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Informal Science Education Resources
from the home of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope

Content Creator's

Astronomical Color Swatch File for Adobe Photoshop

If you paint stars or star fields using Adobe Photoshop, the file contained here provides “pre-mixed” 24-bit RGB colors that reasonably mimic the visual appearance of stars of various spectral types (as well as blackbody radiators).

Copy the file into your Photoshop > Presets > Color Swatches folder.

When you next start Photoshop you’ll be able to load it into the swatch palette. It is best if you choose to view swatches as a “Small List” rather than “Small Thumbnails” as this will display the color labels.Astronomical Color Swatch Screen Capture

These colors are intended to be useful for reasonable comparison of star colors for illustrative purposes. The colors represent approximately what you'd see if you reduced the brightness of a given star (or wore just the right shade of gray sunglasses) so that you could see the inherent color. In most astronomical photography stars appear white because the long exposures needed to capture subjects such as faint nebulae desaturate star colors by overexposing the stars. (You can simulate this in Photoshop by choosing Image > Adjust > Hue/Saturation... and then increasing the value on the Lightness slider.)

Keep in mind that stellar luminosities cover an immense range, far more than can be simultaneously displayed in 24-bit color space! Blue stars are much brighter than orange ones; the two cannot be both properly exposed on the same (conventional dynamic range) image.

For information on the calculations used by Mitchell Charity to generate these color values see this site and the linked pages.

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