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5 Steps to a Successful Color Quality Control Program

June 27, 2019 by Tim Mouw

Are you wasting too much time and money on incorrect color? Even if you use the best color measurement tools available, your color will still fail without quality control. 


Quality control (QC) means verifying the color you specify is the same color you manufacture, throughout production. Setting up a 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.


Ci6x and SpectraLight QC

Five Important Components of a Quality Control Program


1. Quantify Color using a Spectrophotometer


Human vision is subjective, which leads to communication errors and confusion. A little brighter, a touch bluer, or a smidge darker are impossible to achieve without hours of trial and error. Measuring color with an instrument such as a spectrophotometer instead of just evaluating by eye can dramatically reduce that wasted time.


A spectrophotometer captures and evaluates color by filtering light into very narrow bands of color, which pass back up through the instrument’s optics and into a receiver to be analyzed. The spectral reflectance curve provided by a spectrophotometer is commonly known as the color’s “fingerprint” because it is unique to that color. Comparing spectral data is the most accurate way to quantify color. Learn more about the different types of spectrophotometers and which is right for your application.


2. Choose an Acceptable Color Tolerance

A tolerance is the amount of acceptable difference between the color you hope to achieve (called the target or standard) and the color you produce (the sample). The size of the tolerance you choose is important. If your tolerance is too tight, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to hit an unachievable target. But if your tolerance is too large, you’ll approve colors that your customer will reject. 


Instrumentation QC Bundle X-Rite Promotion


Tolerancing is a hefty topic. Download our free whitepaper, or watch our on-demand webinar, to learn how to select the right color model (the most common color models are L*a*b* and L*C*h°), choose the right tolerancing method, and make your tolerances actionable.  


3. Analyze Color using QC Software 

QC software can help you compare production color against standards, using tolerances to determine pass/fail status, notify you if it starts to drift, and help you figure out what you need to do to bring it back into tolerance. It can also track trends to generate historical reports, which is especially helpful when you’re working with a global supply chain because it keeps everyone informed and accountable. 


Color iQC is our popular QC solution. Simply enter your target color data, select a tolerance, and measure color throughout production. The software will do the rest. 


4. Visually Evaluate Color by Eye

Visually comparing the color you produce against the target color is the first line of color evaluation. While it may be sufficient for less stringent color applications, it also leaves the door open for error and disagreement with your customers and suppliers. That’s because many people are not properly trained to visually evaluate color, and different lighting conditions can lead to variable assessments, and everyone sees color differently. 

In fact, one in every 13 men and one in every 300 women exhibit some type of color deficiency. Everyone who is involved in visual evaluation should take – and pass – the FM 100 Hue Test because a quality control person with sub-par color vision will make bad decisions. To find out if your color vision passes the test, check out our online color challenge, and share it with your friends and colleagues! (It’s fun, but not a substitute for the real FM 100 Hue Test.)


Hue Test 


5. Evaluate Color Under Controlled Lighting

Viewing a sample in the parking lot is not considered standard D65 lighting. Natural daylight is dynamic. To have it agree with standard lighting you can only evaluate between 11am and 2pm using North Sky Daylight. What if it’s a cloudy day? And what does third shift do?


The best way to know how your assembled products will look once they enter the world is to use controlled lighting in a light booth. The benefit of a calibrated light booth like the Judge QC and SpectraLight QC is that they come with light sources that agree with CIE standard illuminant values, which are used for calculating colorimetrics in QC software. When everything agrees you can make confident color decisions. 


How to Get Started

You may think you’re doing everything right, but if you (or worse, your customers) are rejecting a lot of products, then there’s more you should know. Education is the solution. From eLearning to national seminars to customized on-site training, we can teach you everything you need to know to establish accurate and effective color control.


While the investment in the tools for a quality program may seem overwhelming, not investing will actually cost you more in the long run. We can even evaluate your current color workflow and provide ROI suggestions to pay for your investment quickly. (Yes, we really do that!) 

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