How To Improve Your Visual Color Evaluation

How To Improve Your Visual Color Evaluation

A version of this article originally appeared in X-Rite's blog on February 7th, 2017.

Color is a critical element in the manufacturing process but unfortunately, getting color right is much harder than it used to be and to make matters more complicated, brands are asking manufacturers to meet tighter tolerances.

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While advances in color technology – think metallic packaging, pearlescent finishes, custom fabrics and vibrant new colors – entice customers, they too also make it much more difficult to achieve consistency.

Take packaging for example. Store shelves that used to be lined with printed boxes now include foil pouches, blister packs, and multi-substrate displays. Color is especially difficult to control with reflective and translucent surfaces, and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.

From textiles to plastics to paint and coatings, the story is the same across every industry: color that used to pass muster is no longer good enough; brand managers and consumers are getting pickier. If the color doesn’t look right, consumers will pass right by the offending package for a competing brand, and the rejected products often end up as wasted inventory.

This is causing both brands and manufacturers a great deal of stress. Can you relate to the following questions?

  • Do you step outside to evaluate color in natural light?
  • Do you email photos for colleagues and executives to evaluate and approve?
  • Do you feel uncertain about which color you’re expected to produce?
  • Do you see color that used to be “good enough” now being rejected?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your visual evaluation program has room for improvement. Luckily it doesn’t require a lot of time, money, or effort to take the first step on the journey to consistent color.

Let’s take a look at the four most common places color goes wrong in visual evaluation programs and ways to combat these issues.

1 – The wrong lighting.

This image demonstrates why it’s important to evaluate color under standard lighting. See how the shade of red changes with the type of light?

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As the temperature of light changes so does our perception of color.

But what if you don’t know if the lighting in your office is standard? Don’t cross your fingers and hope. Using lighting indicator stickers are a better option to ensure consistency. Each sticker has two patches and if they match, it indicates that you’re working under natural daylight conditions. If not, you should move to a different light source before making color decisions.

Of course, these stickers won’t show you how your colors will look under the fluorescent, incandescent or LED lighting found in stores, offices, and homes. The best way to know how your finished packaging will look is to use a light booth.

Light booths don’t have to be a huge investment, and the payoff in fewer rejections will come fast.

2 – Less than perfect color vision.

Most people don’t know that they have some type of color deficiency, but it is incredibly common. In fact, about one in every 13 men and one in every 300 women exhibit some type of color deficiency.

 This is the Ishihara Color Vision Test. If you don’t see a “6” in the left circle and a “2” in the right, you probably suffer from some type of color deficiency.

This is the Ishihara Color Vision Test. If you don’t see a “6” in the left circle and a “2” in the right, you probably suffer from some type of color deficiency.

This is the Ishihara Color Vision Test. If you don’t see a “6” in the left circle and a “2” in the right, you probably suffer from some type of color deficiency.

If you’re responsible for making color decisions, you really should take the physical test. If you’re just curious, the online color challenge is a fun, fast way to understand your color vision acuity.

3 – The wrong physical standards.

If you use physical standards, that’s great! They’re a precise way to communicate and evaluate color as long as you follow a couple basic guidelines.

First, they need to be made from the right material. Since material behaves differently with pigments, inks, or dyes, you need a standard that’s made from the same material to make good color decisions – a huge point of frustration for many manufacturers.

But, just like everything, physical standards are subject to dirt, smudges, and fading so it is important to keep your physical standards clean and away from light, ensuring that they are always correct and ready to use.

4 – Inconsistent device color.

If you’ve ever walked into an electronics showroom and noticed the wall of new TVs showing completely different color, you already know inconsistent device color is a problem. Yet many of us don’t make that same connection when we use our handheld devices or computers to make color decisions. Think about it: did your camera capture the right color? Is the person you’re sending it to for approval seeing the right color on their screen?

Although sending photos electronically is not the best way to make color decisions, if sharing physical samples isn’t feasible, it will help to calibrate all of the devices involved.

Do you rely solely on what you see with your own eyes?

Today’s consumer and brands expect color consistency throughout the value chain. If the color doesn’t look right, consumers will right pass by the offending package or product for a competing brand.

Great color is an ongoing journey. Although new substrates and manufacturing processes may be adding chaos to your color control program now, color tools are also getting smarter. Take advantage of all there is to offer and get your color under control, ensuring both brand and consumer satisfaction.

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