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Cascading Color Systems

Demo Site

Generate dynamic and themable color palettes using CSS custom properties, and allow (persistent) user-adjustments with a bit of light-weight JS.

We provide both the Sass, and a pre-built CSS file. Both allow adjustments to default settings -- but only the Sass files can change how many colors are generated.

Installation & Requirements

Download the files from GitHub, or install using npm or yarn:

npm install cascading-color-systems --save-dev
yarn add cascading-color-systems --dev

CSS (minimal configuration)

The default configuration can be used as plain CSS:

/* css */
@import '<path-to>/cascading-color-systems/css/ccs.css';
<!-- html -->
<link src="<path-to>/cascading-color-systems/css/ccs.css" rel="stylesheet" />

You can copy that file anywhere you want, and it works without dependencies.

Sass (full configuration)

If you want to use the Sass features, you will need Dart-Sass v1.23+ (which may still be in Beta). This was partially an experiment in the latest Sass feature: Modules.

Import using the new module import syntax:

@use '<path-to>/cascading-color-systems/' as ccs with (
  /* configuration options */

Getting started

CCS Root

Both imports generate core configuration options as CSS custom properties (set by Sass when applicable):

[data-ccs='root'] {
  --ccs-prime--config: #{$prime-hue or 330};
  --ccs-accent--config: #{$accent-hue or null};
  --ccs-lightness--config: #{$lightness or null};
  --ccs-saturation--config: #{$saturation or null};
  --ccs-contrast--config: #{$contrast or null};
  --ccs-fade-background--config: #{$fade-background};

This also configures a light/dark-mode toggle, and fallback values for both modes:

// fallback values, in case variables are not supported
[data-ccs='root'] {
  background: $fallback-light;
  color: $fallback-dark;

  @media (prefers-color-scheme: dark) {
    background: $fallback-dark;
    color: $fallback-light;

Add the data-ccs='root' attribute to your html element in order to make your Cascading Colors configuration available to an entire page. This attribute will also be used by JavaScript to apply dynamic user settings globally.

CCS Color Attributes

Custom properties only re-calculate where they are defined -- so we've created a [data-ccs-colors] attribute, which can be applied anywhere new colors are needed.

This attribute provides your base colors as custom properties:

  • --ccs-prime, --ccs-accent: Prime and accent hues, with base lightness and saturation
  • --ccs-neutral: The neutral hue gets base lightness and full-contrast saturation
  • --ccs-<prime | accent | neutral >--fg-full : All three hues get a full-contrast foreground
  • --ccs-<prime | accent | neutral >--bg-full : All three hues get a full-contrast background
  • --ccs--bg-full white or black, depending on light/dark mode
  • --ccs--fg-full white or black, depending on light/dark mode

We also provide the color attributes needed to generate a larger palette:

  • --ccs-h--prime: the calculated primary hue, based on user-settings, theme-settings, and global configuration
  • --ccs-h--accent: the calculated accent hue, based on theme-settings, and global configuration (there is currently no direct user input for accent hue)
  • --ccs-h--neutral: the calculated neutral hue, based on theme-settings and global configuration; generally either --ccs-h--prime (the default) or --ccs-h--accent
  • --ccs-contrast: the calculated contrast range based on theme, user, and global settings
  • --ccs-l, --ccs-l--<fg | bg>-contrast: the calculated base lightness (user, theme, global) and full-contrast fg/bg values
  • --ccs-s, --ccs-s--<fg | bg>-contrast: the calculated base saturation (user, theme, global) and full-contrast fg/bg values
  • --ccs-mode: the calculated light (1) or dark (-1) mode (user, theme, html, or system preference)
  • --ccs-mode--invert the opposite of CCS-mode

You can pass explicit light/dark mode overrides in html by including a value with the attribute:

<section data-ccs-colors="light">
  <!-- light background, dark foreground -->

  <div data-ccs-colors="invert">
    <!-- invert the colors (can't be nested multiple times) -->

<section data-ccs-colors="dark">
  <!-- dark background, light foreground -->

CCS Color Palettes

More complex color palettes have to be generated in Sass, based on the number of $steps desired to get from the base colors to their full-contrast versions.

If you import the static CSS file, we generate a palette based on the default settings, with 4 steps in either direction. Each step is named --ccs-<hue>--<direction><step>, eg --ccs-prime--fg1, or --ccs-accent--bg3.

Creating Themes

Themes can be used to pre-set any color values (especially the accent hue), and even show/hide user customization controls. We provide several built-in themes, and you can add your own using the [data-ccs-theme] attribute:

[data-ccs-theme='complement'] {
  /* set the accent color 180 degrees off the primary color */
  --ccs-accent--theme: calc(var(--ccs-h--prime) + 180);

[data-ccs-theme='triad'] {
  /* triad logic */
[data-ccs-theme='adjacent'] {
  /* adjacent logic */

Sass Configuration

In most cases, you'll want to define the $prime-hue, and possibly a few other options -- and then trigger a build from the module itself. Here's the code from one of my sites:

@use "../../node_modules/cascading-color-systems/" as ccs with (
  $prime-hue: 0,
  $saturation: 70%,
  $contrast: 48%,
  $steps: 6,
  $fade-background: 15%,
  $fades: 0.75,
  $build: true,

The $build: true configuration will generate CSS output based on your settings. I recommend that for most use-cases, but you can leave that out and apply individual mixins:

[data-ccs-colors] {
  @include colors;

User Settings & JavaScript

The provided JS can be hooked up to a form to accept user-input, generate custom properties based on their input, store their preferences in localStorage, or revert back to the configured site defaults.

Use the dist.js UMD module directly in a browser:

<script type="text/javascript" src="dist.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">

Or import and use index.js, if you have a modern build system with ES Module support:

import ccs from 'cascading-color-systems';


We provide several hooks for the JS to use

  • [data-ccs="root"]: where user settings should be applied
  • [data-ccs="menu"]: if you hide the settings by default, we'll show them when the JS is available
  • [data-ccs-input="mode"]: a button to toggle light/dark modes
  • [data-ccs-input="unset"]: a button to unset all user preferences and clear related local storage
  • [data-ccs-input="theme"]: Allow users to select from available theme options
  • [data-ccs-input="hue"]: Allow users to change the primary hue
  • [data-ccs-input="saturation"]: Allow users to adjust the baseline saturation
  • [data-ccs-input="lightness"]: Allow users to adjust the baseline lightness
  • [data-ccs-input="contrast"]: Allow users to adjust the contrast range

Themes can also use the [data-ccs-field] on wrappers, to show and hide inputs/labels directly in the CSS based on a given theme. For example, a high-contrast theme might not accept contrast input:

[data-ccs-theme='contrast'] {
  --ccs-contrast: 200%; /* override all other contrast settings */
  --ccs-custom-contrast: none; /* hide [data-ccs-field="contrast"] */
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