A new way to measure colour

Exploring new portable colourimeter tools that have created new opportunities for accurate colour measurement
Janyne Leonardi and Elaina Klimek
September 05, 2019
By Janyne Leonardi and Elaina Klimek
A new way to measure colour
Graphic courtesy of Dr. Abhay Sharma
The world is surrounded by colour: From the animals and plants in nature, to the products we interact with everyday. Colour is a major qualifying component for various industries all over the world, and as a result, these colours are a very important part of our society. That is why it is so vital we understand how they are perceived, since colour perception is not an exact science, but an experience that happens on an individual level. An item’s perceived colour can drastically change depending on the individual’s vision and the surrounding light. This process of measuring colour by eye will often lead to costly errors and disputes. So how do we minimize this room for error? We have to look to colour measurement tools that remove the subjective nature of reading colour by eye.

Two classifications of tools that can be used for colour measurement are colourimeters and spectrophotometers. Spectrophotometers perform full spectrum colour measurement and record the reflectance of an object across the full spectrum of visible wavelengths, whereas colourimeters imitate the human eye’s three-cone method of seeing colours and result in a measurement that closely mirrors what a human would perceive the colour to be. These tools provide objective measurements in various colour systems and are used in many industries, such as food and agriculture, fashion, print and graphics.

Historically, these devices were deemed as high-ticket items, often bulky, delicate and difficult to use. They were typically used in controlled lab settings, where they are fixed to a single location. However, a new generation of portable colourimeter tools has opened up new opportunities for accurate colour measurement in a variety of industries, both for lab and field use.

Nix Sensor Ltd., based in Hamilton, Ont., is leading the industry with its portable colourimeters and reshaping society’s perception of classic colourimeters. Its patented diamond-shape devices fit in the palm of your hand and connect to smartphone apps via Bluetooth. Its smallest device, the Nix Mini Color Sensor, was designed to be durable, portable and affordable. It has no moving parts, does not require user calibration, and comes with a lanyard for easy carrying.

Devices like the Nix Mini and Nix Pro Color Sensors are examples of measurement tools that allow for portable and accurate colour readings that harness the power of smartphones. The benefits of innovative technology, like Nix devices, are user-friendly functionality and durability that do not compromise colour accuracy. Since these tools interface with smartphones and tablets, you are no longer tied to a fixed location and can bring them to jobs in the field. Due to the devices’ shape and built-in calibrated LEDs, the Nix Mini Color Sensors can block out ambient light and provide a controlled lighting environment. These features have allowed for a much wider range of uses in industries that previously would not have been able to obtain expensive colour measurement tools.

Nix Digital
One of the smartphone apps created by Nix Sensor Ltd. is Nix Digital. It is available for both Android and iOS devices, and connects to the Nix device through Bluetooth. Once the Nix colourimeter is paired with the app, it is ready to be used. To gather colour readings, users place the Nix Mini on any surface and initiate the scan from within the app. After that, it provides the colour measured in different colour units, such as sRGB, HEX, CIELAB, CMYK, LCH and Light Reflectance Value (LRV). LRV is the amount of visible and usable light that is reflected from a surface after being illuminated by a light source. It is useful for lighting designers, interior designers and architects. You also have the ability to share the measured colour and use the application algorithm to generate colour palettes, such as monochromatic, complementary and triadic colours.

The app can be useful for professionals who work in both physical and digital colour spaces, such as graphic and web designers. With the Nix Digital app, you can scan real-world colours and incorporate them into their digital designs.

“We love that we are able to support professionals in so many industries that we initially didn’t consider when developing the device,” says Katie Myciak, Director of Marketing at Nix Sensor Ltd. “We’re constantly discovering new and exciting ways people are using our products and learning from their feedback.”


Photos courtesy of Nix Sensor Ltd.

Nix Paints

Another app from Nix Sensor Ltd. is Nix Paints, which has a database of almost 30 paint brands available on the market internationally. With the Nix Paints app, users can scan any surface with their Nix Mini and find the nearest available match to the selected paint brand or collection. When a colour is scanned, the app organizes the results by nearest to furthest match. Paint colours can be saved into folders and shared through email to clients, friends or even directly to the paint store. Similar to the Nix Digital app, users can find automatically generated colour palettes that work well with their selected paints. This changes the process of finding a colour match to repaint a wall, saving trips to and from the paint store. It also opens the possibility of finding new ways to pull inspiration from one’s surroundings, like fabrics, nature or foods.

A world of possibilities
The biggest difference between Nix devices to other colourimeters in the industry is its capability to measure not only solids, but also liquids, powders, gels and soft or textured surfaces. With special adapters, they can measure the colour quality of blood, concrete, skin and more. The industries that can benefit from this are: Health and beauty, food and beverage, fashion, agriculture, painting and industrial quality control, to name a few. The Nix Sensor Ltd. team is challenging the capabilities of measurement for colour quality control. Over the past several years, they’ve developed methods to measure translucent liquids, like whisky, and worked to guarantee colour uniformity in mass-produced products.       

Focusing on the future
When looking at the future, the team sees a bigger focus on building exciting new software updates and improvements for the industry. Myciak says we can expect a shift to user experience: “Our hardware pairs with the Nix apps that we provide for free and that isn’t going to change. We have grown our in-house software development team to expand and improve the capabilities of each app, continuously innovating and updating the user experience.”

At the faculty of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University, there is growing interest for the applications of Nix devices in student learning and education. Prof. Dr. Abhay Sharma teaches a course in colour management and uses 25 Nix Mini colourimeters to measure L*a*b* values and compare colour differences between print samples.

“The students enjoy being able to use their smartphones in class for a valuable purpose, and the affordability of the device means that the students can have more of a hands-on experience in colour management,” Sharma says.

He also conducted a study that evaluates the accuracy of devices like the Nix Pro Color Sensor. He gathered the L*a*b* values from the measurement of many colour samples to calculate and compare the ΔE between the Nix and a competitive colourimeter to see if there was a match between measurements. He published the results in his new book, Understanding color management, 2nd Edition, a guide for users in all market segments.

This feature was originally published in the September 2019 issue of PrintAction, now available online.
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