Understanding Spectrophotometric Measurement Parameters to Ensure Color Consistency
spectrophotometer measurement parameters
Color plays an essential role in how we experience the world around us, but the human eye is not enough for accurate, reliable color assessment. Image Source: Unsplash user rawpixel.com

Color is powerful. It shapes our perception of the world around us, attracting us, repelling us, warning us, soothing us. In some ways our relationships with color are deeply individual due to personal associations forged over time from our unique lived experiences. At the same time, color acts as an important cultural signifier that provides critical information based on certain universalities of perception and association.

But despite the importance of human color perception, our ability to precisely see and describe color remains limited. Biological, psychological, and environmental differences between us can result in significant variations in how we experience color. Even if two people see color in an identical way, describing it in a manner that communicates an exact shade that can be universally understood may be beyond our capabilities.

The inherent unreliability in how humans perceive and communicate color has led to the development of spectrophotometric color measurement instruments that allow us to objectively capture and share color information. The instruments now play an important part in quality control processes in a multitude of industries, allowing for unprecedented color accuracy and consistency in industrial and consumer goods. However, spectrophotometers too can vary in color perception, creating potential disparities in numerical color values. By understanding color measurement parameters, you can ensure consistency of measurement and obtain the data you need for meaningful color monitoring.

spectrophotometer measurement parameters
Using the same illuminant for each sample is essential to ensuring consistent color data. Image Source: Mikael Kristenson

Color Measurement Parameters

Spectrophotometric color measurement is influenced by six factors that each play a critical role in how the instrument captures color information. A change in any of these factors can alter color data, creating discrepancies between numbers obtained from two identical samples or two different instruments. The six color measurement parameters that influence inter-instrument and inter-sample agreement are:

  1. Color Scale: When measuring the height or weight of a sample, there are two primary systems of measurement: imperial and metric. When it comes to color, however, there are a number of measurement systems due to the historical development of multiple color scales. Currently, there are five complete color scales in active use: CIE X, Y, Z; CIE Yxy; CIE L*, a*, b*; CIE L*, C*, h; and Hunter L, a, b. Each of these scales consists of three numbers, but each is unique in how those numbers are determined. As such, it is essential to use an appropriate color scale for your sample and to use the same scale every time in order to create meaningful comparisons between samples.
  2. CIE Illuminant: Just as light variations play a role in how humans perceive color, spectrophotometric color measurement is also influenced by what type of light is used. Today, there are a number of illuminants that can be used by spectrophotometers, including A (tungsten), F02 (cool white fluorescent), C (average daylight), and D65 (noon daylight). While there are good reasons to use any one of these illuminants, you must use the same type of illuminant when determining color consistency or variation of disparate samples.
  3. CIE Standard Observer: There are two types of standard observers available: the 1931 2 Degree and the 1964 10 Degree. While there are significant similarities between them, there are also differences that can impact color data. As such, it is important to use the same standard observer for each sample.
  4. Instrument Geometry: The instrument geometry you select will have a significant impact on how color data is captured, and even whether it can be captured in appropriate and meaningful ways. The primary fixed instrument geometries are directional 45°/0° or 0°/45° instruments and diffuse/8° sphere instruments. Which one you choose will depend largely on the type of sample you are working with; in some cases, it will also depend on whether you want to measure appearance or color alone.
  5. Sample Preparation: Appropriate preparation of samples is an important part of your ability to obtain accurate color data. This is also an area where human variation can create vulnerability to measurement inconsistencies. It is thus essential to create standardized sample preparation procedures and/or to use instruments that minimize or eliminate the need for human sample preparation
  6. Sample Presentation: Sample presentation encompasses a number of factors, including how samples are positioned, the area of sample view, the measurement pattern, and the number of readings taken for sample averaging. As with sample preparation, steps must be taken to minimize variation in sample presentation, including the use of standardized procedures or instruments that minimize or eliminate opportunities for presentation variation.

