Why Colour Matching and Lighting Go Hand in Hand

Lighting conditions have a huge impact on colour perception. Since it is not always possible to proof colours in their exact end-use environment, there are some methods helping designers, brand owners, manufacturers and production staff to make sure that a print’s colours match under every light source.

colour matching

Colour and lighting go together like peas and carrots. After all, our perception of colours differ depending on the direction of light. The internet phenomenon #TheDress illustrates this very well. A picture of this garment went viral back in 2015 when the online community discussed whether it was white and gold, or blue and black. Whereas it was no question that it was blue and black for some users, others struggled to see it the way it really looked like.

It Is All About the Light

To be honest: Lighting conditions do not always trigger controversial optical illusions, but indeed they do affect the colour seen. Another example: Think back to when you chose a paint colour for your home – applied to the wall it did not look the way you intended almost certainly. Printing experts also have to deal with such problems. In order to avoid that a print’s colours appear to match in one, but differ in another lighting situation, proofing it in their exact end-use environment is the best way to go. Unfortunately this is not always possible, so that accuracy and consistency of proofing need to be ensured in other ways throughout the entire supply chain.

Adhering to ISO 3664 (mainly used in the graphic arts and photographic industries) or ASTM D1729 (adopted by branches such as the plastics, paints, textiles, and automotive sector) helps designers, brand owners, manufacturers and production staff to maintain colour expectations. These standards require to meet strict specifications with regard to colour quality, light intensity, evenness of illumination, viewing/illumination geometry, and surrounding conditions.

Colour Matching Support

Therefore all stakeholders have various and easy means at their disposal, e.g.:

A Properly Prepared Working Area

… never hurts. In order to provide for the best possible viewing conditions make sure that the surface in the colour-matching area reflects as neutrally as possible. Ideally, you should renounce brightly coloured or reflective clothing and paint walls the ISO-standard neutral grey. Additionally, remove other light sources and ensure lightbulbs are evenly spreading light across the area. Do not forget to regularly change the lightbulbs for consistent light intensity!

Special Colour Matching Tools and Technologies

… that overcome the limits of the human eye are, for instance, spectrophotometers or Pantone’s Lighting Indicator stickers, just to name two technical tools for colour matching. Spectrophotometers are colour measurement devices able to determine the light reflected from the object at each wavelength or in each wavelength range, including wavelengths that can be sensed by the human eye. Another way to take the guess work out of colour matching are Pantone’s Lighting Indicator stickers. Under standardised lighting they inform you whether your viewing conditions are right for accurate colour evaluation, specification and matching. You simply have to attach the stickers to a design or production file and compare them. Matching colours indicate that your lighting conditions are ideal.

Do you know of other ways of colour matching? Which industry standards do you rely on to guarantee quality?