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Xterm defaults to black text, the foreground color, on a white background. The foreground and background colors can be reversed using the VT Options menu or with the -rv command line option.

$ xterm -rv
Note: Colors for applications that use the X libraries may be specified in many different ways.

Some colors can be specified by assigned names. If emacs or vim has been installed, you can examine /usr/share/emacs/24.2/etc/rgb.txt or /usr/share/vim/vim73/rgb.txt to view the list of color names with their decimal RGB values. Colors may also be specified using hexadecimal RGB values with the format rgb:RR/GG/BB, or the older and not encouraged syntax #RRGGBB.

The color PapayaWhip is the same as rgb:ff/ef/d5, which is the same as #ffefd5.

See man(7) X, from xorg-docs, for a more complete description of color syntax.

Xterm's foreground color (the text color) and the background color may be set from the command line, using the options -fg and -bg respectively.

xterm -fg PapayaWhip -bg "rgb:00/00/80"

The first sixteen terminal colors, as well as the foreground and background colors, may be set from an X resources file:

XTerm*foreground: rgb:b2/b2/b2
XTerm*background: rgb:08/08/08
XTerm*color0: rgb:28/28/28

! ...Lines omitted...

XTerm*color15: rgb:e4/e4/e4

Many suggestions for color schemes can be viewed in the forum thread, Terminal Colour Scheme Screenshots