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A Total Approach To Color Management

True Color Communications For The Textile Industry In A Few Keystrokes

Although the word itself comes from Latin texere, to weave, textile now applies to a dazzling array of natural and synthetic materials. These include filaments, yarns, and threads and the many woven, knitted, knotted, and embroidered fabrics made from them as well as to nonwoven fabrics produced by mechanically or chemically bonding fibers. And all of these materials can now be produced in an equally dazzling array of colors. This, as everyone involved in the textile manufacturing process knows, is a challenge. From the bright red of a fashion designers insignia to the muted shades of a chair fabric cover, there are many reasons why color is difficult to reproduce. Much happens to change the color from the time a designer creates it to the time a retailer puts it on a store shelf. Chemicals in the dye process can change the color, so can the material on which color is applied. The subjective way we humans see and talk about color makes it very difficult to approve and deliver an exact shade, as well. The globalization of todays manufacturing operations also has created problems in communicating color. As the manufacturing locations have become more dispersed, the pressure to reduce the time between design and delivery of the finished product to the customer has increased. Color communication is a total approach to color -- from the time it is conceived as a design concept to the moment a consumer buys the finished product. The implications of a total approach to color for the textile industry constitute the subject of this article. The Color Evolution & The Human Element Naturally-occurring white light, or daylight, holds all the colors in the human visible spectrum. This phenomenon can be seen when a prism splits the light into its many component colors. Sir Isaac Newton is the first person known to report this effect in 1666. Since then, scientists, mathematicians, even artists, have sought to categorize and define color -- with the goal of effectively communicating color and with varying degrees of success. Communicating color has evolved from purely subjective descriptions of color by the viewer to mathematical theories used to create color matching and control functions that produce repeatable standards. The latter includes the classical equation by color measurement pioneers Kubelka and Munk as well as later theories which sought to perfect color matching through models based on tristimulus (three coordinate) or spectral (wavelength) data. Color system suppliers have successfully translated these mathematical formulas into sophisticated systems to help textile manufacturers, colorant suppliers, and retailers standardize the basically non-standard art of coloration all the way through the supply chain. Equations to deal with different substrates and dyes. Instruments to handle varying materials. Techniques to offset the variables of the dyeing process. Yet

challenges in communicating color have remained, primarily because humans remain a necessary part of the equation. Regardless of how many numbers are assigned to a color, we dont see in numbers. We cant visualize precisely what another person means by fire-engine red. Also, color is both a physical and psychological response to light. Each viewer brings a different response to the same stimulus. These differences can be due to age, fatigue, color vision defects, or experience. Consider how these human factors impact the color matching process for textile manufacturers in this typical scenario: the designer struggles to communicate precisely the color he or she has envisioned, using physical samples and describing how the proof should vary from the sample i.e., warmer, brighter, bluer. The manufacturer tries to match each sample, but still doesnt satisfy the design spec because the sample is only a starting point. Not only is the designer limited to feedback about the sample in the most subjective terms (e.g., by talking it through), but the sample the manufacturer was given to match may not be the same material as the final product. How often has it happened that you were given a paint chip or piece of plastic and asked to match its color on fabric? The fabric or yarn on which a dyestuff is applied affects perception of the finished color as surely as do the other considerations. The Global Market Impacts Color In addition to these very human factors, the globalization of textile manufacturing has presented a number of challenges relating to color measurement and color control. Near the end of the 20th century manufacturing processes have shifted from locations close to the design center to locations spread throughout the world. This further complicated the communication of the color standard to remote locations. Once the standard was matched, communicating color of the trial back to the design center also presented logistical difficulties. Communicating a color standard to distant locations was first done by sending physical standards. Although having a physical standard is highly desirable, the major disadvantages of this method of color communication are the time and expense it takes to create and distribute the color to multiple sites. Both the time and expense can be reduced by using commercially available libraries of colors. However, the designer has a greatly restricted palette from which to choose and may not be able to find the "right" color. Of course, there are companies that will produce custom color standards. Having a custom color standard ensures the designer of having the right color, but the lead times are often substantial. By the 1980's, textile leaders had already taken the second step in communicating color to distant locations. Physical standards were measured in one location and the "color" of the standard routinely distributed to other manufacturing plants in the form of spectral reflectance curves. A physical sample was still needed for visual reference, but the approval of batches was to the numbers. We are now taking the third step in communicating color computerization. If a physical standard exists, it can be measured and its color displayed on a calibrated monitor. Both the measurement data and the monitor color can be transmitted to another location.

A Digital Approach To Color Management Today, it is possible to approach and manage color differently. By employing the most advanced computer technology, color management systems have come full circle, closing the color communications loop quite literally from mind to market. What does this mean for todays textile industry? First, lets look at the potentially, significant business problems resulting from the color matching process described above, taking into account both the human error in communicating color and the long-distance logistics of :

The designer is unhappy having spent valuable time looking for physical samples and trying to describe how close production has come to matching the design color. The manufacturer is unhappy having borne the cost of making samples and express shipping them to the designer The retailer is unhappy having had to wait extended days or weeks during the trial and error process and/or rejecting the first shipment as off-color.

Digital sampling technology brings to this design-to-production process an ability to create and visualize color electronically and communicate it digitally. This breaks new ground across all industries, but is particularly important in textile applications where accurate color reproduction is critical to the delivery of a quality product.

The Benefits and Caveats of Digital Sampling The latest technological advances in color communications have yielded a powerful new set of computerized tools. In essence, textile manufacturers, retailers, and their suppliers now have desktop color communications at their disposal in ways not possible in the past. The benefits of digital sampling technology reach virtually all the way up the textile supply chain. Perhaps most helpful is the fact that color can be assessed visually and communicated digitally. The receiver gets more than a set of numbers rather, the receiver sees precisely the color on screen that corresponds to the numbers. Similarly, visual tolerances can be evaluated and set realistically. Everyone, for example, can see how far 1CMC unit is from a particular standard. Color standards can now be archived digitally, eliminating problems associated with fading, transfer, or handling. And the digital color data is ready for input to color matching or quality control software, as well as automatically available to the printer, or other end-user, once the colors have been approved. These standards then are digitally available for other uses such as QA and ISO tracking. Something to keep in mind however, is that not every computerized system will deliver

the level of digital sampling discussed here. What to look for? First, the monitors must be calibrated to such a precise extent that two or more monitors reproduce a color so precisely one can not visually detect a difference. A single monitor must be able to repeat color day after day, with the same precision. Second, the calibration must be device independent so that accurate RGB CIELAB conversion is permitted using virtually any monitor and the transfer of color is possible between any two monitors. The software must be designed to allow users to conveniently create, change and visually compare colors on screen. Once the on-screen color is created, the software then, in turn, should automatically compute reflectance and L,a,b data which is the digital signature of that color. The system should accept measurements by a spectrophotometer or input as L,a,b data and instantly transform the data into visual color on the screen for evaluation or adjustment. Color is universal and powerful. From ancient times to today, color frequently is the decisive factor in determining a products quality and appeal. The mastery of color in textiles encompasses many scientific laws and subjective factors -- appearance, light, object, and material. Today, progressive color system suppliers have combined the efforts of all professionals in the color field -- researchers, colorists, engineers and technicians -- to deliver a total approach to the profound art of textile color communication.
About the author Mr. Downes began his career as a research chemist for Burlington Industries. With Datacolor since 1989, Mr. Downes has held various key technical and commercial positions. Today, he serves as the company's Business Manager for Color Communication. Mr. Downes holds a BSc and MSc in Textile Chemistry from North Carolina State University as well as an MBA from Rider University in New Jersey.