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A Guide to Color Spectrophotometer Best Practices

Hands inserting a sample into a Datacolor Spectro 1000 spectrophotometer.

In the world of color, the game-changing impact of a color spectrophotometer cannot be understated. Across diverse industries—from textiles and apparel to paint and coatings to masterbatch and plastics— a color spectrophotometer can help businesses streamline their color decisions, create efficiencies across the supply chain, cut costs, and enhance product quality.

But, what if you could get even more out of this indispensable digital color management tool?

Any sophisticated piece of equipment requires routine maintenance and specific conditions to perform at its optimal level. The Datacolor spectrophotometer is no exception. Factors like temperature, humidity, calibration frequency and proper maintenance impact the quality of your color measurements. Create the right environment for the must-have color spectrophotometer, and it will deliver nothing short of superior results in return.

What’s happening in the air around your color spectrophotometer?

The environment in which your color spectrophotometer operates plays an integral role in achieving precise and reliable color measurements.  A stable temperature is critical for optimal instrument performance. Likewise, direct sunlight, even in a temperature-controlled room, can heat the color spectrophotometer and result in inaccurate measurements.

Another key factor to achieving optimal atmospheric conditions: maintaining a non-condensing, stable level of humidity that doesn’t dip below 20% or rise above 85%. Air quality is equally important. Contaminants like chemical vapors and smoke can reduce the operational life of the sphere and gradually erode the long-term accuracy of the instrument.

Even the equipment’s power source can impact thermal drift. Aim to deliver continuous power, if possible, to avoid the inevitable changes in ambient temperature that occur when the instrument warms up.

Thermochromic changes—variations in pigments and dyes due to temperature fluctuations—jeopardize the accuracy of your instrument’s color measurement capabilities. Whenever a change in temperature is detected, be sure to re-measure the standard before measuring production samples. The latest family of high-end Datacolor spectrophotometers, the Datacolor 1000 and 700 families, also come equipped with the ability to perform sample temperature measurements.

Calibrate, recalibrate (and then calibrate again)

The photometric scale of your spectrophotometer is calibrated to specific standards. Carefully maintaining those calibration standards is paramount to achieving accurate color measurement. Integral to this process is the storage, use and cleaning of the instrument’s calibration tiles. To ensure flawless precision in color measurement by spectrophotometer, keep the black, white and green calibration standards free of debris and undamaged. The white tile, in particular, requires gentle handling when cleaning. Any dust or dirt in the black trap must be cleaned with compressed air.

Beyond cleaning, consider recalibrating your color measurement instrument more often. While the standard recommendation may be to calibrate daily, recalibrating every two to four hours—and immediately prior to a particularly important measurement task—can improve performance. Frequent calibration reduces the risk of drift errors caused by fluctuations in temperature, light source and other atmospheric factors.

Datacolor Spectro 1000 spectrophotometer.

The correct way to measure color samples

Once you’ve controlled for environmental variations, be sure to prepare and measure all samples correctly. Samples—and how we measure them—vary by industry, but an example from the world of textiles offers a window into the myriad considerations required to set the stage for a successful sample measurement.

  1. Translucent materials: When light can pass through a sample, it must be folded, wound or stacked. This ensures the measurement isn’t affected by background colors that might seep through a non-opaque fabric or yarn.
  2. Directional orientation: Samples with directional orientations require careful measurement to avoid errors. Position the samples using the same orientation or take multiple measurements at four different orientations—precisely 90 degrees apart—and average the results.
  3. Non-uniform colors: Samples with texture or color variation across the sample should be measured multiple times. Reposition the sample between each measurement, and calculate an average of the data.
  4. Viewing area: Aim to use the largest viewing area possible to facilitate an average of any color variations throughout the sample.

Woman measuring color on a textile sample using a Datacolor spectrophotometer.

Why consistency is so important in color measurement by spectrophotometer

Today’s supply chain typically includes offices and manufacturing facilities scattered across continents. To minimize color inconsistency in the finished product, the color measurement instruments used throughout an organization—and across its global supply chain—must produce compatible results.

Datacolor’s spectrophotometer instruments have a high degree of inter-instrument agreement. What does that mean? Instruments operating at different stops along a transcontinental supply chain can communicate with each other and produce consistent color. Linking instruments narrows the range of Delta E tolerances to drive precise color results.

The importance of instrument maintenance checks

You’ve controlled the environment. You’ve calibrated your equipment. Now what? Like a standard oil change or periodic tire rotation for an automobile, your color measurement instruments require attention in the form of regular maintenance and testing. Skipping routine checks by your Datacolor service professional could mean your Datacolor spectrophotometer isn’t operating to specification. It is essential to keep up with instrument maintenance to ensure the integrating sphere of your device meets reflectance guidelines.

The spectrophotometer is a precision instrument designed to measure colors within a particular range of tolerances. Following these best practices will ensure the best possible results. For questions about how to optimize your color measurements, don’t hesitate to contact our team.

People working together in a conference room.

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