I use labels and custom label colors in Gmail a lot in order to help me organise my inbox. However, I have now hit the limit on the number of custom colors that I can use.

When I try and add a custom color to a label, a dialogue box appears with the message,

"You have created too many custom colors. Please use an existing color."

So I thought "fine, I will just use the default label colors"; custom colors are better than default colors, but default colors are better than nothing.

However, when I try and set a new label to a default color I get another message saying,

"The color for the label was cleared"

Upon further investigation I have discovered that I can set the color of the label but only to the two grey default colors (which appear in the top left hand corner of the color picker) and to the 6 most recent custom colors that I created before I hit the custom color limit (these 6 most recent custom colors appear in the bottom row of the color picker). All the other default colors are unavailable.

My guess is that Google have changed their color defaults at some point since they introduced custom colors which was when I began using the feature, so what are now the default colors, count as new colors.

One idea I had was to clear the color of an existing custom color label (freeing up a color slot) and then change the color of the label to one of the default colors (taking up a color slot) and crucially making that default color available for other labels. However, I can't seem to achieve this through the Gmail user interface.

I thought that perhaps instead I could do this through the Gmail Settings API but there do not seem to be any way of getting or setting colors through that,


I am currently stuck with all my new labels being in grey. Any suggestions welcome.

My organisation uses Google Apps Business Edition and I have opened a support case I will keep this question updated with any answers I get from them.

2 Answers 2


The workaround that I suggested in the question,

"clear the color of an existing custom color label (freeing up a color slot) and then change the color of the label to one of the default colors (taking up a color slot) and crucially making that default color available for other labels"

Can be achieved through the Gmail user interface by following the steps below (make sure that you perform step 3; failing to perform step 3 initially made me think that this workaround did not work).

  1. Find a label with a custom color.
  2. In the label-options pop-up, click "Remove color"
  3. REFRESH YOUR BROWSER - the color slot that you just made available can only be used after a browser refresh.
  4. Find a label with no color.
  5. In the label-options pop-up, set the label color to a default color.

A message will now appear,

"The color for the label was adjusted".

The label will become colored and this default color is now available for other labels. Problem solved! :-)

Repeat this process for every default color that you want to restore.

In order to restore all 24 default colors quickly, do the following,

  1. Clear 24 custom colors.
  2. Remember to refresh your browser after removing the custom colors.
  3. Then create 24 new labels (named "label1", "label2", "label3" et cetera - you can give the labels more obscure names if you don't want them to appear in suggested search).
  4. Set each label to a different default color.

As long as you keep these labels, all 24 default colors will be available for you to use with other labels. If Gmail ever changes their default color values again, then you can update the colors on these 24 labels to match.


You seem to have stumbled upon a bug. You have already taken the correct steps in opening a support case. There most likely is not much we can do to help from here. A Google Employee most likely will need to fix your account and they will need to fix the bug.

Good luck.

  • Indeed. I wanted to put the question up here because I had searched for answers / discussion on the Internet a few times but had found nothing. (I originally encountered the problem earlier this year). When I get an answer back from Google I will put it up here. Whatever the outcome it will be here for others to find in the future. Commented May 1, 2012 at 19:59

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