People often ask how X-Rite got its name and how we came to be a leader in the art and science of color. It’s really a great story – one that focuses on innovation, entrepreneurship and determination.
What’s in a name?
X-Rite was founded in 1957 by a group of engineers and business entrepreneurs who had a desire to start a business based on innovation. The members brainstormed new product ideas ranging from can openers to sheet metal tools to collapsible car cots. After building prototypes and researching market opportunities, the team determined that many of the original ideas were cost prohibitive.
As any entrepreneur knows, starting a business is hard and the group had to look elsewhere for inspiration. With leadership from Ted Thompson, the company saw opportunities in the emerging medical market.
The idea for the first successful product came in 1958 from Ted’s wife, a nurse in a local hospital. She came home from work one day and said, “It sure would be nice if we could write the patient’s name on their x-ray.” That’s how x-ray tape was born and it’s how we got our name. X-ray tape you can write on = X-Rite). On Christmas Eve 1958, Ted filed the original articles of incorporation for X-Rite, and our journey of innovation began.
From X-ray Tape to Densitometers
By mid-1960, what had started in Ted’s basement had grown into a sustainable business. Ted, whose day job included the development of electroluminescent cockpit displays for the Apollo spacecraft and the Lunar Excursion Module, become the general manager of X-Rite. The company grew its product line to include an electrolytic silver recovery machine, used to recover silver from photographic x-ray filter solution.
In the 1970’s, simple densitometry used in the photographic and x-ray processing markets emerged as a major opportunity for X-Rite. Ted and the remaining founders made the strategic decision to become an instrument company.
With the hire of Bernie Berg as director of engineering, the company developed densitometers and sensitometers. The result was the X-Rite 331 – a simple densitometer that could measure the film on x-rays for comparison to a set standard. The 331 was a huge hit – especially as x-ray and mammography technologies were still developing. More importantly, X-Rite had now officially entered the quality control market.
Print, Photography and the Science of Color
Ted was always looking for new business opportunities and saw potential outside of the medical market. He believed the company had the talent and vision to build more sophisticated solutions that could help address new challenges in the commercial printing and photography markets. Thompson and Berg began developing a black-and-white densitometer for the printing market.
Remember mini photo labs, those little drive-through kiosks scattered around parking lots, where you could drop off your film to be developed? Within each building was a developing center. As film evolved from black & white to color, the photo processing industry needed help dealing with the new complexities of color.
With Ted’s help, X-Rite entered into an OEM relationship with Kodak – the largest player in that space at the time – to build basic densitometers for photo labs. The X-Rite 800 series of densitometers were manufactured from the mid 70’s into the early 90s. X-Rite began selling directly to the major photo processing companies and their partners.
It was an easy transition for X-Rite to move from the photography market into print and packaging. By applying our densitometer technology to measuring density on paper, X-Rite created the 400 series. It was the most innovative product in the printing arena, and the ability to measure ink density on paper truly revolutionized print production.
By the late 1980’s X-Rite had introduced its first spectrophotometer and a colorimeter. With a range of densitometers, spectos and colorimeters in the X-Rite portfolio, the company had become the experts in color science.
Ted and Bernie understood the importance of color consistency in quality control processes. It seemed that regardless of the industry, manufacturers struggled to accurately and consistently reproduce color.
In the decades that followed, X-Rite continued to focus on innovation by developing color measurement instruments and software for the automotive, retail paint, plastics, textiles, home furnishings, and graphics arts industries. Along the way, we made strategic acquisitions, including GretagMacbeth, Munsell Color Company, and Pantone, to expand the breadth of our color solutions and become the global leader in both the art and science of color.
What’s next for X-Rite?
X-Rite Pantone still embodies the entrepreneurial spirit upon which Ted, Bernie, and the founding partners built the company by continuously developing new technologies to communicate, evaluate, and manage color.
Watch for an upcoming post from Ron Voigt, X-Rite’s President. He will share insight on some of the ways we are helping our customers keep up with the speed of innovation, including our current focus on color and appearance digitization.