To measure color means to capture the amount of light that is radiated, transmitted, or reflected by a color sample and quantify it as spectral data. Color measurement is more precise than visual evaluation because of human limitations – everyone perceives color differently. For color critical work, a color measurement device is necessary to identify, quantify, communicate, and differentiate colors.
There are two types of color measurement devices: colorimeters and spectrophotometers. A colorimeter “sees” color like the human eye and can determine a color’s location in color space by quantifying the values of red, green, and blue. A spectrophotometer offers more accurate color measurement by capturing color across the entire visible spectrum and filtering the light into very narrow bands of color. These bands pass up through the instrument’s optics and into a receiver where they are analyzed and recorded as the color’s unique reflectance curve. Although a densitometer can read process colors—cyan, magenta, yellow and black, the CMYK of four-color printing—it measures density rather than color and is not a color measurement device.
Color measurement devices can capture and quantify color on just about anything, including liquids, plastics, paper, metal, and textured fabrics. The most popular color measurement geometry is the 0°/45° (pronounced zero forty-five) or 45°/0°, which excludes gloss from the measurement to most closely replicates how humans see color. A 0°/45° device can measure color on most flat, matte, smooth surfaces. Another common geometry is the sphere, which can include gloss as part of the measurement. It is ideal for formulating ink, pigment, and dye recipes. Industries using special effects like pearlescents and metallics (such as nail polish or the finish on cars that appear to change colors depending on your viewing angle) use a multi-angle color measurement device to capture the way the color looks at different angles.
Color measurement devices are used in many industries, including electronics, consumer goods, textiles and apparel, food, photography, paint, plastics, and even pharmaceuticals. Brand owners and designers use color measurement devices to specify and communicate color, and manufacturers use them to measure a target color and compare it with the color they produce to ensure it is correct. Manufacturers also use the spectral data from a color measurement device to evaluate the color of incoming raw materials, formulate colorants like dyes and inks, and ensure the color of parts manufactured at different locations match at assembly.
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