Consistency of measurement parameters will optimize your ability to compare samples at any stage of the product development or manufacturing process, giving you the data you need to move forward.

spectrophotometer measurement parameters
Choosing a spectrophotometer that simplifies the sample preparation process for challenging materials such as powders can minimize vulnerability to variation. Image Source: Pexels user Mareefe

Choosing the Right Spectrophotometer

Theoretically, you should be able to establish consistent color measurement parameters with any spectrophotometer designed to measure your sample type. However, there are important differences between spectrophotometers that can impact consistency. First, you must choose a spectrophotometer appropriate for your measurement needs; for example, selecting an instrument with an appropriate view area and geometry is essential for obtaining the data necessary to capture the information you need. As mentioned above, you should also choose a spectrophotometer that simplifies the color measurement process as much as possible in order to guard against variation of measurement introduced by operators. This may include instruments with integrated height measurement, automatic sample averaging, appropriate measurement patterns, or on-line instruments that eliminate the need for manual sample preparation altogether. Additionally, selecting a spectrophotometer that is simple to use, designed to minimize the need for frequent calibration, and compatible with accessories designed to simplify sample preparation can decrease vulnerability to human error.

HunterLab Innovation

HunterLab has been a pioneer in spectrophotometric color measurement for over 60 years. Our commitment to innovation and technological excellence has led to the creation of a comprehensive range of portable, benchtop, and on-line instruments developed with the needs of a diverse range of industries in mind. All of our instruments are designed to be user-friendly, versatile, and reliable to give you the highest level of color measurement accuracy and precision.  Contact us to learn more about our renowned spectrophotometers, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services, and let us help you select the right tools for your needs.

Monitoring the Color of Roasted and Cooked Nuts Using On-Line Spectrophotometric Instrumentation
color of nuts
The color of nuts can be an important indicator of taste and quality. Image Source: Pexels user Tookapic

Nuts have served as an important food source across the world for thousands of years. While the consumption of wild nuts is believed to have been common in a number of ancient cultures, nuts were also “one of the earliest cultivated foods,” playing an important part in the move toward agricultural societies and serving as a stable nutrient source for early civilizations.1 In some cultures, the value of nuts was so great that they came to be regarded as sacred symbols and spiritual nourishment.

Today, it can be easy to forget the critical historical and cultural roles nuts have played. However, they still serve as a desirable food source due to their delicious taste and nutritional value, making them attractive to both health-conscious consumers and those craving a treat. In fact, the popularity of some nuts, particularly almonds, is growing due to the spread of vegetarianism and veganism as well as changing perceptions of the healthiness of fat.2

But while nuts are widely sought after, producers must take steps to ensure the best taste, quality, and visual appeal in order to attract and keep customers. This requires rigorous quality control protocols that can detect undesirable raw materials and incorrect processing, particularly in roasted and cooked nuts. Spectrophotometric color measurement plays an essential role in the implementation of such quality control measures, providing operators with the critical information necessary to create the best possible products.

color of nuts
Spectrophotometric color measurement at appropriate processing points is critical to obtaining meaningful color data. Image Source: Unsplash user Annie Spratt

How and When to Measure the Color of Roasted and Cooked Nuts

The color of nuts can be an important indicator of taste, quality, and correctness of processing. However, visual assessment of color is not sufficient for reliable evaluation. Instead, spectrophotometers are necessary to produce reliable, objective color data that can be used to determine conformation to color standards. But nut color is not necessarily meaningful or efficient at all stages of processing. As such, integrating spectrophotometric instrumentation at the most critical points of processing will yield the best results. Let’s take a look at the appropriateness of color measurement at various stages of processing:

  • Before cleaning: Color measurement at this stage is not particularly useful, due to the impact of a variety of external factors with no effect on the quality of the nut.
  • After cleaning: Color measurement may yield more meaningful data at this point because shell discoloration could potentially indicate compromised quality. However, color data may not reliably correlate with quality, making color measurement of limited use.
  • After blanching: Depending on the specific product and use of byproducts, the color impact of blanching may or may not be valuable to assess.
  • After roasting: Measuring the color of nuts after roasting is an invaluable part of the quality control process, as color data will provide important information about correctness of processing. For example, unwanted color variation can indicate improper roasting temperature or roasting time, allowing operators to take corrective action. Color analysis after roasting is also critical to optimizing sensory appeal, including taste and overall appearance.
  • After flavoring and coating: Color should always be measured after the addition of flavorings and coatings to ensure adherence to visual standards. The color of flavorings and coatings themselves may also be measured prior to application to determine quality and prevent costly errors.

In addition to spectrophotometric color measurement, some researchers are also experimenting with using spectral data to create optical sorting systems of raw nuts. However, such systems are not yet in widespread use.

color of nuts
On-line spectrophotometers like HunterLab’s SpectraTrend HT provide continuous color monitoring for the highest level of quality control. Image Source: Shutterstock user kuvona

Selecting the Right Spectrophotometer

While the timing of spectrophotometric color measurement matters, so too does the specific spectrophotometer used to perform such color measurement. In order to obtain meaningful data, you must choose a high-quality instrument that comes with advanced color measurement software that will allow you to easily capture, analyze, share, and store color information. You must also choose a spectrophotometric format appropriate for your needs.

