I'm trying to set something to gray, but can't figure out how. The only bit of info in the man page about colors I can find is:

message-bg colour
  Set status line message background colour, where colour is one of:
  black, red, green, yellow, blue, magenta, cyan, white, colour0 to
  colour255 from the 256-colour palette, or default.

I also found a blog post which iterates through colors, but I can't quite grok it, and don't want to sit at the terminal all day guessing color numbers until one works.


You can get a list with this bash snippet:

for i in {0..255}; do
    printf "\x1b[38;5;${i}mcolour${i}\x1b[0m\n"

Then use colourxxx with tmux.

  • perhaps you need three digit colours? This script outputs like color12 but that is not accepted by tmux as a valid colour. – artfulrobot Jan 11 '13 at 11:49
  • 7
    My tmux (1.6) accepts even colors like colour12 (mind the "u"). – cYrus Jan 11 '13 at 12:28

I found this image to be enlightening.

enter image description here

  • 28
    You can create it with for i in {0..255}; do printf "\x1b[38;5;${i}mcolor%-5i\x1b[0m" $i ; if ! (( ($i + 1 ) % 8 )); then echo ; fi ; done – 12431234123412341234123 Oct 4 '17 at 11:10

In Subversion (what will be tmux 1.5) you can also use #abcdef hex-style colours which are mapped to the nearest 256 colour palette entry. You need quotes as it's treated as a string, whereas regular color names are treated as named constants. Also note that 3-letter shorthand (#f00) is invalid.


set pane-active-border-bg red # no quotes for name
set pane-active-border-bg "#ff0000" # quotes for rgb
  • 1
    Can you? I can't see how to... – Eric Apr 23 '12 at 18:18
  • 6
    set-option message-bg "#abcdef"; the quotes are necessary. – chepner May 1 '12 at 20:05
  • You also seem to have to use the full 6 hex chars, no 3 char shortcuts i.e. #fff will not work, you have to use #ffffff – bschlueter Dec 9 '15 at 21:44

tmux through 1.9 only supports the international spelling for the 256 colour palette, e.g.


as opposed to the American spelling that drops the u


Looks like this will be changed soon, http://sourceforge.net/mailarchive/message.php?msg_id=31049758

  • Spelling "colour" as "color" will be possible starting with tmux 3.2 (not released yet as of August 2020) – Boris Aug 25 '20 at 20:36

I've been using the xterm-color-table.vim script. Any 256 color terminal color table will work.


Building up on @cYrus' answer, I wrote a script to break the output of the colors into N number of columns, where N is the first argument

# colors.sh

if [ -z $1 ]; then
for i in {0..255} ; do
    printf "\x1b[38;5;${i}mcolour${i} \t"
    if [ $(( i % $BREAK )) -eq $(($BREAK-1)) ] ; then
        printf "\n"

Try it by saving it into a file called colors.sh, then ./colors.sh 4

Don't forget to chmod +x colors.sh first.

  • 4
    Script show-256-colors.sh can be useful to show background colors as well. – Maxim Suslov Aug 2 '18 at 1:47
  • 1
    You ought to default it to say, at least 4 columns, to distinguish it from the origin script. – dbkeys Aug 26 '19 at 13:28

I find this function producing the most concise and clear output (it's not mine):

colors () {
    for i in {0..255}
        print -Pn "%K{$i}  %k%F{$i}${(l:3::0:)i}%f " ${${(M)$((i%6)):#3}:+$'\n'}

function output screenshot

Then you use colourXXX where XXX is the three digits code printed above as the value for fg=, bg= etc...

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