Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What is a 'Swatch'?

What exactly is a swatch? That is a very simple question, but ask many different people and you'll get many different answers. When it it comes to computer graphics and programs, that ambiguity introduces many problems. What is worse is that most people are unaware of it. For most people familiar with graphics apps, this one is easy. Are these swatches? "Yes. Swatches are colors in my program." Sometimes they have a name. Sometimes they have RGB values. Sometimes they have CMYK values. But just simple colors. OK.
So for the next question... are these swatches? Interesting. Gradients... yes those could be swatches also. Hmmm... that starts to cause a problem, since many programs like to keep those separated.
Now here comes the fun... the common dictionary definition says that a swatch is sample strip cut from cloth. So we get more than a simple 'color'. And we've definitely left the land of simple 'color' and moved on well into materials.
Here is another set of cloth swatches. A set of simple pieces of cloth, but showing a fair bit of patterning.
And another set. More and more fun.
Often other materials can get collected up into swatch books. At least in the real world.


So... what does this all mean for us now? Basically that I am very unhappy with the artificial isolation and concepts being driven from the implementation side. Instead we need to start looking at things from the end-user side. Artists, cartoonists, graphic designers, etc. all have certain needs, and our software should learn their neeeds, instead of forcing the artists to learn the software's needs. I'm now adding a more artist-centric view into Inkscape's implementation of things. Hopefully we'll be able to get a common OpenSwatchbook format to allow these sets to be shared between applications, just as they can share .gpl color palette files now. As a first step I'm trying to collect up information on the use cases, shared needs, user interface ideas and such at the Swatch Book page on the Inkscape Wiki. If you happen to be an artist of any type, a doodler, a programmer, or even just someone with a few opinions we would like to hear from you. The more different types of users and others that we hear from, the better we can make things.


Josh said...

Woohoo for swatches that are more than just flat colors! You get it! :)

Ambrose Woodard said...

I understand that swatch is not only interchangeable watch faces, but also interchangeable panels on Mercedes Benz vehicles. I wonder how true this is. The panels on the vehicles are supposed to be interchangeable.