Colorimeters vs. Spectrophotometers

In everyday life, a wide variety of colors are present, and these colors play very important roles. However, unlike length or weight, color is subjective, making it improbable that people would respond the same when asked to describe the same object. For example, if we say “red car” or “red apple” to people, they will imagine different shades of red because their color perception and past experiences will be different. This is the main issue with color, but advances in modern science and technology have helped solve this issue. With the introduction of color measurement instruments such as colorimeters and spectrophotometers, we are able to quantify color. These highly technically advanced instruments are able to assign numerical values to help quantify, control and define color. This blog will help explain the difference between colorimeters and spectrophotometers, that are among the most popular color measurement instruments.

Colorimeters are sophisticated color instruments that performs “tristimulus” color measurement based on light passing through three primary filters, red, green, and blue, which simulate the way the human eye is sensitive to light. Tristimulus color measurement provides data on how much of these three components are present in light reflected or transmitted by a product. Such data may be used to adjust color components or determine if the color of a manufactured product matches the standard or reference.

A tristimulus colorimeter has features such as comparatively low price, compact size, superior mobility and simple operation. Colorimeters can determine colorimetric values, under a single illuminant easily and are used primarily for reflectance measurements. However, a colorimeter is not appropriate for complex color analysis such as metamerism, colorant strength, or recipe formulation.

Spectrophotometers are the most precise, accurate and sophisticated color measurement instruments available for color quality control and color formulation. They are available as bench-top models for quality control and research labs, or portable for factory or field work. Spectrophotometers perform full spectrum color measurement. They measure the spectral reflectance or transmittance of an object across the full spectrum of visible wavelengths, from 400mm to 700mm. The instruments’ greater specificity makes them the instrument of choice for color formulation, specification of standards and tolerances, inter-plant color communication and quality control of color.

A spectrophotometer has high precision and increased versatility. It is suitable for more complex color analysis because it can determine the spectral reflectance at each wavelength. However, spectrophotometers can be more expensive than colorimeters. Always consider how accurate each color must be measured before selecting the type of instrument to use in a specific application.

Want to learn more about color measurement? Watch our two-part online color seminar about the essentials of color science and the elements of an effective color process within research and manufacturing environments.

View Part 1 21:00 min

View Part 2 41:00 min


CR-400 Colorimeter Applications

The colorimeter is mainly used in production and inspection applications for color difference measurements.

CM-5 Spectrophotometer Applications

The spectrophotometer is used for high-precision analysis and accurate color management mainly in laboratories and research and development applications.

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