Portable and benchtop spectrophotometers may be used to perform spot checks or time interval-based QC assessment. Both formats can be useful for nut manufacturers and provide important insight into nut quality, provided that the spectrophotometer is equipped with appropriate technologies. Instruments that are designed to accommodate irregular samples, have rapid sampling capabilities, and offer an appropriate sample area view will ensure the most efficient and accurate color measurements.

While portable and benchtop spectrophotometers can play valuable roles in the QC process, on-line spectrophotometers, like HunterLab’s SpectraTrend HT, take color quality control to the next level by offering continuous, real-time color monitoring at critical points of processing, such as after roasting. With extraordinary color measurement accuracy and integrated height measurement to accommodate irregular and textured samples, the SpectraTrend HT can instantly detect unwanted color variation. This allows operators to quickly quarantine products and evaluate process variables to identify the cause of the variation and take corrective action. This means that “plant operating costs can ultimately be reduced and overall product quality can be improved.” Additionally, “on-line measurements can result in reduced laboratory labor and material sampling costs as the laboratory quality control function can be reduced to less frequent color auditing and final color approval.” As a result, you are not only better able to improve process correctness and consistency, but realize meaningful gains in processing efficiency.

HunterLab Innovation

HunterLab has been a pioneer in spectrophotometric color measurement for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive lineup of portable, benchtop, and on-line instruments designed to meet the needs of our customers. Our technologies provide innovative and reliable solutions to color measurement challenges, allowing you to implement robust quality control protocols that enhance your products and your processes. Contact us to learn more about our renowned spectrophotometers, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services.

  1. “The History of Nuts”, http://www.nutcrackermuseum.com/history_nuts.htm
  2. “The Rise of the American Almond Craze is One Nutty Chart”, August 6, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/08/06/the-rise-of-the-american-almond-craze-in-one-nutty-chart/?utm_term=.f666bdec087a
Using Spectrophotometers to Optimize Just-in-Time (JIT) Manufacturing
just-in-time manufacturing
The just-in-time philosophy has revolutionized manufacturing, allowing companies to increase flexibility, efficiency, and profitability. Image Source: Pexels user Buenosia Carol

Whether you work with consumer goods or industrial products, you know that your success depends on offering your customers the products they need when they need them. However, staying competitive isn’t just about the end product, but also about the process of production itself. For many, optimizing the process means taking a just-in-time (JIT) approach to manufacturing.

First introduced in Japan in the 1960s, JIT seeks to minimize waste and optimize profitability by ordering and receiving inventory on an as-needed basis rather than holding buffer stocks. In practice, it also means producing only what is needed when it is needed, eliminating unnecessary material and labor costs. Indeed, researchers have found that companies that adopted JIT saw “a 70% reduction in inventory, a 50% reduction in labor costs, and an 80% reduction in space requirements” in the five years following implementation.1

However, JIT is not without risk. As pointed out in The Economist:

If you produce only what you need when you need it, then there is no room for error. For JIT to work, many fundamental elements must be in place—steady production, flexible resources, extremely high quality, no machine breakdowns, reliable suppliers, quick machine set-ups, and lots of discipline to maintain the other elements.

In order to implement the JIT approach to manufacturing, it is thus essential to invest in technologies that enhance the production process. Amongst the most critical of such technologies is spectrophotometric instrumentation.

just-in-time manufacturing
Spectrophotometers allow for optimal implementation of JIT manufacturing both within individual factories and across global manufacturing sites. Image Source: Pexels user Kaboompics // Karolina

Using Spectrophotometers to Enhance Quality and Efficiency

Successful implementation of JIT depends on optimizing quality of manufacturing. Without buffer stocks, wasted material as the result of production error can result in production shortfalls as you wait for the arrival of new supply and have minimal product surplus to fulfill orders in the meantime. As such, quality control takes on heightened importance.

For many products, spectrophotometric color measurement is one of the most valuable quality control mechanisms available today. Using advanced spectral technology to capture color data, you are able to rapidly set color tolerances and monitor products to confirm it conforms to color standards. As such, operators can quickly detect out-of-spec product and prevent its release into the marketplace. At the same time, material faults or process errors can be identified and corrected as early as possible to minimize waste. Additionally, the objective nature of spectrophotometric color data means that the same color standards can be shared across manufacturing sites, ensuring consistency regardless of location and allowing for global coordination of production.

