4 CSS Filters For Adjusting Color

SVG offers a non-destructive way to change some color properties of an image or graphic. Unfortunately some of those changes are more cumbersome to make than others. CSS filters allow you to non-destructively change some properties of color as well and in a less cumbersome way than SVG.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been talking about CSS filters as an alternative to SVG filters. First I offered an introduction and showed you an example of the blur() filter-function and then I walked through the url() and drop-shadow() filter-functions and provided examples for each.

Today I want to walk you through four more CSS filter-functions all of which are shortcuts to different types and values of the SVG filter primitive feColorMatrix.

The feColorMatrix Filter Primitive

The feColorMatrix primitive can be used as a general way to change some of the fundamental properties of color in an element. As the name implies, the primitive makes use of a matrix of values to add different filter effects.

Four different CSS filter-functions exist to replicate effects you can create with feColorMatrix. It’s one example where a single SVG primitive can do more than any one CSS filter-function.

Here are the four CSS filters.

  • grayscale()
  • hue-rotate();
  • saturate();
  • sepia();

Let’s walk through each of them and change the colors of what is likely a familiar image, if you’ve been following along with this series.

The grayscale() filter-function

The grayscale() filter-function converts an image to grayscale.

grayscale() = grayscale( [ <number> | <percentage> ] )

You determine the proportion to convert the image by supplying either a percentage or a number between 0.0 and 1.0. 100% (or 1.0) is full conversion to grayscale and 0% (or 0.0) leads to no conversion. Values between 0.0 and 1.0 or 0% and 100% are linear multipliers of the effect. Negative values are not allowed.

In this first example I applied 100% grayscale to my Strawberry Fields image using the value 1 in the filter-function.

.strawberry {
 filter: grayscale(1);

The original image contains a lot of gray as it is, but I think you can see the effect of the filter as now all color has been removed.

For comparison here’s the matrix the filter-function replaces. To be fair there’s an easier way to use feColorMatrix to remove color by setting the type attribute to saturate. I’ll show you that in a bit.

<filter id="grayscale">
 <feColorMatrix type="matrix"
    values="(0.2126 + 0.7874 * [1 - amount]) (0.7152 - 0.7152 * [1 - amount]) (0.0722 - 0.0722 * [1 - amount]) 0 0
            (0.2126 - 0.2126 * [1 - amount]) (0.7152 + 0.2848 * [1 - amount]) (0.0722 - 0.0722 * [1 - amount]) 0 0
            (0.2126 - 0.2126 * [1 - amount]) (0.7152 - 0.7152 * [1 - amount]) (0.0722 + 0.9278 * [1 - amount]) 0 0 0 0 0 1 0"/>

Still, this is definitely a case where the CSS filter-function is a lot easier to use. The only reason I knew to use this particular matrix is because I found an example using it online. I didn’t need to search for the value 1 in the filter-function.

The hue-rotate() filter-function

The hue-rotate() filter-function changes the hue of every pixel in the element by the amount you specify.

hue-rotate() = hue-rotate( <angle> )

The angle is set in degrees and you do need to specify the units as deg. An angle of 0deg leaves the element unchanged as does a any multiple of 360deg (720deg, 1080deg, 1440px, etc.).

In this example I rotated the hue 225 degrees.

.strawberry {
 filter: hue-rotate(225deg);

The value turns the red and yellow flowers into flowers that contain more pinks, purples, and blues.

Here’s the SVG filter for comparison. The CSS is still simpler, however in this case, not by a lot.

<filter id="hue-rotate">
 <feColorMatrix type="hueRotate" values="225"/>

The saturate() filter-function

CSS also provides a saturate() filter-function that you can use to saturate or desaturate an element.

saturate() = saturate( [ <number> | <percentage> ] )

As with the grayscale function, the value defines the proportion of the conversion. 0% (or 0.0) results in a completely desaturated element and 100% (1.0) leaves the element unchanged. Values in between are linear multipliers of the effect.

Here I set the filter to 50% saturation.

.strawberry {
 filter: saturate(0.5);

Which results in the image below.

Negative values are not allowed, but you can can provide values greater than 100% or 1.0 to super-saturate the element. Here’s the image again with 900% saturation applied ( filter:saturate(9); ).

Like saturate(), the corresponding SVG filter is relatively simple.

<filter id="saturate">
 <feColorMatrix type="saturate" values="0.5"/>

I mentioned earlier that you can set the type attribute to saturate for a simpler way to use feColorMatrix to create a grayscale image. All you have to do is set the value to 0 to completely desaturate the image, which produces the same as setting it to 100% grayscale.

The sepia() filter-function

Finally there’s the sepia() filter-function, which converts an image to sepia.

sepia() = sepia( [ <number> | <percentage> ] )

This should be familiar by now, but the value defines the proportion of the conversion. 100% (1.0) is completely sepia while 0% (0.0) leaves the image unchanged and values in between are linear multipliers of the effect.

Negative values are not allowed. You can supply a value greater than 100% or 1.0, but it won’t increase the effect.

Here I set the sepia function to 75%

.strawberry {
 filter: sepia(75%);

And here’s how it looks.

There is no sepia type for feColorMatrix so to get the same sepia effect you need to use another matrix.

<filter id="sepia">
 <feColorMatrix type="matrix"
    values="(0.393 + 0.607 * [1 - amount]) (0.769 - 0.769 * [1 - amount]) (0.189 - 0.189 * [1 - amount]) 0 0
            (0.349 - 0.349 * [1 - amount]) (0.686 + 0.314 * [1 - amount]) (0.168 - 0.168 * [1 - amount]) 0 0
            (0.272 - 0.272 * [1 - amount]) (0.534 - 0.534 * [1 - amount]) (0.131 + 0.869 * [1 - amount]) 0 0 0 0 0 1 0"/>

I take it you agree that using the CSS filter-function is again the easier of the two options, even if the SVG offers greater flexibility in what you can do.

Closing Thoughts

All four of the CSS filter-functions I walked through today are shortcuts for the feColorMatrix filter primitive. Two of them replace complicated matrices and the other two replace a specific type of the primitive.

I hope you agree that all four of these filter-functions are easy enough to understand and use. I doubt you’ll have much difficulty working with them or figuring out what values to use to adjust your images and graphics.

Next week I’ll finish this short series by looking at four more filter-functions, each offering a shortcut to an effect you can create using the feComponentTransfer filter primitive. As with the four functions today, I think you’ll find the ones next week are generally easier to use than the primitive.

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