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Return to Sophicolor U Sophicolor U Color In Production : Intro + Part I

Our goal with Sophicolor U is to help all those within the apparel/home design and production community by providing color inspiration, production guidance, and technical information relevant to their everyday needs.

You will find our blog series organized in three categories:

  • Color Inspiration and Trends: Our creative clients are looking for color inspiration, trends, and fresh palettes that are relevant to their product markets.
  • Color in Production: People that are new to the color or design team can look to our production guidance section for important information regarding color. Here we will review illuminants vs light sources, how an object modifies light, and the observer of the color. How we use digital data and where the data comes from.
  • Color Technology: Here is where we will provide more technical color information based on color physics. For even more information, we will have a list of all resources and will cite the source and page number within the blogs.

Part I – Let’s define color!

Color is what we see, the result of the physical modification of light by colorants as detected by the human eye (called a response process) and interpreted in the brain (called a perceptual process, which introduces psychology. (Berns, 1)

This definition of color from author Roy S. Berns emphasizes the unique experience of color observation and light modification. Essentially, that is exactly what is happening when we view a color, light is being modified. In the absence of light, color does not exist.

The light source is generally one of the first elements noted when viewing color, followed by object and the observer (viewer). Color descriptions are often given in this order. (For example, Illuminant D65, fabric #224 and the visual evaluation). The light source used to view color is very important. Ambient or natural light should never be used to evaluate color for producing products. Daylight is never the same day by day or location.

There are several “illuminants” that have been mathematically defined and standardized for viewing colors. These standardized illuminants are available in light booths. Best practices dictate evaluating/viewing color in a light booth with standard illuminants so that the person trying to match the color can duplicate the same lighting conditions.

Light Sources - Illuminants

There are many illuminants that have been standardized by the CIE (Commission International de L’Eclairage), which is recognized as the international authority on light and color. Here are some widely used light sources:

  • D65 Daylight color temperature 6500
  • D50 Daylight color temperature 5000
  • Ultralume 30 color temperature 3000

How do materials modify light?

When light strikes an object one or more things pertinent to color happen:

  • Transmission – If light can go through the object essentially unchanged, it is transparent. If the object is colorless most of the light goes through the object except a small amount that is reflected from the surface. (Berns) We will talk more about this when we dive into dyes and other colorants.
  • Absorption – In addition to being transmitted, light may be absorbed or lost as visible light. (If a very large part of visible light is absorbed, we can assume it was converted to heat). If all the light is absorbed, the object is black and considered opaque. (Berns)
  • Scattering – Some light is absorbed and re-emitted at the same wavelength but now parts of the light travel in many different directions. If the scattering is so intense that no light passes through the object or material, it is said to be opaque. If part of the light is scattered and part passes through the material, it is said to be translucent. (Berns)

Spectral Reflectance Curve – This is the signature of the color, essentially a line graph indicating the amount of light reflected and absorbed at each wavelength in the visual spectrum. The visual spectrum is the area of wavelength between 400 and 700 nanometers frequency.

A graph of the spectral reflectance curve of a color.

Fluorescent materials absorb energy from the non-visual spectrum and emit the energy in the visual spectrum.

The Observer

There are two observers that are acknowledged in color science: a human observer or a standard observer. Color is a visual perception and has a psychological perception as well. People have different numbers of cones and rods in their eyes, many people are color deficient in certain areas. The angle that a colored object is viewed also affects the visual perception.

In order to produce meaningful data from spectrophotometer software, it is necessary to have mathematical information about how people see color. People can perceive color very differently, so only individuals with average color discrimination were studied. Many tests were performed on a large group of test subjects, and the result was the mathematical definition of the standard observer.

Thank you for reading Part I of our Sophicolor U Master Class: Let’s Define Color! Next, we will be discussing the methods used to describe color. If you have any questions at all regarding this subject, please contact us at info@sophicolor.com.

Citations: Berns, Roy S. Billmeyer and Saltzman's Principles of Color. Third ed., Wiley-Interscience, 2000. “About the CIE.” CIE, https://cie.co.at/about-cie.

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