While portable and benchtop spectrophotometers can be highly valuable to this process, on-line spectrophotometers take color quality control to the next level by providing continuous monitoring at critical points in the production line. This includes monitoring of color changeovers and other process changes, reducing scrap and improving yields. On-line spectrophotometers may also be combined with color Process Automation Technologies (cPAT), which allow for closed-loop color control solutions, “enabling automatic adjustments of pumps, feeders, valves, and motors based on the colorimetric data received from the color measurement instrument.”2 As Ken Phillips, market development manager at HunterLab, explains, “The benefits of cPAT include improved manufacturing efficiencies, reduced operator error and costs, and reduced quality costs—scrap and customer costs associated with defective product.” As such, these systems give manufacturers the opportunity to optimize successful deployment of the JIT approach.

just-in-time manufacturing
Modern spectrophotometers give you the data you need to analyze your manufacturing processes and take steps to enhance efficiency. Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

Improving the Manufacturing Process

While JIT may appear to be an in-the-moment approach, taking full advantage of the philosophy depends on continuous evaluation of the manufacturing process to heighten efficiency. Although spectrophotometers have historically been used to monitor color quality in the immediate term, modern spectrophotometric instrumentation now provides the data needed to gain an in-depth picture of manufacturing efficacy and identify points of vulnerability. Phillips says:

The ability to collect data at multiple points throughout a workflow, and share data within an organization or supply chain where it can be acted on, is critical to helping companies to improve their processes, reduce operating costs, improve efficiencies, and improve stakeholder and shareholder value.

As a result, spectrophotometric color measurement can not only enhance short-term flexibility, responsiveness of production, and optimization of supply, it can be an integral part of improving overall manufacturing processes. This allows you to further refine your adherence to JIT principles and realize the full benefits of this innovative philosophy.

HunterLab Quality

HunterLab has been a pioneer in spectrophotometric color measurement for over 60 years. Today, our comprehensive line-up of portable, benchtop, and on-line instrumentation plays a critical role in color quality control across industries. By gaining the highest level of insight into color behavior, manufacturers are able to improve efficiency of every stage, from product development to full-scale production. Contact us to learn more about our renowned spectrophotometers, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services, and let us help you select the right tools for your needs.

  1. “Just-in-Time”, July 6, 2009, http://www.economist.com/node/13976392
  2. “The Future of Color Measurement”, October 2, 2014, https://www.qualitymag.com/articles/92181-the-future-of-color-measurement
Exploring the Benefits of Color Process Automation Technology in the Plastics Industry
color process automation technology
Color Process Automatic Technology is revolutionizing how plastic color is produced, giving you the highest level of insight and control over both your products and processes. Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

The plastics industry has always been at the forefront of innovation, creating remarkable new materials and products. From cars to computers, plastics have shaped our world in innumerable ways, opening up the door to ways of living previously unimaginable.1  Indeed, the very device on which you are reading this now only exists due to plastics.

But while the plastics industry has undoubtedly driven tremendous product innovation, it must also look for opportunities for process innovation in order to enhance efficiency and keep up with market changes. For many plastics manufacturers, the integration of on-line spectrophotometric color measurement within the production line has been a critical step toward process innovation, allowing for a new level of color quality control. With HunterLab’s Color Process Automation Technology, you are now able to take on-line color measurement and quality control to even greater heights.

color process automation technology
HunterLab’s cPAT system goes beyond measurement to give you color control. Image Source: Shuttestock user inxti

What is cPAT?

Color Process Automation Technology (cPAT) offers a fully integrated on-line color measurement and closed-loop color control system designed to meet the evolving needs of the plastics industry. The heart of this system is the SpectraTrend HT, a lab-grade non-contact spectrophotometer with integrated height measurement technology to allow for accurate color analysis of a broad range of surfaces. The SpectraTrend HT is renowned for its color measurement reliability as well as the ease with which it fits into production lines in even harsh factory environments.

