“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Will Rogers might not have had color technology in mind when he made that statement, but it is perfectly applicable. With consumers, first impressions are quickly made, hard to reverse and almost invariably visual.

Color is an indicator, a signal, a message that can speak volumes. Shrewd product marketers take advantage of this fact to enhance image and influence the message’s audience. Successful manufacturers leverage the message to create predictable, efficient processes.

Studies repeatedly show that markets pay attention to the message in product color. Color consistency and finish directly correlate to judgment of product quality, value and class. Enhancing your ability to measure and control color is an obvious step to improving product perception by your potential customers.

The right color-measuring instrument is crucial to ensuring a high (and highly visible) level of quality in this all-important area – showing up as consistent color as it moves throughout the supply chain.

This article, second in a series on color management issues, explores the latest advancements in color-measuring devices. More importantly, it shows how technological innovations in color-measuring devices can yield a host of bottom-line benefits.

The Importance of Measurement

Leveraging the message implicit in your product’s color and influencing the actions of those receiving that message can be summed up in one word – “control.” Measurement is vital to control.

In today’s global economy – with increased competition, faster time-to-market requirements, demand for lower cost of goods, and higher quality standards – efficient, accurate color production matters more than ever. The ability to measure, communicate and control color creates competitive advantage, speeds product development and reduces product cost.

A modern color communication system creates bridges across time zones and geographies to form an environment that encourages collaboration, empowers decision-making closer to production points and reduces administrative expense.

An environment of color integrity throughout a supply chain – from design and prototyping to process analysis and final quality verification – depends on accurate color measurement.

The Importance of Instrument Performance

If measurement enables control,accuratemeasurement enableseffectivecontrol. To ensure cost-effective first-run color, everyone involved in its production needs assurance of overall color integrity – in other words, data that is reliable, error-free and compatible.

The alternative to color integrity is supply chain communication reminiscent of the children’s game “whisper down the lane” in which a phrase is passed from neighbor to neighbor. Although each player works to the best of his ability, the meaning of the original phrase is lost after surprisingly few repetitions. While the game can be entertaining, the effects of compounding communication errors in business can be nothing short of devastating.

Avoiding that scenario obviously involves selecting an instrument design that is accurate – as an individual and as part of a fleet of instruments in a supply chain. Individuals in a fleet may differ in precision – some reporting a measurement to more or fewer decimal places, but fundamental agreement to a common standard is a must. Instruments in the Datacolor SPECTRUM™ family of products are designed for ultimate agreement, from ultra-precise laboratory grade to affordable production workhorses and portables.

Of course, the performance of even the most capable machines can erode over time. Establishing a routine maintaining and verifying instrument performance is a smart investment. Identifying potential problems early increases confidence and reduces downtime.

Today’s technology helps you stay consistently proactive by scheduling and automating routine diagnostics to check for drift, short-term and long-term repeatability, accuracy, calibration quality and energy levels. Datacolor MAESTRO™ is an example of a product that can be deployed on a single system or a global fleet of instruments to assure accuracy and agreement quickly, easily and consistently – correlating each instrument to an absolute standard or summoning service and support assistance at the first sign of a problem.

Environmental control is another area where technology is helping instrument accuracy. While newer instruments compensate for variations in temperature, most materials change color when exposed to variations in temperature, humidity or light. Color evaluations are increasingly based on measurements taken at different locations around the world. In a pan-global supply chain, this loss of accuracy is frequently unrecognized, and the hidden cost can be quite high.

Now sample-conditioning cabinets are readily available – inexpensive, compact and easy-to-use. Datacolor CONDITIONER™, for example, requires no special water treatment and provides constant, stable exposure to temperature, humidity and light – an overlooked environmental element that impacts material color.

Measuring Up to Specific Needs

Armed with a color collaboration solution, environmental control, an accurate fleet of spectrophotometers and a fleet management system to keep them working in perfect synchronization, our goal of color integrity and all its benefits is within reach, yes? Well, almost. When it comes to controlling the message of your product’s color, accuracy is fundamental. However, there is more to the story. You have to measure the right thing. As strange as it might seem at this point, usually the right thing is not color.

Instruments that measure color are called “colorimeters.” They report a set of coordinates (usually three) that describe the color of an object under a particular light source using a standardized but specific observer response.

Colorimeters have their place in some applications, but creating color integrity – a specification that allows the maximum possible control over color perception – involves measuring fundamental material properties in ways a colorimeter will not do.

The instrument of choice is a spectrophotometer – a device that records an object’s interaction with light in a way that does not depend on a specific light source or observer response. Spectrophotometers report a larger set of numbers representing proportions of light reflected and/or transmitted for some portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Given these values across the visible spectrum, one can accurately predict color perception of a product by multiple observers under various illuminants. Spectrophotometer designs vary in order to analyze different materials and to highlight different aspects of appearance. The geometric relationship of light source, detector and sample in a specific instrument determines its sensitivity to surface effects, texture, haze, and gloss. Some instruments are capable of multiple measuring geometries.

Selecting a spectrophotometer design to give accurate measurements of the right thing for your product, your process and your place in a supply chain will create color integrity and allow control over your color message. Doing otherwise could mean the literal difference between profit and loss for your product line.

Choosing a Spectrophotometer

Which instrument is best will depend on the size, curvature, opacity and uniformity of samples you will measure, standards in your industry, your supply chain position and your need for flexibility and precision. Different aspects of manufacturing and distribution require different spectrophotometer functionality. For instance, if the data your color instrument captures is going to serve as the reference data for everyone involved in the development process, then you need a premium reference-grade instrument developed for extremely precise measurements. The very best deliver this high standard with great flexibility – reflectance or transmittance, multiple sample apertures, variable UV filters, etc.

