Finding nearest colors using Euclidean distance

I've recently been updating our series on dithering to include ordered dithering. However, in order to fully demonstrate this I also updated the sample to include basic color quantizing with a fixed palette.

While color reduction and dithering are related, I didn't want to cover both topics in a single blog post, so here we are with a first post on finding the nearest color via Euclidean distance, and I'll follow up in another post on ordered dithering.

Getting the distance between two colors

Getting the distance between two colors is a matter of squaring the difference between each channel for the colors and then adding it all together, or if you want a formula, Wikipedia obliges handily

Three-dimensional Euclidean space formula

In C# terms, that translates to a helper function similar to the below

public static int GetDistance(Color current, Color match)
{
  int redDifference;
  int greenDifference;
  int blueDifference;

  redDifference = current.R - match.R;
  greenDifference = current.G - match.G;
  blueDifference = current.B - match.B;

  return redDifference * redDifference + greenDifference * greenDifference + blueDifference * blueDifference;
}

Note that the distance is the same between two colours no matter which way around you call GetDistance with them.

Finding the nearest color

With the ability to identify the distance between two colours, it is now a trivial matter to scan a fixed array of colors looking for the closest match. The closest match is merely the color with the lowest distance. A distance of zero means the colors are a direct match.

public static int FindNearestColor(Color[] map, Color current)
{
  int shortestDistance;
  int index;

  index = -1;
  shortestDistance = int.MaxValue;

  for (int i = 0; i < map.Length; i++)
  {
    Color match;
    int distance;

    match = map[i];
    distance = GetDistance(current, match);

    if (distance < shortestDistance)
    {
      index = i;
      shortestDistance = distance;
    }
  }

  return index;
}

Optimizing finding the match

While the initial code is simple, using it practically isn't. In the demonstration program attached to this post, the FindNearestColor is only called once and so you probably won't notice any performance impact. However, if you are performing many searches (for example to reduce the colors in an image), then you may find the code quite slow. In this case, you probably want to look at caching the value of FindNearestColor along with the source color, so that future calls just look in the cache rather than performing a full scan (a normal Dictionary<Color, int> worked fine in my limited testing). Of course the more colours in the map, the slower it will be as well.

While I haven't tried this yet, using an ordered palette may allow the use of linear searching. When combined with a cached lookup, that ought to be enough for most scenarios.

What about the Alpha channel?

For my purposes I don't need to consider the alpha value of a color. However, if you do want to use it, then adjust GetDistance to include the channel, and it will work just fine.

public static int GetDistance(Color current, Color match)
{
  int redDifference;
  int greenDifference;
  int blueDifference;
  int alphaDifference;

  alphaDifference = current.A - match.A;
  redDifference = current.R - match.R;
  greenDifference = current.G - match.G;
  blueDifference = current.B - match.B;

  return alphaDifference * alphaDifference + redDifference * redDifference + greenDifference * greenDifference + blueDifference * blueDifference;
}

The images below were obtained by setting the value of the box on the left to 0, 0, 220, 0, and the right 255, 0, 220, 0 - same RGB, just different alpha.

Downloads

Filename Description Version Release Date
ColorDistanceDemonstration.zip
  • md5: ed252649e2f394f1c4407629e53fbca8

Sample project for the finding nearest colors using Euclidean distance blog post.

06/01/2017 Download

About The Author

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The founder of Cyotek, Richard enjoys creating new blog content for the site. Much more though, he likes to develop programs, and can often found writing reams of code. A long term gamer, he has aspirations in one day creating an epic video game. Until that time, he is mostly content with adding new bugs to WebCopy and the other Cyotek products.

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