think the initial assumption needs revision: When you distinguish items by color only, vision-impaired users will not be able to use your software. Depending on the counts up to 10% of men and 1% of women (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_blindness) are affected. Nov 30, 2017 at 6:16
  • I agree that color blindness is a concern. The current constraint we are facing is that we need to map items without indicating order. So that means we couldn't use 123, or ABC since that implies some ordering. If we use shapes then it falls into the same issue that colors with differentiation
    – ibodnar
    Dec 1, 2017 at 19:07

1 Answer 1


Add patterns

Patterns can help distinguish differences, in addition to color. Simple patterns can be implemented using SVG or CSS, without requiring additional images to be created/downloaded.

Trello has a "color-blind mode" which adds patterns to the tags :

enter image description here http://littlebigdetails.com/post/35775193711/trello-color-blind-friendly-mode-makes

Add :hover effects

If the user hovers their mouse over the chart legend, it should highlight the parts of the chart that it refers to. This isn't a perfect solution because it doesn't help users until they reach for their mouse, but it would certainly help.

Choose a color palette with dataviz in mind

13 is a lot of colors, so you might have difficulty doing this any way. Read through this, and check out the comment section.


Break your chart up into smaller charts to reduce the number of required colors

Again, you might not be able to do this, but displaying 13 bars on a bar chart (or whatever chart you are using) is a lot to look at. Even with 13 different colors/patterns, you might want to consider a different visualization.

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