Managing the Color Palette in CC3+

Colors are important for any CC3+ map. Now, you can make beautiful Black & White maps too, but it would be a bit boring if that was the only option available.

Colors in CC3+ comes in two main flavors. CC3+ has it’s own color palette from which you can pick colors and use for entities you create in CC3+. And then you have the colors used in raster symbols and fills, which are part of the image these are based upon, and which are not changeable inside CC3+ (with the exception of varicolor symbols, but that is a separate topic).

The CC3+ color palette will be the focus of today’s article.

One of the limiting factors with the palette is that it only supports 256 colors, which means that it might not contain the exact colors we want for our map. Fortunately, it is easy to edit the palette. You can bring up the dialog at any time by clicking the color indicator on the status bar, pick one of the existing colors, and hit the Define Color button. This lets us define it as any color in the standard 24-bit color spectrum (over 16 million different colors available). Just remember that if you edit a color, it will affect existing entities in the map, you cannot get around the 256 color limit by first using a color and then changing it. Now, changing the colors are easy, but let us look a bit more a palette-wide options.

The Standard Palette

CC3+ comes with a built-in standard palette, and this is the palette used by most maps. You can see this palette in the image above. If none of the options described below are in use, this will be the palette CC3+ uses. It is worth pointing out that this palette cannot be changed. You can change any of the colors while you work, but if you don’t save it as a custom palette or embed it in the map as described below, the changes will be lost at the next restart of CC3+.

The Active Palette

The active palette is the current palette. If you haven’t changed any colors, it will just match whatever palette was loaded (Standard, Custom or Embedded), but it is worth nothing that any changes you make will only affect the active palette, you have to explicitly save it (see the options below) to keep it, or any changes will be lost.

The Custom Palette

If a file called fcw32.pal exists in the CC3+ data directory, CC3+ will load and use this palette instead of the the standard palette. This file can easily be created from the palette dialog by hitting the Save Custom PAL button. This will create the file if it don’t exist, and save the active palette to this file.

As long as this file exists, CC3+ will always default to this instead of the Standard palette. This means that if you have made lots of maps using the standard palette, and then add a custom palette, when you load in your old maps they may look strange because they are now using the custom palette instead of the standard one.

Keep in mind that even if you use a custom palette, changes to the active palette is not saved automatically, if you need to save it, you need to hit the Save Custom PAL button again.

Since a custom palette can cause issues when loading maps using the standard palette, it is recommended not to keep the fcw32.pal file in your data directory, but rather keep it somewhere else and copy it in when needed. To stop using a custom palette, all you have to do is to delete the file, or move it to another directory. You can keep a selection of custom palettes around, as long as you rename whatever one you want active to fcw32.pal.

In the good old days (back in CC2), keeping a custom palette was the only option to have a custom palette, and it was commonly used in for example the Mappa Harnica toolkit to create maps with a different color range than the default. You may still find references to using a custom palette in various tutorials, but we have better options in modern CC3+, like embedding the palette in the map, which is a better option. I strongly recommend that you do not use this option, as having the custom palette file in your CC3+ data directory will affect all maps that don’t have an embedded palette.

The Embedded Palette

The best way of using a customized palette in a map is to embed the palette in the map itself. This means that the palette will always follow the map file, and it is easier when you edit a map on a different computer, or give the maps to others (for example in the community atlas), since you don’t have to deal with distributing the palette file too. The palette can also be embedded into a map template, which means maps created from that template will automatically have the relevant palette embedded.

Embedding a palette is easy, simply open the Drawing Properties dialog from the File menu, and hit the Attach to Drawing button. Note that as with the custom palette, this will embed the currently active palette into the drawing, but it won’t be kept in sync with changes you later do to the palette, if you make any changes you will have to hit the Attach to Drawing button again to update the embedded palette. If you want to stop using an embedded palette, you can simply click the remove from drawing button.

If you have old drawings using a custom palette, I recommend simply embedding that palette in them instead. This is easily accomplished by just loading the drawing, then load the palette (see below) and hit the attach button. Embedding the palette is always the way to go if you want to distribute the map.

The Embedded palette has priority over the custom palette, so if you are using a custom palette in CC3+ and load up a map with an embedded palette, it will use the embedded one and ignore the custom one. Keep this in mind when you are saving a custom palette so you don’t unintentionally overwrite one you want to keep without realizing it.

Embedding are used by several add-ons and annual issues, such as Symbol Set 1 to provide custom colors better suited to that map style.

This option first appeared back in CC3, and provided a better way of making map-spesific palettes compared to the rather static custom palette option.


The two images below shows a drawing based on a customized palette, the left version shows the drawing as it should be, while the right one shows what happens when the same drawing is loaded using the default palette instead.

The City of Nesvines by Quenten Walker is available in the community atlas.

Loading a Palette

One of the new options recently added to CC3+ is the ability to load up any palette file without setting it up as a custom palette. This means you can have a collection of named palettes lying around, and just load them as you need them. For example, you can have pastel colors in the pastel.pal file, and muted colors in muted.pal and so on.

The command to load a custom palette is PALLOAD. This is only available as a command line command for now, so you’ll just have to type the command on the command line followed by space or enter. CC3+ will now prompt you on the command line for Palette file name. Here you can either type in the file name (remember that the @-character refers to the CC3+ data directory, so if you have your palettes stored in a subdirectory called palettes, you can type @palettes\mypalette.pal to load the palette. Or, if you don’t feel like typing, right clicking inside the drawing window at this point will bring up the familiar Windows file open dialog where you can browse for the file.

It is worth noting that if you load a palette with a drawing with an embedded palette open, the palette you load will take precedence for now, but it won’t replace the embedded palette, so the next time you open the map, it will be back to the embedded palette again, unless you manually attach the palette you just loaded.

Saving a Palette

This command goes hand-in-hand with the load palette one, and is used to save the active palette to a file. The command here is PALSAVE, and just as with PALLOAD, you can either type in the file name manually (remember to type the .pal extension, it won’t be added automatically), or right click in the drawing window to get the save dialog. Just as with all the options discussed earlier, the saved palette file is not in sync with the active palette, if you make changes, you need to save it again.

Raster Symbols and Fills

Remember that raster symbols and fills are not affected by the CC3+ palette at all, they always display with the colors from the image. If you need to change coloring of a raster symbol/fill, you need to take the actual image file into an image editor to do that (I recommend you save a copy and don’t overwrite the original image files). Using raster fills can be a good way to get around the 256-color limitation of the CC3+ palette.

Some symbols are varicolor symbols, and they work by mixing the colors from the image (usually in greyscale for this purpose) with a color from the CC3+ color palette.


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