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Color: Science and Art

Is color science or art?

To A&E color is both science and art.  Since we recognize that our customers’ special colors may make the difference between best sellers and outlet stores, we make sure that the artistic renderings of our color specialists are always backed by science.  To better understand color lets’ start at the beginning.

What is color?

Color is the perception of reflected light, expressed as hue, lightness, and saturation.  It is the visual sensation which helps one differentiate between otherwise similar objects.  Hue is the gradation between colors which allows them to be classified as Red, Yellow, Green, or Blue or any of the intermediates between any two of the above contiguous pairs.  Lightness is the dimension of the color of an object by which the object appears to reflect more or less of the incident light.  Saturation is the degree of difference from a neutral gray for a color having the same lightness.  Sometimes decribed as the purity of the color.

How does the human eye interpret color?

To see color, three things must be present:  light, an object and and an observer.  Light bounces off the object and is perceived by the observer as a color, whether magenta, maize or mauve.

But how do we see different colors? Several things can influence how we see different colors including a variation in the source of the light, a variation in the object itself or a variation in the observer.

A variation in light source: Changes in the light source can significantly affect color.  It can mean the difference between a soft cantaloupe on a store rack or a burnt orange in the mid day sun.   When viewing color, a specific light source should be specified.  Common light sources include Daylight 65 (D65), TL 84, Cool White Fluorescent (CWF) and Incandescent A.

A variation in the object: For garments or other sewn products, such changes typically include differences in the dyes used, differences in the material composition of the objects and differences in fabric construction.

A variation in the observer:   Many different factors can influence or change an observer’s color perception.  These changes can be due to health factors and medications, mood, emotions or fatigue, inherent differences between two different observers, and the environment in which the colors are observed.

Color Measurement

To assist in quantifying color differences, measurement systems have been developed.  By assigning each color a location in color space, we can measure in real numbers the difference between two colors.   There are numerous color spaces available, but the most common in textile applications is CIE L*a*b* and CMC.

Benefits of Color Measurement

In addition to converting object colors to real numbers to quantify color differences, color measurement facilitates color consistency, color matching and color communication.  Color matching is critical to success in the color business.  Speed, accuracy and feedback are core components to successful matching and satisfied customers.  Further, the global supply requirements of the sewn product market require the instantaneous communication of color formulas and standards from one side of the world to the other.  Color measurements allow for this data to be transmitted exactly where it needs to be, right on time.

Common Color Misconceptions

Dye lots can be perfect matches:  In reality each dye lot has a color “fingerprint” that makes each lot unique.  While there may be no perceptible color difference to a trained eye, there are color differences that can be measured on every dye lot for any dyeing process.

All colors are achievable on all fibers: Due to the actual chemistry used in dye synthesis, there are limited ranges of colors that can be achieved on each type of dyed fiber.  These ranges are different from fiber to fiber, for example cotton and polyester.

The color of an object never changes: To see color, there must be three components, an object, a light source, and an observer.  Changes in any of these three can cause a color to be seen differently.  Specifically relating to light, there is a phenomena of color inconstancy where an object changes its color simply by being moved to a different type of light.  If two colors match in one light source, but due to color inconstancy of one or both of the objects, the same colors do not match under a different light source, this phenomenon is called metamerism.

One will know if they have a color deficiency (also known as being color blind): Many people with a color deficiency do not know until they are tested or there is some defining event which makes them aware of the deficiency.  While we do not all see color the same way, many people with slight to moderate color deficiency can identify colors as they were able to learn these as children.  It is very rare that a person have no color vision and be unable to identify any colors.  Color tests are available to identify the type and severity of particular color vision deficiencies.


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Through its global network, A&E’s products are manufactured in 22 countries, distributed in 50 countries and sold in over 100 countries. A&E delivers exact color, superior quality and the most innovative products, right where they are needed. Touch or click here to locate your contact.

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