Measuring Color Contrasts

Color measurement is an extremely varied field, with applications across the sciences and engineering. However, one place where many people don’t expect to find color measurement and analysis to occur is in designing way finding and navigation systems for indoor locations. It’s not uncommon for modern buildings to feature complex internal geometries. These buildings, such as public gyms, shopping centers, and factories can have specific paths that occupants should follow. For instance, workers inside of a factory must generally follow clearly defined paths to avoid causing interruptions in the flow of materials around the factory and, more importunity, to minimize their opportunity for injury. Generally, the internal way finding systems of these buildings will consist of a combination of colored markers, such as Safety Yellow, along the floors and, also, accompanying signage. While it’s important that these way finding systems are bright and vivid in comparison to their environment, it’s perhaps more important that they have a high color or noticeable contrast to the surrounding environmental colors. Contrast is essentially the amount of difference between two colors or between two objects. In regard to color, consider a high-quality black-and-white television. These televisions were popular due to the high contrast between the different shades of black and, because of this contrast; the images were quite sharp and distinctive. Similarly, internal way finding and signage systems inside of a building should have high color contrast – both between different elements of the system, and between the systems themselves. The surrounding environment aspects of a building that can cause friction with the comprehension of signs and other visual elements are referred to as “visual noise” and it is through the use of high-contrast visual elements that visual noise is reduced.

Measuring color contrasts is a relatively simple process, though the equipment and techniques employed to measure colors often require a little training and some background in color theory. However, with an understanding of the basics, and with a little practice, color contrasts can be measured effectively using a few simple steps:

Make sure you have the right equipment. Color measurement is a highly technical process, and there are many types of equipment that can be used to gain quantitative color measurements. Instruments such as colorimeters, spectrophotometers, and color analyzers all exist to measure and to analyze color within specific contexts. Speaking with a color measurement expert will help you choose the best tool for the job.

Make sure you have the correct sample colors. Color measurement usually works by analyzing a subject object and comparing it to a known color sample. The color samples are used because they have known, and documented, color properties. Knowing in advance the colors that need to be measured will help you choose the color samples, and this will go a long way in making sure you take accurate color readings.

When in doubt, ask an expert. Color analysis can sometimes come down to a few degrees of difference within a specific color wavelength. Because of this, making accurate judgments based on the information can sometimes require training and, more importantly, experience that only comes with being a professional color analysis technician. Thus, when safety is concerned, it’s often best to enlist the aid of a color analysis technician, who will have both the tools and the training to provide accurate color contrast analysis.

Regardless of the application, getting accurate and reliable color readings can be easy as long as you have the proper equipment and training. Learning the basics of color analysis can be enough for cases where color contrast is simple an aesthetic decision, however – if color is an aspect of a safety in a way finding system, it’s always best to ask the experts.

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