A revolution in colour measurement?
Ultra-portable colour measurement devices could open up accuracy and reproducibility to a new generation of creatives, says Fogra.
Graphic arts certification and research body Fogra has recently tracked the rise of new, inexpensive and easy-to-use devices, known as ultra-portable colour measurement devices.
Colour management has traditionally been entrusted to the experts, but these devices could open up colour specification and communication to a range of new users, such as brand managers, designers and craftsmen, and kick-start a new era of simplified colour measurement and specification.
Not another spectrophotometer, some might say. But Fogra wants to see all those interested in producing accurate, reproducible colour, including creatives or non-professionals, to have a better grasp of colour. Is this new ecosystem of devices the answer? At a fraction of the price of those spectrophotometers conforming to all CIE and ISO standards, and linked to user-friendly smartphone apps, surely they should be welcomed as a democratisation of colour management.
There is an obvious consumer use-case of using these devices to match paint colours, from a competitor’s fan deck, for example, to replicate interior décor styles. In this sense, these mini-colorimeters or spectrophotometers are indicative rather than quality control devices.
But Fogra believes that the greatest benefit of these new ultra-portable devices is to allow creatives to define their expectations with greater accuracy than ever before. There are many ways for creative people to use, change and be inspired by colours, but they rarely do it in a precise way, with spectral files (e.g. CxF) and samples. These devices are a step in the right direction and their applications go wider than interior decoration, with the possibility of software add-ons in the future to add even more use cases.
But how good are these compact devices, such as the Colorix Colorcatch Nano, the Datacolor ColorReader Spectro and the Nix Spectro 2? Their aim is to enable reliable, exact colour identification and communication, not just for professionals who are well versed in the use of spectrophotometers, but to be as simple as possible for any layperson, whatever their technical abilities. Fogra next set out to define and measure the capabilities of these three machines in accuracy and precision by putting them to the test.
Usability options and technical features
Together, these devices showed a wide range of applications in design, branding, production, and reproduction. Each of these devices connect via Bluetooth or cable to smartphone apps. Reported data ranges from just CIELAB and RGB to values such as CIEXYZ and Lch. When making measurements, the devices might be calibrated either by rotating them, or applying a calibration tile.
The devices generally have a measurement geometry of 45 degrees viewing and zero degrees detection (or vice versa). The measurement aperture itself is a little different for each device. With the Colorix device, using the camera you can select the measurement aperture that you want between 0.3 mm square to 8 mm square, and the two other devices tool have measurement apertures of 6 mm and 5 mm.
Each device has a standout special feature different from the others that might be useful in determining your selection. For example, the Colorix Nano performs some measurements using a camera sensor, which enables an exact positioning of the field to be measured. Usefully, the Datacolor device is compatible with other devices in the whole Datacolor product family. And the Nix Spectro 2 gives some vibration and elimination feedback during the measurements and is already prepared for conditions such as dust and extreme temperatures. Since they don’t fit nicely any existing categories new classifications needs to be developed.
Before comparing the devices, Fogra had to define how reliable measurement would be judged.
A device that is accurate will have measured values that are close to these reference value. A device that is precise would lead to values that stay close together and are not scattered along the field. So Fogra compared the accuracy attributed between devices with the reference values. And it also analysed each device alone, to determine its repeatability and reproducibility, two crucial elements to assessing the quality or reliability of measuring devices.
Repeatability is where the exact identical same measurements, same conditions and same position are repeated and would hopefully lead to a closely gathered series of measured values.
Reproducibility takes into consideration minor changes, such as another operator making the measurement or a slightly different position of the lens on your object.
For assessing accuracy and repeatability, the Fogra team used the 72-colour patch Fogra MediaWedge 3.0. The wedge’s 72 colour patches, scaled for measuring devices at 1.8cm x 1.8cm, were printed on different substrates with different gloss levels and OBA levels.
As a comparison, the team used the mean values of four spectrophotometers commonly used in the print industry. Measurement modes M1 and M2 mode were used as a reference.
It was found that the devices were accurate and had plenty of potential, although there would need to be innovations in future to cope with a wide range of different surfaces, structures and materials. Many interesting features were available in the software that accompanies these devices, such as the calculation of colour visualisation of colour, harmony or inspirational palettes.
The low cost of these devices means that price will not the decisive factor in selection, but Fogra recommends that potential buyers should consider the accuracy of the device, where it fits into their existing workflow and how the system communicates and reports data.
For more information on this research contact Julie Klein at Fogra at firstname.lastname@example.org
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