OEMs need to confirm that products meet color requirements in production from any location – and they need to do it quickly, accurately and easily. Suppliers and purchasers often need to verify that products meet color requirements upon delivery. They need instruments that can supply quick, accurate verification of correct color, often right from the factory floor. Distribution and sales agents need small ultra-portables with on-board color libraries.

Luckily, advanced handheld designs are expanding higher quality out onto the production floor all the time. Vendors are combining the durability and stability of solid-state hardware with high-precision measuring science. The result is a handheld device that stands up to the rigors of a factory and the lab. For those that need enterprise-wide flexibility, new handhelds deliver highly accurate color measurement on virtually any surface in extremely lightweight models.

Metallic-flake and pearlescent finishes represent another example that requires a specific type of spectrophotometer. These special-effect pigments are helping coatings manufacturers lead the way in buying trends, brand recognition and product differentiation due to their eye-catching appeal. Yet the very characteristics that make them so appealing – the manipulation of light to create mutable or dazzling special effects – also make them notoriously difficult to match and measure.

Because special-effect pigments look different when viewed from different perspectives, distinguishing them requires simultaneous measurements at multiple angles. For metallic pigments, four illumination and viewing angles are standard. Advanced interference effect pigments can require even more. For these, an instrument like the Datacolor FX-10™ measures samples at 10 sets of illuminating/viewing angles.

To make sense of so much data, advanced instruments require links to quality-control software and communications solutions developed especially for special-effect pigments.

Not everyone in a supply chain will need the ultimate in sample-presentation flexibility or the precision of a reference-grade master instrument. However, even if you need a simple one-trick pony for routine material evaluation, resist the false choice of sacrificing inter-operability for affordability.

Be warned: attempts to correlate measurements made using different geometries will lead to disappointment. Before mixing geometries, be sure the benefit outweighs the cost and administrative overhead of separate specifications. And be encouraged: today, a well-designed product line will not force the frugal to give up interoperability. Look at specifications that include full spectral data for a complete view of color for both matching and QC applications. Look for a supplier who will help you ask the right questions to select an instrument with the appropriate level of versatility, precision and deployment options for your situation and budget, not their sales quota. Selecting the right instrument in the right product line will be a suitable investment today and guarantee data compatibility as your needs grow.

Excellence By Design

Whether you are formulating color, controlling a coloration process or exchanging color samples electronically within your global supply chain, you need instrument technology that supports and addresses your needs without risk. Translation – spectrophotometer technology that’s industry adopted, tested and proven.

Look for objective standards against which the device can be judged. For instance, is the spectrophotometer compliant with all industry standards? Does it adhere to accepted engineering practices? For proof, look for factory certification, traceability and warranty. These are the devices destined for years of error-free performance.

Second, evaluate the design as much as possible. Inter-instrument agreement among devices is one way to ensure good performance. You get this most often when models in a line are based on the same core design. Seamless integration should extend to the software as well. Is the instrument limited to an extremely basic package or can you use it with more sophisticated software? If you need more functionality down the road, how will this be achieved?


Industry leaders are looking for every advantage to compete in a global market. The latest innovations in color-measuring tools are being developed in answer to increased competition, delivering on-spec color faster and more efficiently throughout the supply chain. With today’s advanced spectrophotometric technology, everyone in the industry can expect significant improvement in the efficiency of the coloring process and the color consistency of the finished product.

For further information, visit www.datacolor.com.

Sidebar: Important Trends

  • Consumer interest and awareness of color is growing.
  • Modern formulations allow bolder, more saturated coatings.
  • Use of dramatic color effects from specialty pigments is on the rise.
  • Low-gloss and special luster finishes are increasingly judged as more luxurious and “up scale”.
  • Systems to measure and communicate color respond to continuing globalization of supply chains by becoming more deployable and inter-operable.

Sidebar: Why Measure Color?

  • Reduce reliance on subjective human evaluations.
  • Enhance precision and speed of color communication.
  • Ensure product compliance.
  • Catch detrimental process changes before they cause problems.
  • Assess product environmental and temporal stability.
  • Verify quality of raw materials.
  • Create consistency to enhance quality image.
  • Identify product components and contamination.

Sidebar: Common Spectrophotometer Choices

  • Sphere or bi-directional
  • Diffuse/Normal or Diffuse 8°
  • Fixed or variable bi-directional (Goniospectrophotometer)
  • Measure reflected light, transmitted light or both
  • Fixed or variable ultraviolet energy source
  • Fixed or variable sample aperture
  • Laboratory desktop, handheld or ultra-portable

For more information see: “What is measurement geometry?” www.colorvision.ch/learnmore/colorlessons/lesson10.php; and “Color Learning Curve DataFacts No. 002 Datacolor Gloss Compensation,” www.datacolor.com/index.php?name=Sections&req=viewarticle&artid=283.

Sidebar: Tips For Optimal Performance

Choosing the right spectrophotometer helps ensure a high level of color quality as it moves throughout the coatings supply chain. However, as no spectrophotometer is innately perfect, the following tips can help maximize color-measuring performance in your spectrophotometer of choice.
  • Maintain the spectrophotometer according to manufacturer recommendations, including periodic testing and preventative maintenance, by qualified service personnel.
  • If possible, operate the spectrophotometer in a temperature-controlled, clean environment, and leave it under power at all times.
  • Protect the white and black calibration standards so that they are clean and safe from any potential damage.
  • Recalibrate often, perhaps every 2 to 4 hours. Before important jobs, recalibrate immediately, even if manufacturer guidelines suggest the practice needs to be done less frequently.
  • Strive to measure standards and batches (of colors to be compared) using the same sample measuring area as well as the same spectrophotometer under the same conditions.