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‘Phygital’ Color Systems: How to Get Colours Right in a Digital World

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In their first guest piece for WhichPLM, John Newton (Head of Color Technology) and Charlotte Dickens (Customer Success Manager) of Coloro, discuss the importance of blending digital and physical colour standards. Coloro is a universal colour system.

John is responsible for heading up developments within Coloro and ensuring that they are centered around improving color delivery with the use of technology; Charlotte is responsible for helping clients digitize their color process and ensuring that the Coloro service evolves in line with their ever-changing needs.

‘Sharing is good, and with digital technology, sharing is easy’

 – Richard Stallman

Color is a universal language, one that can be shared and enjoyed globally, with color being the ‘number one influencing factor in purchases for almost 93% of people.’

But are all elements of the supply chain equipped to ensure that we get it right when it comes to delivering the right color result? There are many developments that can enable brands and their suppliers to be at the cutting edge of color delivery and how we can now blend digital vs physical standards.

There is an ever-increasing pressure on color systems to have strong digital color standards to support the physical offering in order to remain essential to their markets’. Designers use digital CAD systems to create ranges and companies use PLM systems as part of their every day workflows, so it is crucial that creative and sourcing teams have the ability to utilise these tools without the risk of an inaccurate color match. With the market being so saturated and consumers having the pick of a wider variety of brands than ever, if a color is wrong when an item of clothing, a sofa or a new phone goes to market, a customer will simply go to a competitor brand for the color they are looking for.

Designers and creative teams will continue to use digital tools to design their collections, however it is the inaccuracy of sharing colors from physical to digital and across platforms that makes this such a complex topic.

So, what is a digital color standard?

A digital color standard is ‘an exact digital fingerprint of the color’ (John Newton: Head of Color Technology, Coloro). A common way that this reflectance data can be stored and read is in QTX Files, Datacolor proprietary format. QTX data can be read by Datacolor machines in various locations to deliver much more certainty that colors can be matched precisely between origination and delivery.

How dyeing managers use QTX Files

The QTX file format contains all relevant information for a dyers’ recipe prediction and color management software, including the reflectance data of the physical standard, and the original spectrophotometer reading conditions and settings. It is crucial to monitor all controllable environmental factors to ensure that you can reach the closest match possible. For instance, all of our color standards are conditioned for 2 hours under a specific light and under certain temperatures before they are measured to ensure an accurate average.

Using this data, a dyer can directly formulate dye recipes into the substrate and illuminants required to be matched. Once a lab dip is produced the digital standard can then be used to measure and assess color differences between the standard and the dyed lab-dip samples. Bulk fabric can then be produced with the digital standard being used again to assess the match achieved.

Getting QTX files to dyers quickly means they can start work on recipe formulation well before a physical standard arrives, improving both speed and accuracy in the dye house.

The journey from physical to digital and back again

As seen from the below workflow (focused on a fashion/textile process), the journey is long and drawn out, increasing the room for error. Errors at this stage can lead to elements, or all, of the process having to be repeated numerous times. It is crucial that conditions are controlled and measured at each step of the process in order to ensure as little risk as possible. With the correct use of digital standards, the color approval can be accelerated and, ultimately, save money and time in the process.

There are a number of key tips to reduce risk in this process.

  1. Spectrophotometers

Working with a color matching tool is the first way to ensure the closest accuracy when obtaining colors. The suite of Datacolor products, for examples, are an excellent way to improve your physical to digital process. While their large machines may represent a significant investment, even their ColorReaderPRO is a professional color matching solution that allows you to match quickly. By linking it up to your smart phone, you can syncrohnise it to color systems so that the closest color codes and names appear on screen.

By utilising tools like this, the time of the physical/digital journey can be reduced dramatically. Take for instance, a designer mapping out their new collection. Inspiration can come from a multitude of sources and it is crucial to have a tool that allows you to match at any point.

  1. LAB values

It is crucial not to overlook the importance of LAB and RGB values when color matching digitally. LAB is especially important as it is the ‘common denominator that communicates between the RGB and CMYK color space.’ As LAB values are completely independent from specific devices it is the only way you can translate color across markets, industries and devices.

LAB values should always be readily available from reputable color systems in order to make the process of selecting digital and physical colors as seamless as possible.

  1. ICC Profiles

A good ICC profile provides an ‘accurate description of the characteristics of a digital device or working colour space.’

Being able to accurately translate your digital data across platforms is crucial when designing. ICC profiles are a good way to ensure that the data is accurately calculated for each color.

Calibration across screens vs physical color will always vary, however with an ICC profile you can measure the gamut of screens to ensure that you are working with these standards as closely as possible.

Communication and improvement

All of these tips for achieving physical to digital standard quickly and accurately are only really valid if everyone involved in the creation, production and delivery of color can communicate clearly in a common language and has the knowledge to utilise these tools.

A common language, from design to delivery, enabled by a digitally led color system, an appropriate PLM and appropriate color matching tools are vital to enable for better color delivery and the reduction of delivery problems.

Whilst the journey from physical to digital is a challenging one, there are a number of easy steps, like those outlined above, that can be taken to ensure that it is as seamless as possible and to allow for better results for all players in the process.

*’Phygital’ is a term coined by WGSN The Vision.

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Lydia Hanson Lydia Hanson has been part of the WhichPLM team for over four years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.