The Spectrophotometer Advantage: Why Colorimeters Don’t Measure Up

Why Colorimeters Will Never Be Enough

Two powerful, and very different instruments occupy the color measurement space as we know it; colorimeters and spectrophotometers.

Popular among consumers for their affordability and ease of use, colorimeters are great for finding the closest color match  from an existing digital fan deck database. They have gained favor in less demanding professional applications due to the massive cost savings from traditional spectrophotometers. Newer generation colorimeters are priced between $50 to $250, forgoing exact match accuracy for affordability, while typical spectrophotometers offer far more advanced capabilities, but remain in the $1000-$20,000 range.

Professional color matching must be done using spectrophotometers due to the several drawbacks colorimeters have compared to spectrophotometers.

  1. Despite reasonable average color accuracy of colorimeters, the maximum color error can be quite high in the 2-3 dE range. This is acceptable for consumer applications. For professional use, though, the small chance of an inaccurate color match may not be acceptable in the instance of paint touch-ups, formulation, and QC.
  1. Colorimeters can only measure color in one illuminant. This limits the color match to just one lighting condition and can result in metameric error. There are chromatic adaptation techniques to translate color measurement into other illuminants but these methods are far too inaccurate for professional color matching <1dE.
  1. Colorimeters are not suitable for quality control applications. Despite relatively good average inter-instrument agreement, the maximum inter-instrument agreement can be 1-2 dE on certain areas of the color space. This can result in quality errors.

Once spectrometer prices have come down significantly and match current colorimeter prices, there won’t be a need for colorimeters.