Demo here.

Recently I found out a way to with jQuery dynamically change the background of an element with depending on the colors behind it. And I thought it would be neat to do the same but with text color and with SASS. This can be really useful if you are using an OOCSS/modular approach on your project.

Let’s say you have three types of buttons on your site; confirm, warning and alert. These three have different background colors, maybe green for the confirm, the warning one is orange and red for the alert button. How do you determine the text color for these buttons? If the warning button has a light shade of orange you want to use a black color on top of it. But what if that orange changes to a darker shade, or a completely different color? Then the black text color might be hard to read.

Thats why it can be smart to dynamically set the text color with the help of the Compass function lightness(). Lightness calculates a colors, you guessed it, lightness and returns a value from 0 to 100. Where 0 is the darkest, and 100 is the lightest.
So if a color (the background of the button in this case) returns a high value, meaning it’s a lighter color, we should set the text color to something dark.

Let’s start with these HTML-elements:

<a href="#" class="button button-confirm">Confirmation</a>
<a href="#" class="button button-warning">Warning</a>
<a href="#" class="button button-alert">Alert</a>

There we have our three types of buttons; confirm, warning and alert. Let’s create a SASS function that receives a color and returns another one depending on it’s lightness:

@function set-button-text-color($color) {
    @if (lightness( $color ) > 40) {
      @return #000000;
    @else {
      @return #FFFFFF;

Alrighty then. Let’s create the rest of the CSS and call our function.

%button {
    text-decoration: none;
    padding: 2em 3em;
    width: 30%;
    margin: 2% auto;
    display: block;
    text-align: center;
    font-size: 1.5em;
    font-family: sans-serif;
    font-weight: bold;
    @include border-radius(10px);
.button {
    @extend %button;
.button-confirm {
    background: green;
    color: set-button-text-color(green);
.button-warning {
    background: orange;
    color: set-button-text-color(orange);
.button-alert {
    background: red;
    color: set-button-text-color(red);

There we have it! We simply call our function with the background color of our button, and the function does the rest. This is a basic example, but we could easily extend the set-button-text-color function to adapt to more lightness values.

You can see the complete demo below.

See the Pen Dynamically change textcolor with Compass by sebastianekstrom (@sebastianekstrom) on CodePen.


Update (15 oct)

As @jina was nice enough to point out to me, this effect can also be achieved by using the contrasted() function in Compass.

@import "compass/utilities/color/contrast";
$contrasted-dark-default: black;
$contrasted-light-default: white;

$button_confirm: green;
$button_warning: #ffc53a;
$button_alert: red;

.button-confirm {
    @include contrasted($button_confirm);
.button-warning {
    @include contrasted($button_warning);
.button-alert {
    @include contrasted($button_alert);

The contrasted function has one required value, and three optional; background-color, the light color, the dark color and the threshold. So we can achieve pretty much the same effect as with our originally written function set-button-text-color(). You can see the comparison I did here.

So which solution should you use? As always, it depends. I think that contrasted() is a really nice and simple way to do it, but it does lack in flexibility and control compared to set-button-text-color(). So you just gotta have to ask yourself if you really need that flexibility, or else I would go with contrasted().