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I have some text that I want to change colour depending on the current state of a counter. But I can't get this file to compile. (This is obviously simplified, since the texcolour command is actually part of a command defined in the preamble...)

\textcolor[RGB]{0,\value{foo},0}{Text in FOO colour}

I get the following error repeated:

! Missing number, treated as zero.
<to be read again> 
l.8 ...r[RGB]{0,\value{foo},0}{Text in FOO colour}

! Illegal unit of measure (pt inserted).
<to be read again> 
l.8 ...r[RGB]{0,\value{foo},0}{Text in FOO colour}

I'm sure there's some subtlety I've not grasped yet... But \vskip \value{foo} pt compiles fine and gives me space depending on the value of the counter, so I can't be far off...

share|improve this question
The RGB model requires numbers between 0 and 1 for the components. So, I would not use a counter. – Stefan Kottwitz Dec 15 '10 at 18:17
Actually, the rbg model requires numbers between 0 and 1. The RGB model requires integers between 0 and \rangeRGB, which defaults to 255. – Jan Hlavacek Dec 15 '10 at 19:09
The actual command uses red!\value{foo}!blue . But as @Jan says, RGB uses numbers up to 255 – Seamus Dec 15 '10 at 22:30
Ah, I see. I just thought of the color package, but xcolor provides also that integer model. – Stefan Kottwitz Dec 16 '10 at 13:24
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Insert \the before \value; then it works.

As to why you have to include \the: The culprit is \@onelevel@sanitize that is called inside \XC@edef. What?? Let me try and explain. At some point, your \textcolor command makes the call


This in turn calls


(with some trickery regarding active characters), thus making \@@tmp contain 0,\c@foo,0 and not 0,30,0: The \edef doesn't expand the counter \c@foo to it contents. Immediately after this, \XC@edef calls


which in turn expands to

\edef\@@tmp{\expandafter \strip@prefix \meaning \@@tmp}

And this does something horrible: It turns the 5 tokens 0,\c@foo,0 into the 11 tokens 0,\c@foo ,0, i.e., the control sequence \c@foo is turned into a sequence of single characters (all with catcode 12, except the space). Now you've got your explanation for the strange error message

! Missing number, treated as zero.
<to be read again> 

The \ is the first character of \c@foo! And it's not a number, indeed.

If you could follow up to this point, then it's easy to understand why \the helps out here:


makes \@@tmp contain 0,30,0, and no evil can happen anymore.

share|improve this answer
Though it does work with \the, Stefan's comment to the question makes me wonder if my answer is stupid. – Hendrik Vogt Dec 15 '10 at 18:25
@Hendrik see the above comments on why it is not a stupid idea! – Seamus Dec 15 '10 at 22:38
Also, could you explain why you need a \the? I thought \value expanded to the value, which is what you wanted for the argument for the colour command... I'm not sure I understand what's going on here – Seamus Dec 15 '10 at 22:38
@Seamus: Well, that's a tough one. I got my answer just guessing, along the lines "Oh, let's see what happens if ...". I didn't include an explanation since I had none. It now took me ages to find it: I'll try and write something. – Hendrik Vogt Dec 16 '10 at 12:45
@Hendrik Thanks for the explanation! I can't say I fully understand it, but at least I know I wasn't missing anything obvious. I learned a new bit of TeX lore: if in doubt, try \the... – Seamus Dec 16 '10 at 13:44

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