How to Deploy Consistent Color in a Manufacturing Workflow

Posted October 03, 2017 by Tim Mouw

Whether you manufacture plastics, coatings, or textiles, the reality is the same: If you don’t achieve consistent color, your product won’t sell. In fact, at the shelf, most people decide whether they’re going to purchase a product within 90 seconds, and much of that decision is based on color.

We know it can feel overwhelming to make changes to your production workflow, especially if you think it’s “good enough.” But the industry is changing. Brands are demanding more accurate color, faster. To stay competitive, you need to continue moving up the continuum of color control.

Consistent Color Measuring Colorants

Luckily there is a growing range of color tools available to achieve accuracy and consistency. Today we’re sharing what’s available to help you deploy more consistent color in your manufacturing workflow.

There are many places in a production workflow where color can go wrong. This is especially challenging for manufacturers who assemble parts made at different plants in different parts of the world. You’ve heard of the telephone game. One person starts a message and it’s passed down the line from person to person. How often is the message the same at the end?

The same thing happens with color. Think of items that are manufactured at different plants and assembled in one final location, such as a car with plastic and coatings; or a ski jacket with a nylon shell, knit sleeves, plastic buttons and a metal zipper. How do you ensure everything matches when it’s assembled, if different people are producing and evaluating?

When to Monitor and Assess Color

To get color right, you must effectively communicate and evaluate color at four critical stages.

1. During Design and Specification

Color communication is hard, but you, your customers, and your suppliers must set clear color expectations. If you start with the wrong color data, how can you expect to get it right in the end? Check out our popular blog, How to talk color with Customers and Suppliers, to learn more.

2. During Formulation

Controlling the formulation of your color is critical to ensuring that you are able to meet your customers’ demands for consistent color. By tightly controlling the formulation, you allow the normal variation in your production process to occur without those variables driving your color out of tolerance.

3. During Production

When production is done in batches, many variables can affect the output, such as multiple operators and changes in raw materials, temperature, and humidity. You must monitor color throughout production to ensure it stays on track from beginning to end and batch to batch.

4. During Quality Control

As you assemble components and package your product to ship, taking one last look will ensure every component is within tolerance. It’s less expensive to identify and fix a color issue at this point than after you get a rejection call from your customer.

How to Monitor and Assess Color

There are four basic ways to manage color during these four stages, starting with basic visual evaluation and moving up to connected solutions – combinations of hardware and software that provide the highest level of consistency and accuracy.

As you move up this continuum to more consistent color, you also minimize the role of human error – a big cause of incorrect color. Even slight variation in the way operators and lab technicians measure color can make a difference between a color passing or failing.

1. Visually evaluate color

This means visually comparing the color of a product against a standard. While visual evaluation may be sufficient for less stringent color applications, it also leaves the door open for error and disagreement with your customers and suppliers. Many people are not properly trained to visually evaluate color, and different lighting conditions can lead to variable assessments. Plus, everyone sees color differently.

The FM100 Hue Test is an easy-to-administer test and a highly effective method for evaluating an individual’s ability to discern color.

We offer visual assessment tools such as color vision testing, color standards, and physical references to ensure your visual evaluation program is the best it can be.

2. Visually evaluate under controlled lighting conditions

The next step in the continuum is to add a light booth or overhead luminaire. Comparing your product with a standard under different lighting conditions – such as daylight, incandescent, fluorescent – will ensure the color looks right in every type of light it may encounter in the real world. Using a light booth can also help identify the effect of metamerism, where parts match in one viewing condition but don’t match under another light source.


Comparing fabric samples in X-Rite’s SpectraLight QC, which offers seven light sources for the most color-critical evaluation.

Our two most popular light booths are the SpectraLight QC with seven light sources, and the Judge QC with five.

3. Measure and analyze with instruments and software

Measuring color with an instrument such as a spectrophotometer instead of just evaluating by eye dramatically increases acceptable quality. Using instruments and software also removes the subjectivity from color evaluation, offering significant benefits in quality compared to visual evaluation alone.

We offer spectrophotometers in a range of sizes and geometries, from rugged portables to incredibly precise benchtops. Learn more about when to use each in our blog: Benchtop vs. Portable: Which is Best?


4. Add connected workflow software

A connected solution using our most advanced spectrophotometers and software will allow you to achieve the strictest color tolerances from batch to batch and across multiple locations for the most consistent color.

  • NetProfiler helps verify and optimize the performance of your color measurement devices and enhance repeatability among devices and throughout production runs.
  • Color iMatch enables fast, accurate colorant formulation and analysis for a variety of applications. InkFormulation Software is also available for use in print and packaging.
  • Color iQC links color data during each step of production so operators and managers can ensure color stays within tolerance and track trends.

Where are YOU in the color continuum?

Investing in new solutions will not only save you time and money, it will help you stay competitive. With a wide range of options, from light booths to spectrophotometers to solutions that connect multiple sites, we make it easy to implement a little (or a lot) as your color control needs change.

Our color experts are happy to talk with you about your existing workflow and offer solutions to help you move up the continuum to more consistent color. Get in touch to learn more.

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