However, cPAT doesn’t simply measure color within the production line, it controls it by triggering automatic feeder adjustments based on real-time color data. In doing so, cPAT can account for feed screw wear, bulk density variation, and other process variables that impact color in order to create more consistent products. When out-of-spec product is detected, operators are notified immediately and defective product can be automatically contained downstream. In all, cPAT is the most comprehensive color quality control system available today, offering plastics manufacturers unprecedented benefits.

color process automation technology
cPAT can help plastics manufacturers increase use of recycled materials, helping you meet green initiatives and reduce your carbon footprint. Image Source: Unsplash user Gary Chan

The Benefits of cPAT

The cPAT helps plastics manufacturers realize a number of important benefits:

  • Enhancing Quality and Efficiency: cPAT facilitates the production of correctly colored plastics while simultaneously providing continuous monitoring to detect out-of-spec product. This gives you the advantage of improving the overall quality of your products while preventing the release of incorrectly colored materials into the marketplace, ensuring that your customers receive only the highest quality goods. At the same time, continuous color monitoring allows you to minimize color changeover time, rework time, and scrap while giving you the data you need to refine your processing methods both in the immediate and long terms. As result of this improved efficiency, you can realize both meaningful yield improvements and material savings.
  • Increasing Use of Recycled Product: Recycled materials present special challenges for plastics manufacturers using time interval-based QC checks, as such checks may leave you vulnerable to capstock color inconsistencies. As Ken Phillips writes, “Color Process Automation Technology can resolve this by automatically varying the feeder along with the material to keep capstock in spec as the percent of recycled constant on the backside is increased.” As such, cPAT can help plastics manufacturers more reliably use recycled materials while also potentially reducing the per unit cost due to improved efficiency.
  • Adapting to Changing Workforce Dynamics: Over the past several decades, the workforce within the plastics industry has changed drastically. While operators were once highly specialized, today operators tend to take on more generalist roles focused largely on solving problems rather than performing repetitive tasks. By eliminating the human variable from roles such as time interval-based QC, you minimize the risk of operator variation and subsequent error in color monitoring, a risk that is heightened in a heterogeneous workforce. At the same time, the real-time color feedback made possible by cPAT technology allows operators to take action as needed, allowing human the talents of operators to be spent on more complex and engaging work.

HunterLab Innovation

HunterLab has been a pioneer in color measurement technologies for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive range of portable, benchtop, and on-line spectrophotometers to meet the diverse needs of our customers. Our Color Process Automation Technology represents the highest level of color quality control available to the plastics industry today, helping our customers create the best products and processes. Contact us to learn more about our renowned products and let us help you select the right instruments for your color measurement needs.

  1. “A Brief History of Plastic’s Conquest of the World”, May 29, 2011, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-brief-history-of-plastic-world-conquest/
Color Matching Challenges in Textiles: Detecting Illuminant Metamerism
illuminant metamerism
Accurate color matching is essential to creating high-quality products in the textile industry. Image Source: Unsplash user Charisse Kenion

If you work in the textile industry, you understand the complexities inherent to creating the perfect hues. From raw materials to processing methods, the final appearance of your textiles depends on a plethora of variables that must be closely monitored in order to produce the colors you want. As such, color quality control is a core component of the product development and manufacturing process, helping you ensure that your products live up to your vision.

However, the textile industry faces unique challenges when it comes to implementing robust color quality control systems. One of the most significant challenges is identifying illuminant metamerism, which can be a serious barrier to color matching. Without the ability to control for this phenomenon, your ability to achieve your desired result is compromised, potentially leading to unnecessary waste and reduced efficiency. As such, investing in technologies that can alert you to illuminant metamerism is essential to producing just the right hues.

illuminant metamerism
Changes in light source can drastically alter how we perceive color. Image Source: Unsplash user tu tu

What is Illuminant Metamerism?

Color is often thought of as a static fact—something either is a particular color or is not. However, the colors we perceive depend on three primary factors:

  • The observer
  • The object
  • The light source

Changes in any of these three factors can produce vastly different perceptions of color.1 Think, for example, of the paint color on your walls; chances are it appears to transform throughout the day as the light changes, despite the fact that both you (the viewer) and the painted walls (the object) remain constant.

