12 Frequently Asked Questions About Color Management

You asked, we answered. Here are some of the most common questions we receive about color management.


My instrument readings aren’t consistent—what’s wrong?

For samples with inconsistent color and/or surface effects, measure them multiple times (rotating and repositioning the sample between reads to increase the effective area measured), with data averaged. Inconsistent (or irregular) samples can yield different measurements, depending on what part of the sample is measured. This measurement variability can be greatly reduced by measuring the sample multiple times and averaging the results, moving the sample between measurements.


What if I have multiple company locations measuring color?

Whether you’re operating in three, 30 or 300 locations and whether you’re in the same state or country or across the globe, here are some best practices for the most effective and accurate color control.


  1. Wherever possible, use the same or similar instruments throughout your production chain. Having inter-instrument agreement is important to ensure your samples and products are as close as possible no matter where in the world you’re testing.
  2. Keep all instruments regularly serviced and calibrated, and maintain them all according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
  3. Store and measure your standards and samples in a controlled environment.
  4. Calculate the variation from standard for individual instruments.
  5. Choose “close tolerance” spectrophotometers for the highest possible precision. Accurate instruments are necessary of course, but you also need to consistently follow best practice guidelines when taking sample measurements.
  6. Closely monitor performance of the instruments to ensure healthy fleet


How long can I expect my spectrophotometer to last?

Ask yourself this: if the service contract for your current spectrophotometer has expired you might want to consider trading it in for a newer model. Because color precision and consistency should be of the utmost importance to your business, ensuring your instrument(s) is performing up to standards should be a top priority.

Whether you have a Datacolor spectrophotometer or a non-Datacolor instrument, we’ll accept it and offer you a discount towards a new machine. Here’s more information about our trade-in program.

Do I really need a color measurement instrument? Why can’t I just evaluate colors with my eyes?

Although we can all agree on the general color of some objects – like grass is green, the sky is blue, and some roses are red – we all see colors differently. There are many physical (light source, background, altitude, temperature) and personal factors (age, medications, memory, mood) that affect how we perceive colors. So no, unfortunately your eyes cannot be nearly as accurate as a spectrophotometer. This is why it’s important to have machines to evaluate colors and ensure that all samples and products are a good match. This becomes particularly important when you have offices around the world, then your inter-instrument agreement validates color matching no matter who or where they are.


How do I determine how close of a match I need for my colors?

Delta E, or the color difference from one measurement to another. And your tolerance for these differences depends on several factors. Because color matching is an indicator of quality, you want to ensure the closest match every time. However, the level of uniformity may vary based on color, material, business need or more. We’ve outlined a few considerations when determining your own Delta E tolerances at work.


Can I measure more than one color at a time?

As a matter of fact, yes you can. This is quite common in the textiles and apparel industries because not all fabric is solid colors. With so many designs and patterns and materials, it’s important to be able to measure these, otherwise once ‘unmeasurables’ easily. Datacolor’s SpectraVision was designed specifically to measure these ‘unmeasurables’.


How do I know if a material is metameric?

You can perform either a visual or instrumental test for metamerism. The visual test requires that you confirm that two objects match with a primary light source, then use a secondary light source . If they still appear to be the exact same color then they are probably not metameric samples, but if they differ than that’s an indication of metamerism. Similarly, the instrumental test uses a spectrophotometer to perform a similar test with different illuminant/observer combination. If the curves differ then it’s likely metamerism. For more information on metameric materials and metamerism, visit our knowledgebase.

What are the different types of color measurement instruments?

There are different types of color measurement instruments, including benchtop instruments (where you need to be able to bring a sample to the machine) and portable instruments (where you can take the machine with you on-site). Depending on the size and type of samples you have and need measured, this will dictate the type of machine that’s best suited for your needs. This handy online tool will help you compare benchtop instruments.

Are colorimeters and spectrophotometers the same thing?

Both instruments measure color but in different ways and to varying extents. A colorimeter simulates how the human eye perceives color. That is, it’s a measurement tool that objectively evaluates color based light passing through the primary filters (red, blue, green). A spectrophotometer performs full-spectrum color measurement in order to generate color data beyond what’s possible by the human eye.

How do I know if my instrument needs maintenance?

Did you know your spectrophotometer can only provide accurate color data if it’s properly maintained? Both the Datacolor 500 and Datacolor 800 instrument families let you know onscreen when maintenance is required.


If the code is .green. – everything’s running smoothly

If the code is .orange. – you’ll need to perform maintenance soon

If the code is .red. – your white tile, or your instrument. is no longer certified


You should also follow the manufacturer’s maintenance and testing recommendations, maintain consistent temperature and humidity, recalibrate frequently and maintain calibration standards. Here is more information on how to care for your spectrophotometer.

Do I really need to calibrate my spectrophotometer?

A resounding yes! To have the most accurate readings, your spectrophotometer needs to be calibrated on a daily basis per the manual. This includes maintaining your calibration tiles. Not only is this important to getting the most accurate and reliable readings but also to optimize inter-instrument agreement.


Are there more affordable solutions for managing color?

The industry is continuously evolving and coming up with low-cost, portable, simple-to-use devices that are geared toward quick color look-up and on-the-go quality control applications. Datacolor offers two such products: the ColorReader ($99) and the ColorReaderPRO ($249). These ultra-portable devices are Bluetooth®-connected and provide highly accurate color-matching performance.


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