Scientists will describe color as the quality of
an object with respect to light. But, as any one of us knows, our human
response to color is very emotional. When skillfully used by designers,
color creates the kind of harmonious balance and appeal that helps sell
everything from personal care products to automobiles to wallcovering.
Precisely because of this blend of science and emotion, color remains
difficult to manage across the entire manufacturing supply chain cycle.
Much can happen to impact the color from the time a designer creates it
until it is inspected on a factory floor. Multiple processes are required for successful color development throughout its long and
complicated cycle. This paper covers technological advances in the most
significant areas of color development color matching and
control as well as how the latest color communication system integrates
these tools into an overall virtual
color environment that benefits the
entire supply chain quite literally from mind to market.
The way it was: a short history of
managing color across industries and locations
Describing color has always been a subjective and expensive process for all
parties involved in the production of
color. Suppliers, particularly those
separated by time zones and language barriers, experience the most
In the 1980s,
manufacturers alleviated some of these difficulties by measuring the
physical standards with a spectrophotometer in one location and then
distributing the "color" of that standard to other locations with the data
from the spectrophotometer i.e., in the form of spectral reflectance
curves. A physical sample was still needed for visual reference, but the
approval of batches was
by the numbers.
Yet challenges in communicating color remained. Regardless of how
many numbers are assigned to a color, we don't see in numbers. A verbal
description doesn't precisely help us visualize what another person means by fire-engine red, as color is both a physical and psychological response to
light. When a paint pigment such as titanium oxide, for example, strongly
scatters light, it yields a white effect. When another pigment absorbs
certain wavelengths of light, it produces a colored effect. In addition to
this physical phenomenon, each viewer brings a different response to the
same stimulus. These differences can be due to age, fatigue,
defects, gender, or experience.
Consider how human factors impact the color matching process in
this typical scenario: the designer struggles to communicate precisely the
color he or she has envisioned, using physical samples and describing how
the proof should vary from the sample i.e., warmer, brighter, bluer.
The colorant supplier tries to match each sample, but still doesn't satisfy
the design spec because the sample is only a starting point. Not only is
the designer limited to feedback about the sample in the most subjective
terms (e.g., by talking about it), but the sample the supplier was given to
match may not be the same substrate or pigment coloration as the final
product. And the medium matters. Whether it's opaque or transparent, matte
or gloss finish, flat or round, plastic or paper, affects perception of the
finished color as surely as does the other considerations.
Embracing the entire color cycle
Simply put, the color cycle is as
complex as it is encompassing. To a designer, color speaks to aesthetics
and identity. To a manufacturer, color is precise and tangible. Designers
want flexibility and creativity while production needs an exact target and
direction to deliver first-run quality.
The latest advances in color technology
utilize the power of today's best web-based solutions to address such
diverse approaches to color and to capture its complexities in ways never
before possible completely, accurately, electronically.
The new electronic medium that leading color developers have embraced
provides a comprehensive and inclusive framework that affords
everyone throughout the supply chain
the opportunity to benefit from shortened time to market, costs reductions,
and the overall improvement in color quality. How? In general, the
new, web-based color communication system delivers correct color approval
throughout a supply chain not by duplicating
efforts, but rather by streamlining and enhancing color processes already in
place. The specifics of how the latest electronic color
communication system optimally works is illustrated by the following:
An OEM or component manufacturer selects a color standard and
measures it on a spectrophotometer (color measuring instrument).
The color standard then appears as a digital image on the
computer monitor, which has been calibrated for color accuracy.
The standard is then electronically sent to the supplier,
where trial color samples are produced and measured on a spectrophotometer.
The supplier then electronically sends back its digital sample
of the best possible color match to the manufacturer where it is compared to
the standard on the calibrated monitor. If the match is not accepted, more
color matching is requested and is done by the supplier and digital samples
are sent until the manufacturer approves the color match.
