For starters, Solarized isn’t aimed at one particular editor or piece of software. You can get Solarized for Vim, Emacs, IntelliJ and six other editors, for four different terminal emulators, and even for Mutt (a console email client). It is also available as a color palette for Photoshop or GIMP.
Solarized author, Ethan Schoonover, did not just pick colors he felt were pretty. Instead, he used something called Lab color space to figure out the exact differences in lightness various screen elements should have, and selected the colors based on fixed color wheel relationships (some of the hues are analogous, some are Triad-based, etc.). Sure, the result is pretty, but it’s also very readable.
The Solarized color schemes are available both with a light and dark background. Here’s what the light-background variation looks like:
And here’s the dark variation of the same file:
You can see how similar both modes are. They feel like one color scheme, but both are very readable. In fact, they’re both readable to the same exact degree: they have symmetric lightness differences, so switching between dark and light background retains the same perceived amount of contrast between scheme elements.
It’s a minimalistic scheme, with just sixteen colors. The number of colors can even be brought down further, to just five specific hues, and it would still be quite readable.
Another thing that’s very impressive about Solarized is the presentation. Most color schemes are just a single text file with hardly any documentation. Solarized has a gorgeous webpage (colorized according to the scheme, of course), where the author lays down his reasoning for the scheme and its advantages in excruciating detail. The two screenshots above were taken from that very page, where you can find many other screenshots showing different file types in Vim, as well as many other applications.
I’ve been using Solarized for a few weeks now, mainly in Vim via Putty. For this particular scenario, installation was not trivial: I’ve had to configure Solarized for PuTTY, and then configure it for Vim as well. Even so, the colors I get on my own screen seem somewhat different from what I see on the Solarized website. I do like the look I ended up with, but you’ll have to agree it doesn’t look exactly like the beautiful screenshots above:
That’s the only drawback really. If you just use a single application (say, GVim or another local text editor), you should have no problem installing Solarized on your system. But if you need to get it working via PuTTY and Vim, you’re in for a bit of a challenge. Having said that, if any of you manage to replicate the exact Solarized look using Putty/Vim, I’d love to hear about it in the comments — perhaps you can teach me a thing or two!