To establish a color quality control program, you need good instrumentation, software, and trained users. Here are 5 pitfalls to avoid.

By Tim Mouw, Applications Engineering & Technical Support Manager, X-Rite

There are many places that color can go wrong in manufacturing. Inconsistent and inaccurate color leads to rejects, rework, delays or products on the discount shelves. Establishing a color quality control program can help ensure that the color specified is the same color manufactured. Setting up a color QC program can help you accurately communicate color with clients and suppliers, inspect raw materials before you begin working, and verify your color is correct before you ship.

To establish a successful quality control program, you need good instrumentation, robust software, and trained users. But even with everything in place, there are some common pitfalls to watch for when using a spectrophotometer to analyze color quality.

Avoid These Top Five Color Measurement Pitfalls

  1. Bad Standards and Samples

Physical standards and samples don’t last forever. Careless handling and dirty devices can quickly destroy them. Here are three tips to avoid bad sample:

  • When creating a physical standard, gather multiple samples from the same batch and verify the samples are the same shade. If a working standard becomes damaged, you can just throw it away and replace it with a backup.
  • Standardize, document, and communicate your sample preparation procedures to everyone involved in the workflow to ensure that each user does each task the same way, every time.
  • Keep your samples clean. Dust, oil and fingerprints can cause inaccurate measurement data. Our guide to caring for physical samples offers tips to preserve your samples and standards.
  • Extend the life of your standards by storing them in a black plastic bag (without plasticizers) or in non-acidic paper envelopes in a cool, dark place. Refrigerators and freezers will also extend sample life.
  1. Optical Brighteners

White isn’t always what it seems to be. This effect is caused by the presence of optical brighteners, which are fluorescent materials that manufacturers add to make their products look whiter.

spectrophotometer optical brightening gagents

For example, take two white shirts that look identical under daylight. But those same shirts under UV lighting and they look quite different. This is because one of the shirts uses fabric with optical brightener agents (OBAs). This can be a real problem for manufacturers who assemble products with parts from different factories.

Here are three tips to control optical brighteners:

  • Use a lightbooth to inspect raw materials under multiple lighting conditions so you can identify an issue before production or assembly.
  • Use a lightbooth to inspect finished products, too. Catching an issue now is still less expensive than after shipment.
  • Use a spectrophotometer that is capable of capturing UV measurements. The Ci64 portable spectrophotometer offers flexible aperture sizes and the option to add UV LED illumination to capture accurate color measurements on plastics, textiles, and papers that contain optical brightening agents.

OBAs aren’t just a problem for textiles. They can also be found in paper, packaging, plastics, paints and coatings, and liquids.

  1. Metamerism

metamerism baseball field

Have you ever seen a picture of a professional baseball field with lines or checkerboard patters in the grass? How do the groundskeepers force the grass to grow in two different colors? Do they carefully spread two different types of grass seed, light and dark green?

In this case, it’s true the grass is greener on the other side. Literally. If you force it to lay in one direction, you see more of the side of the blade. Force it to lay down in another direction and you see more of the ends. This phenomenon is called gonio-appearance, or geometric metamerism.

Gonio-appearance is seen quite often in fabrics, especially piles, corduroy, and satins. If you brush the nap in one direction, you see one color. Brush it in another direction and you see a different shade. As you can imagine, textured surfaces are difficult to measure. A sphere spectrophotometer like X-Rite’s Ci7800 benchtop can measure light reflected at all angles and calculate color measurements that closely match what the human eye would see.

  1. Using the Wrong Type of Spectrophotometer

To choose the right color measurement device, you need to consider the characteristics of your samples. There is no way to list all of the sample variables that can affect your measurement data, but here are a few to consider:

  • Is your sample translucent or opaque? Your answer will determine if you need a transmission and a reflectance spectrophotometer. For opaque samples you will need reflectance measurements and for translucent samples, you will likely need transmission measurements (or even spectrophotometer that can do both types of measurements).
  • Is your sample wet or dry? Wet items usually appear darker, which can skew the measurement. Wet samples can also contaminate the optics to skew future measurements.
  • What is the temperature of your sample? Many pigments are thermochromatic, which means the samples actually change color as they become warmer. Think about how the color changes when you iron a shirt. Sometimes the hot dry section looks less chromatic until it cools down and regains some moisture. Some spectrophotometers include temperature sensors that help users identify how the temperature might affect color data.
  1. Lack of Operating Procedures

Once you have identified as many variables as possible, create procedures around them. This will enable everyone involved in the color program, whether on site or off, to control color throughout a manufacturing run.

  • Make a detailed list of every possible scenario.
  • Create procedures that everyone must follow when measuring samples.
  • Share them with everyone involved in producing color.
  • Otherwise your data will be ambiguous, and your color control will suffer.

By taking these common pitfalls into consideration as you develop your color measurement and management procedures, you will be more likely to achieve and deliver accurate color.

Tim manages of the Applications Engineering and Technical Support Team for X-Rite in the Americas. He oversees a team of 20 technical support specialists that help customers improve color quality control processes. Over the past two decades, Tim has taught over 300 courses on color science across the globe. Stay connected with Tim on Twitter @xritecolor.