How do you store your Bitcoin? Why not paint your private keys

Because turning your seed phrase into a color palette is possibly the silliest, least secure way to store your private keys invented so far


LesyaD/Shutterstock modified by Blockworks


Bitcoin is code and code is law. 

It used to be that possession made up nine-tenths of the law. But in the age of immutable blockchains, the holder of the private keys is all that matters. 

Please don’t store that private code as colors on your wall.

Keeping private keys safe from thieves (both online and real-world) is annoying. After all, a sizable chunk of our industry is dedicated to lightening that load.

Like supermarkets separating society from the grim realities of factory farming, hordes of crypto wallet startups are hellbent on abstracting away private keys from the user experience in the cleanest way possible.

Private keys are a garbled mess too ugly and scary for normies the general public to handle. Seed phrases have been the best way crypto has found so far to make these keys more accessible: by turning those 64 characters into a 12-strong sequence of words and storing those instead.

Smart storage typically boils down to either:

  • Writing your seed phrase down on a piece of paper and hiding it (kept in a deposit box or worse, an old book).
  • Storing your seed phrase on an air-gapped machine (although even cold wallets carry risks).
  • Remembering your seed phrase (the trusty brain wallet can’t be hacked).

But what about encoding private keys into color art and hanging it on your wall?

A new open-source tool allows Bitcoin users to paint their seed phrases. It maps the 2,048 words that make up the BIP39 mnemonic system to a key of hex codes. 

Plugging in any set of those 12 words will generate a series of eight color blocks (almost) as unique as their corresponding seed phrase.

A seed phrase is encoded in these colors. Why not paint your room in this exact palette?

For instance, a BIP39 seed phrase generated at random: “abandon, lonely, leopard, make, amateur, music, mystery, bless, ocean, odor, swamp, sunset,” translates to: #00006E #26C5E3 #3EADB4 #6507F0 #7BDBD1 #A656E8 #B8F9F9 #DDE3AD.

It’s a key for encoding the 12 words into eight strings of six characters. Every hex code translates to a different unique color, of which there are almost 16.8 million (256³).

The tool is so simple that you could even transform seed phrases into hex codes manually (it only takes a passing familiarity with computing basics). 

With some finesse, the same system could even be applied to public keys and hashes for blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Or any series of characters at all for that matter. They may not always be divisible into six-character strings — which map to hex codes — but you could always add zeros to pad them out.

In this case, your crypto net worth can be unlocked using the little eyedropper in Photoshop — the one that identifies the hex codes of colors — in the right order.

“face, muscle, muffin, movie, cheese, chef, dilemma, thank, proof, pudding, pumpkin, pulp”

Security-minded folk probably wouldn’t keep one of these swatches — or even artwork featuring only these shades — on their internet-facing machines any sooner than they’d keep their seed phrase on their Notes app.

As for real-life representations — unless you are literally painting your walls with these colors — it’s very difficult for hex codes to be printed exactly on paper, and they may fade over time in either case. 

Most likely, you’d be left with a faded poster of some other seed phrase (very likely unused), if anything. (“Someone else’s keys, not your crypto?”)

Seed phrases transmogrifying into bits and out to something as digitally tangible as a palette swatch, like what you’d see at Home Depot, makes up some of the magic that is modern computing. 

But next time you’re renovating your apartment, pick your color palette from, say, a magazine — not from your Bitcoin wallet.

It may be cool to see what your bitcoin looks like as a rainbow, it’s probably best to keep that particular bit of fun internet magic to yourself. 

You don’t want to be the first person in crypto who gets their savings stolen because they got over-excited about sharing how beautiful their seed phrase looks on Reddit.

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