What’s the Difference Between a Colorimeter and a Spectrophotometer?
Choosing the right solution
Want to Get Color Right?
Get on the Right Color Management Wavelength with Monthly Insights from 10,000+ Color Professionals Around the World.
Colorimeters and spectrophotometers are the two types of color measurement instruments that are used to capture, analyze, and communicate color. In just about any industry where color accuracy is important, you’ll find that color measurement is an essential part of the production process. The difference between a colorimeter and spectrophotometer is often a point of confusion for many color scientists. As you expand your color management expertise, we’re here to help you answer: What’s the difference between the two instruments? Is one better than the other? Which one’s for you?
Understanding the factors that distinguish a colorimeter from a spectrophotometer can help you determine which tool best optimizes your color management workflow.
A colorimeter is a tristimulus color measurement tool that provides an objective evaluation of color characteristics based on light passing through the primary filters of red, green, and blue. It simulates how the human eye perceives color.
Compact size and high mobility
Low-cost option for simple applications
How it works
The sample is illuminated at a 45° angle by an internal light source.
Light passes through the tristimulus filters, representing the amount of red, green, and blue light reflected from the sample.
Measurements from the filter are quantified into RGB values, which simulate the way human eyes are sensitive to light.
Straightforward color identification
Comparison of similar colors and shades
Measurement of color strength
Measurement of color fastness
Color quality control
Source of reference for determining color standards
Assessment of non-metameric color batches
A spectrophotometer is a more complex color measuring instrument that factors in light intensity as a function of the color. It performs full-spectrum color measurement, as opposed to a colorimeter’s tristimulus procedure, and generates color data that’s beyond observation by the human eye.
Colorimeter or Spectrophotometer? Choosing the right one for you:
Deciding the right color measurement device for you depends on your desired application, price range, and instrument complexity. While a colorimeter may be more economical, it only measures the absorbance of specific colors and cannot identify metamerism. It may be ideal for those seeking basic color measurement or control without complex color analysis.
In contrast, a spectrophotometer may offer much more precision and advanced features, but it tends to be a more expensive option. For color management professionals seeking highly accurate color data, digital color communication, and tight color consistency throughout production, this may be the more useful instrument. Be sure to take your industry into consideration when deciding which instrument best supports your color workflow.