The manufacturer then receives the final lab sample, usually
in less than half the time of a traditional color matching trial and error
most powerful, inclusive aspect of the new electronic environment is the
fact that color now can be communicated digitally and assessed visually.
Receivers of a virtual color sample get more than a set of numbers rather,
the receiver sees precisely the
color on screen that corresponds to the
colorimetric data. Similarly, visual tolerances can be evaluated and set
realistically. Everyone, for example, can see how far a particular
spectrophotometer reading such as 1CMC unit - is from a particular color
How smart is your software?
As mentioned, the electronic color channel does not completely change the
traditional method of color control as much as it streamlines and enhances
it. Toward that end, the new system utilizes familiar tools such as the
color-measuring instruments (spectrophotometers) as well as
the latest color
management software. Yet, in keeping with its overall goal
of color process enhancement, the most effective color communication system
takes advantage of the latest innovations among these color control devices
and incorporates them within its wholly innovative virtual color
Color matching is a prime example. The goal, of course, always is to be
on-target, on-color without the need for correction. Yet hours of
production time can be spent bringing batches on shade without the
appropriate tools to accommodate the real-world variables that make up
colorant conditions. Different gloss levels between batch and standard, for
instance, can all too easily translate into expensive rejections,
particularly in darker colors. And these variables are compounded with the
rising popularity in special-effect pigments that
more and more manufacturers are choosing to capture discerning,
high-end buyers. Mica-based pigments, which create pearlescent and
iridescent finishes, add depth and richness to the appearance of a surface
by manipulating the behavior of light reflected from the surface.
Iridescents actually change hues and shift shades in order to create their
unique coloration. In other words, the very
characteristics of these high-end coatings that make them in demand are the
exact same aspects that make it so difficult to produce in a first-run
The good news is that the color-matching technology incorporated into
today's color communication system can now accommodate even high-end
coatings such as metallic-based and pearlescents. To be sure the system you
are evaluating delivers these benefits, look for color matching software
that can deliver:
Significantly reduced color-matching times.
Some, such as Datacolor's Pearl
color matching software, exhibit first-shot matching rates of
up to 90 percent and lab trial reductions
of 50 percent.
Reduced raw material costs. Check out
specific functionality rather than general claims; for example, how well
does the software provide the ability to store recycles as formulas and
colorants. Is it automatic? How can operators characterize recycles? By a
single measurement or is it a more complicated process?
Quick and complete color specification and
communication with customers and suppliers. Examine how the color
matching software works with other systems such as color quality control as
well color-measuring instruments. Is it seamless? Can you link all key
parties effectively in a comprehensive network of color management?
Minimized waste and downtime. Pay
particular attention to how the software allows operators to bring the most
difficult to match colors, such as metallics, on shade in production. Are
adds to batches automatically calculated? What about the corrected
formula for new batches? Make sure operators can perform invaluable
functions such as previewing the effects of adds of any colorant to a
batch prior to production.
No matter how
sophisticated, any color matching system is limited in effectiveness if it's
hard to learn and cumbersome to use. Look for software that takes advantage
of the best of today's computers and features built-in user friendliness.
The software also should be backed by comprehensive training and support.
Color measurement that's well in hand
Integrating an efficient color-measuring instrument into the system will
significantly improve the effectiveness of overall coloring process as well
color consistency in a finished product. Yet in this area of color
control, as well, challenges have remained.
One continuing challenge in portable color measuring devices has been a
cumbersome user interface. Traditional interfaces often use switches that
must be toggled in a precise order to customize sample names and screen
selections. Also, while just about every portable
instrument on the market offers a wide variety of software tools, many are
never used simply because it is too difficult to navigate through the
program to access them.
The newest offering in the portable spectrophotometers introduces a radical
departure and eliminates many of these challenges by utilizing PDA-driven
technology for easy operation. This highly unique approach to
color measurement is a prime example of the latest technology to be
incorporated into the new electronic color communication system. Why? PDA
(Personal Data Assistant) technology delivers the best of both worlds for
superior color quality. It allows leading color developers such as Datacolor to integrate software customized for just about any color
management applications right into a light, easy to handle color measurement
instrument. Plus, it retains all of the navigation features that are
standard on a PDA and which make it such a desirable device in general. No
more cumbersome toggle switches or default selections. Using a stylus, the
user simply taps the screen to input custom sample names or to change
evaluation screens. This speeds the color evaluation process while it
reduces errors in sample identification and evaluation selection.
Adapting the PDA to a color management application also takes advantage of
the memory/storage capacity available with a PDA. In the past, the software
offerings that have accompanied portable instruments were confined to basic
quality control functions'simple color difference, pass/fail, and
indices--because of memory limitations. Data upload/download to and from a
PC has been a mandatory feature of all handheld units. However, QC and
color formulation systems based on PC platforms generate enormous databases
of both samples and formulas. Memory limitations have prevented the full
utilization of these databases in a handheld application. The integration
of the PDA into the new instrument is an answer to that limitation. For
instance, the memory capacity of Datacolor's PDA-driven device, the Mercury
3000, makes it possible to accommodate a maximum of 30,000 samples, and to
develop more complex programs that can search, retrieve, and manipulate the
information that they contain.
ensure precise onscreen reproduction
As advanced as
all other systems components may be, however, the key to providing superior
color communication in an electronic medium remains its ability to reproduce
color precisely. Once the color standard has been selected, matched, and
measured, it is reviewed in a virtual color environment. The efficacy of
electronic color communication rests solely on an ability to reproduce the
color accurately on screen. And that is made possible by a high degree of
monitor calibration and the right color control software designed
specifically for this medium.
The monitors in the new virtual supply network are calibrated to such a
precise extent that a user can be confident of making the same decisions
when viewing electronic images that would be make viewing actual physical
samples. What should you look for when evaluating an electronic color
system? The following are key considerations:
A single monitor must be able to repeat color day after
day, with the same precision.
The calibration must be device independent so that
accurate conversion (from computer-based color data to colorimetric data, or
CIELAB) is permitted using virtually any brand of monitor. This enables
transfer of color between any two monitors, as well.
Look at how operators of the system are able to
manipulate color. They should be able to conveniently create, edit and
visually compare colors on screen.
Once the on-screen color is created, the software, in
turn, should automatically compute the right colorimetric data. This is the
of that color.
The system should also accept measurements by a
spectrophotometer and instantly transform the data into visual color on the
screen for evaluation or adjustment.
digital sampling brings an ability to create or evaluate color
electronically and to avoid the time-consuming and costly traditional method
of mailing colored samples back and forth between sites for approval.
Digital sampling technology breaks new ground across all industries, but is
particularly important in manufacturing applications where accurate color
reproduction is critical to the delivery of a quality product.
Thanks to this
ability to reproduce precise color on a computer screen - color standards
can now be archived digitally, eliminating problems associated with fading,
transfer, or handling. And the digital color data is ready for input to
color matching or quality control software, as well as automatically
available to the printer, or other end-user, once the colors have been
manufacturing operations across a wide variety of applications, color serves
as a fundamental indicator of quality. Delivering material that is
off-color can risk future business, and failing to get the color right the
first time can drive up labor and raw materials costs significantly,
reflecting the quality of the manufacturing process itself.
With increasing competition and the move
to bring products to market in record time, it is more important than ever
to deliver an on-spec
color faster and more efficiently. The latest color
technology, particularly when housed within a virtual color environment,
delivers new efficiencies for the entire supply when managing color
throughout the complete production cycle, from mind to market.
About the author
Shawn Mulligan is
Marketing Manager of Datacolor, Inc, an industry leader in color management
and color control for the textile, paint, printing, plastics, coatings and
digital color industries. Datacolor is located in Lawrenceville, NJ. More
information on the company can be found at