10 Tips for Color Management

Originally the province of art departments and human visual appraisals, the importance of color management has now been recognized in nearly every industry.

Consumers have come to expect a standard of quality from the products they buy every day, and presenting a polished, clean, consistent image is one of the keystones of business success. From logos and company letterhead to the product line, a consistent appearance conveys the quality of your company's products and of the company itself. It's here that consistent color plays a key role. Effectively measuring and quantifying color characteristics in advance helps avoid the costly mistakes that can mean blown production runs and unusable final products.

Color is the most immediately noticeable element of overall appearance, and the methods used to maintain color consistency between suppliers, products and individual parts are referred to as color management. Originally the province of art departments and human visual appraisals, the importance of color management has now been recognized in nearly every industry. Its newfound popularity has driven the development of sophisticated instruments and techniques for removing subjectivity from the color discussion.

"For producers of paints and plastics, color management is probably the most important part of overall quality control," comments Mike Gogoel, vice president and general manager of color measurement research and development firm BYK-Gardner. "Using reliable, precise instrumentation is the only way to objectify the perception of color and ensure that expensive mistakes are avoided in the production process."

 Industrial equipment like a colorimeter is often clunky and complex. Many instrument makers may subscribe to a "whatever works" philosophy during the design process--but those instruments are not the best choice, according to Gogoel. Carefully designed, usable instrumentation can generate savings for businesses in the       long run.

Gogoel offers a few tips for selecting the right color management instruments:

1.Intuitive instrumentation speeds learning curves. No matter what type of instrumentation you're using, it's important to consider its design and operation. Intuitive instrumentation means less time and money spent on training and retraining, as well as increases in speed when using the instruments. Especially in the current job market, where employees don't necessarily stay with a company for life, training savings on a device can be realized several times during its usable lifetime.

2.Test instruments for repeatability. Not all instruments are created equal, and some color measurement devices may not offer the precision measurements needed to ensure exacting color reproduction across several batches or production runs. Look for colorimeters and spectrophotometers that offer close-tolerance repeatability, which is the ability of an instrument to measure color consistently across multiple samples. It's essential that your instruments be consistent so that you can rely on every measurement. Look for repeatability within the low hundredths of delta E* difference.

Delta E* is a measurement of the total change in color. Color is based on three factors: lightness, hue and saturation. Using the relative measurements of these parameters, a number can be derived based on the color scale. Instruments must be graded based on their capabilities to repeat color measurements with an accuracy that varies within predictable and acceptable limits. This measurement will be the change in delta E* from reading to reading when a specimen is offered for examination, or when different instruments are compared to each other using the same test specimen.

3.Choose instruments that offer high rates of reproducibility. Reproducibility is tested by measuring the same sample with multiple instruments in order to quantify any variation between the devices. It's essential for any operation that employs more than one color measurement device, allowing the assurance that color divergences in products don't arise due to slight measurement inconsistencies between devices. For reproducibility, tolerances between devices should be within the low tenths +/-delta E* range.

"Beyond just calculating differences within an operation, reproducibility is perhaps the most important factor when dealing with suppliers," says Gogoel. "The supplier relationship is built around matching up the numbers--so it's essential that you not only look for reproducibility among the devices you buy for your operation, but that you test for it with every supplier you have."

4.Ensure instruments have sufficient measurement area. Dispersion affects precision color measurements more than some might realize, according to Gogoel. A colorimeter that only offers a small measurement area can invite inaccuracies. Make sure that any instrumentation you purchase offers a measurement area sufficient for the samples and products you plan to check with it.

5.Look for instruments that can perform rapid, successive measurements. Even when measurement area is carefully considered, occasionally larger samples must be dealt with. In these situations, a device that can perform a rapid series of sample measurements will greatly reduce time and cost. In addition, the best colorimeters offer a pass/fail mode, in which a set of tolerances can be stored in the device, allowing a number of subsequent samples to be rapidly passed or failed as within the specification. Many companies utilize this pass/fail mode to speed the color-testing process or to allow workers with less training to achieve precise results when performing color tests.

6.Ensure measurement equipment has on-board statistical capabilities. Rapid measuring devices should provide statistical capabilities on board the device, such as average, standard deviations and other statistics calculations. This allows the multiple measurements of a large sample to be quickly averaged to obtain an overall, useful measurement of color.

7.Consider portable instrumentation. The use of LED illumination in colorimeter design has brought the precision once only available with bench instruments to small portable packages. A portable colorimeter means samples and products can be color-checked on the production floor or in the field.

"The portable devices mean the end of production stoppages while products or samples are pulled off the line to be sent to the color lab for testing," observes Gogoel. "With an accurate, portable device, product can be checked right on the floor of your plant as it's produced."

8.Investigate instrument durability. It's important to examine instrument robustness and durability, especially with portable colorimeters. A portable device may be used in a variety of places and should be able to withstand all of those environments.

"Be sure to consider where the device will be used and what kind of stress, weather and the like it will need to stand up to," urges Gogoel. "Portable devices may be needed anywhere from the plant to the field, and they may be handled by a variety of workers. Find out what warranties are offered, and check the overall quality of the instrument before you buy."

9.Consider the impact of ergonomics. Taking a look at ergonomics when you specify your instrumentation is a smart idea. With more and more attention being paid to industrial ergonomic impact, it's important to consider the design of the instruments you choose for color measurement. Not only can intelligent ergonomic design help increase the overall productivity of any employee working with the tool, but it can cut down insurance and worker's compensation costs as well.

10.Think about the software you'll use with the instruments. Most color data will eventually make its way into a computer at some step in the process, and it's important to contemplate the software interface that the instrument provides. The best color measurement devices will provide software and connectivity to common programs, such as Microsoft Excel for spreadsheets or Access for databases.

"The computer is a great tool for handling the data generated by color control and management, but not every instrument provides an easy method to get its data into the software you use," remarks Gogoel. "Make sure the device you choose will fit into your information system--and try to avoid costly proprietary software. Sticking with common formats like Excel makes dealing with color data far more simple, both internally, where employees are already trained, and externally, when exchanging data with customers and suppliers."


Care and attention to a few details will ensure that organizations get the instruments they need to manage color across their suppliers, their production process and their customers. Whether it's millions of gallons of paint that needs every drop to match exactly or thousands of pounds of plastic being produced for manufacturers, following these 10 tips should help you find the right color management tool for your job.


For more information about color management issues, contact BYK-Gardner's offices at telephone (800) 343-7721 or visit the company's Web site at .

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