Colourlovers: free, online alternative to Pantone

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Anyone who needs to know the hot color of the season—designers, buyers, stylists—until recently had to go to one company, Pantone, and pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for color trend forecasts. The company is the undisputed authority on color, and they pretty much have the monopoly on the color business. Pantone also holds the standardized numerical keys to color. By matching swatches with Pantone, everyone can make sure they're referring to the same hue. They're like a proprietary Dewey decimal system for color.

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But the founders of a young internet startup are changing that with free color tools and an online community: Colourlovers. Pantone may not disappear any time soon, but Darius Monsef, the Colourlovers founder, is pleased to at least give color researchers another option. The site lets users not only explore which colors are trending, but anyone can create a virtual color palette or a pattern using Colourlovers' free software, or if they want to get a little more serious, they can buy the ColorSchemer software (screengrab at left) for between $35 and $50.

Why does anyone need special software to create a color palette—a simple rectangular box filled with strips of various shades? Using a program like Adobe Illustrator it can be a surprisingly laborious many-step process. People get very excited when they discover how easy it is on Colourlovers.


"It's so huge for color and design," says Kristen Sakillaris Slowe, who graduated from FIDM last year and is now partnering with Justin Kan of Justin.tv to design a men's line of jackets and shirts called Saboteur.

Slowe also uses Colourlovers' online tools to experiment with patterns like sunbursts, plaids or polka dots that she might use for her shirts or jacket linings. "Colourlovers figured out a method with preset shapes that makes it easy to create a seamless pattern." To see some of their patterns, check out their awesome Twitter background application, Themeleon.

Colourlovers recently gathered all of their efforts under one umbrella, CHROMAom, which translates to "Color Enlightenment."

"That's exactly what we want to help the world find," Darius told me in an email. He went on to explain how he hopes to take on Pantone.

The incumbent companies in the color space took hold in the print age and they're slow to adopt to the fast changing digital world. They also tend to subscribe to panels of experts and closed systems. We approach things much differently, by empowering the people and tapping their collective creativity to find the best, most inspiring, loved, etc. colors. We'll be able to forecast colors, not based on "expert" opinion but by looking at overall usage. We'll provide people with real data to support their decisions.

Colourlovers is nominated for a Webby for best community for the fourth straight year.

See the rainbow-colored 28-layer cake that Darius' mom recently made for his -- you guessed it -- 28th birthday featured on Martha Stewart's website.