Jan Kühle


Extract color from image using JavaScript and Web Worker

2015-02-15 14:28 JavaScript, Web Worker

In the last week I was presented with the task to automatically extract a color from an image in a webpage and use this as the background color. A quick research resulted in the following steps:

  1. Create a canvas element and draw the image on its 2d context.

  2. Get the pixel data from the context using getImageData method.

    Note: When you want to load images from another domain, you need to add the crossorigin attribute to the img tag (more information on the MDN).

  3. Calulate the dominant pixel color.

Thankfully there is a nice JavaScript library out there, so we do not need to implement all logic by outself: Color Thief. The following example extracts the color from an image and applies as the background color:

    <img id="myImage" src="/images/example.png">

    var myImage = document.getElementById('myImage');
    myImage.addEventListener('load', function() {
        var colorThief = new ColorThief(),
            color = colorThief.getColor(myImage);

        myImage.parentNode.style.backgroundColor = 'rgb(' + color[0] + ', ' + color[1] + ', ' + color[2] + ')';

This works well for a few small images. But when trying to do this for a couple of big images at once, it slows down the browser and results in hangs/lags on the website. Wo don’t want that.

So I played a bit with web workers to get the heavy color calculation off the main thread. The only thing, that needs to be done on the main thread is creating the canvas and getting the pixel data from it. All the rest can be done separatly.

To explain the use of web workers a little bit, imaging the image from the example above. In the main JavaScript we have to follwing code in the image onload event:

// Setting up the web worker.
var worker = new Worker('worker.js');
worker.addEventListener('message', function(e) {
    var color = e.data;

    myImage.parentNode.style.backgroundColor = 'rgb(' + color[0] + ', ' + color[1] + ', ' + color[2] + ')';

// Starting the web worker.
// (Imagine the function getImageDataUsingCanvas to create a
// canvas, drawing the image on its context and then returning
// the image data.)
var imageData = getImageDataUsingCanvas(myImage);

Then in the worker.js file, we have the following code:

addEventListener('message', function(e) {
    var imageData = e.data;

    // The getColor function is a modified version of the
    // ColorThief.getColor function, which directly accepts
    // the pixel data as an argument.
    var color = getColor(imageData);


I made up a full example with and without web workers, so you can see the impact it has on the overall performance: