freieFarbe/freeColour HLC colour system to be accepted as a national standard for "Open Colour Communication" in Germany

"Christoph Schäfer" christoph-schaefer at
Fri Dec 1 03:36:00 UTC 2017

Hi all,

I have some incredible news for you.

Yesterday freieFarbe/freeColour received a message from the German industrial standards organisation (DIN) that our proposal for an open standard for "Open Colour Communication" based on the HLC colour model (aka as Lhc) has been accepted and will become a German national standard soon (because we have prepared this carefully during 2016 and 2017).

What does this mean? First, it will no longer be an initiative by a tiny non-profit organisation, but a national standard, and since DIN is very influential internationally, it will become a de-facto standard in other countries as well. Plus, it may be possible to make this an ISO standard via DIN.

In addition, DIN will support the formulation of the standard and our work with substantial sums, not the least because the creation of a standard and pushing its way through all the respective instances and expert checks is expensive (would've been 25,000 EUR in our case, which has been reduced to zero, because it's an open and non-commercial project). We will also receive some money for meetings, travel expenses etc. from DIN.

One of the reasons we got so far is support by parts of the printing industry in Germany and Switzerland. The prototype of the printed colour reference, which we presented to DIN, was only possible thanks to a donation of inks by an international manufacturer of digitial printing machines. We're currently cooperating with ink manufacturers in Germany and Switzerland to establish ink formulas for HLC colours that cannot be reproduced in CMYK, aka as spot colours, so printing companies can actually order spot colour inks by just inserting the HLC colour code in their order forms.

The printed colour reference has the form a ring binder. Colours are sorted by their H-values (H=Hue) in steps of ten. Luminacity (L) uses steps of five, and chroma (C) also steps of ten. We plan to refine this later to also present the H-values in steps of five.

This is a real colour system and not just a colour collection like Pantone or RAL. Most importantly, it is a free and open alternative to Pantone & co, which is not only better, but also supported by a national standards organisation and some major players in the industry. There are no licensing costs to pay for anyone who wants to use the colour system, not for software producers and neither for the ink mixing formulas. The latter is important, because vendors like Pantone ask for a lot of money from ink producers for the mixing formulas, whilst the open HLC system is gratis.

The PDF version of the colour reference and the digital colour palettes will be published under a CC licence (CC BY-ND 4.0). The printed colour reference will cost some money to cover the production costs, but it will be much cheaper than the ones from Pantone & co, because we only need to cover our expenses and do not intend/aren't allowed to as a non-profit organisation to commercialise it. Moreover, everyone else will be free to print their own references, and there are no trademarks involved.

Another important aspect is that the HLC colour system, being a national standard, will be very hard to attack legally by commercial vendors like Pantone or RAL, who are known to play hardball when it comes to competition. They would have to take on DIN, which I'm sure they'll think about twice.

We'll start with Germany and Switzerland, because that's where most of our members and supporters are from, but we plan to release an English version of the colour reference as soon as the colour system has been formally adapted as a standard.

Currently, an older version of the HLC palette is already included in Scribus 1.5.3+ (L*a*b*) and the latest LibreOffice (sRGB). And speaking of Scribus, the juicy bit is that the colour reference will most likely be produced with Scribus 1.5.4svn, because it offers the highest colour precision for fill colours (64 bit). No other DTP software comes close in this regard.


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