FreieFarbe and the quest for free color communication

Color my Freedom

Article from Issue 229/2019
Author(s):

FreieFarbe is an association dedicated to promoting free standards for color graphics.

Colors and color palettes existed for many years before the arrival of modern computers, and the graphics industry developed methods for handling color that seem out of date by today's standards. Different organizations and vendors often have their own color palettes. In some cases, the formula necessary for creating a color is guarded as a trade secret. Some colors are even trademarked. An organization called freieFarbe (Free Color) has been working to modernize color specifications. FreieFarbe advocates open and free color communication. Their goal is to promote the use of mathematically defined color models and ISO standards for color specification and selection.

FreieFarbe was founded in Oldenburg, Germany in 2016. The founding members are German and Swiss professionals who use color in their work. The association now has around 50 members. The association's ecosystem includes commercial providers, as well as free projects such as Scribus and Gimp.

The Problem

The freieFarbe website gives an example based on the RAL color palette, a standard used for specifying colors for varnish, powder coatings, and plastics in Europe. An architect or designer can specify a RAL color, such as RAL 6011, but the options for recreating this color graphically are actually quite limited. The RAL color palette is not available on the computer without specialized software. Even if you were able to recreate the hue on your computer using computer-friendly RGB colors, you wouldn't be able to print it, because printer ink and printing devices don't map conveniently to the RAL color space, and the RGB spectrum itself is device-dependent, so it might not print the way it looks on your screen.

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