Illuminant metamerism occurs when two colors look the same under one lighting condition but not another. This can create great difficulties for color matching; while samples may appear identical under artificial lights in the factory, they may exhibit significant chromatic differences when viewed in daylight. Suddenly, what you believed to be a perfect match is revealed to be an inconsistent pairing. Unfortunately for industries that rely on color matching to create appealing, high-quality products, illuminant metamerism is not uncommon.2

This type of metamerism is made possible by the fact that each object produces a spectral reflectance curve determined by its color. If two objects produce the same curve, they are an identical color match, and that match will be apparent in all lighting conditions. If two objects produce different spectral curves but those curves intersect at a minimum of three points, they may be metameric. When it comes to textiles, metamerism is more often observed when two textile samples are produced using different dyes or pigments than when simply using different dye strengths or concentrations. However, the causes of metamerism can involve a variety of factors, particularly if your textile sample is being matched to a different material.

illuminant metamerism
Metameric Index (MI) values can be used to determine whether your textile sample will produce an acceptable color match despite not being an identical match. Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

The Benefits of Spectrophotometric Color Measurement

In the textile industry, spectrophotometers are critical tools for distilling color information into objective data, facilitating communication and allowing for precise monitoring of color consistency. Because spectrophotometers can analyze the spectral reflectance curves of your samples, they are also invaluable for identifying metamerism and determining Metamerism Index (MI) values.

“The MI is a single number index that indicates how well two samples that match under one illuminant will match under another illuminant,” explains Norman Whetzel of HunterLab. This index comes preinstalled in some color measurement software packages, such as HunterLab’s EasyMatch QC. EasyMatch QC gives you the ability to choose the illuminants that you want to analyze, allowing you to measure the degree of metamerism in a broad range of lighting conditions. This process helps you make informed decisions about color creation, in part because metameric samples may in fact produce acceptable color matches, and the MI gives you the data you need to determine if this is the case. In general, an MI of less than 0.5 indicates an acceptable match, while an MI higher than 0.5 but less than 1 will require closer examination to determine acceptability. If the MI is great than 1, however, the samples are not a suitable match.

By integrating spectrophotometric instrumentation in your color quality control protocols, you are able to gain the highest degree of insight into your textiles and use this information to refine your processes and products. This includes not just tailoring formulations to create perfect color matches, but also determining when a match is close enough to satisfy your needs. As such, these instruments can enhance the quality of your products while simultaneously improving the efficiency of manufacturing by reducing material and labor waste.

HunterLab Quality

HunterLab has been a leader in spectrophotometric color measurement for over 60 years. Today, we offer a complete range of portable, benchtop, and on-line instruments ideally suited to the needs of the textile industry. Our continuous commitment to innovation means our spectrophotometers are designed with cutting-edge technologies to ensure the highest degree of accuracy and precision, giving you the information you need to make smart choices about your materials and processes. Contact us to learn more about our renowned instruments, customizable software packages, and unsurpassed customer support services.

  1. “The Perception of Color”, July-August 2008, “http://archive.plasticsdecorating.com/articlesdisplay.asp?ID=83
  2. “Metamerism”, https://www.colwellcolour.com/pdfs/Colwell_Metamerism.pdf
The Benefits of On-Line Spectrophotometers for Plastics Manufacturers
on-line spectrophotometers
The color of plastics plays a critical role in both aesthetic appeal and practical functionality. Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

Plastics have changed the course of human history. From cars, to film, to electrification, plastics have been essential to the development of revolutionary products and have shaped the way we live, work, and play.1 Renowned for their durability, longevity, and versatility, plastics are now integrated into a virtually endless number of industrial and consumer goods.

Part of what makes plastics so attractive has been their ability to take on a broad spectrum of hues. Indeed, the color of plastics is vital to ensuring both aesthetic appeal and practical functionality.2  As such, color accuracy and consistency are among the most important aspects of plastic manufacturing, and spectrophotometers must therefore play a central role in the production process. However, just as plastics themselves have advanced over the years, so too have spectrophotometric technologies. While spectrophotometric color measurement of plastics was once only possible via period manual sampling, on-line instruments are now revolutionizing how color is monitored within the production line. The benefits of on-line spectrophotometers include not only a higher level of quality control, but also improved efficiency of manufacturing and reduced production costs.

Of course, not all on-line spectrophotometers are created equal. HunterLab’s SpectraTrend HT represents the most advanced on-line instrumentation available, offering unmatched versatility and performance in a user-friendly design. By combining continuous, non-contact color assessment with integrated height measurement, the SpectraTrend HT allows you to capture reliable color data from even non-uniform and textured samples without manual sample prep. As such, this innovative spectrophotometer provides solutions to a number of important color challenges faced by the plastics industry, paving the way for better color quality control and enhanced manufacturing practices.

on-line spectrophotometers
Maintaining color consistency within and between batches is essential to producing the highest quality products. Image Source: Unsplash user Iker Urteaga

Enhanced Product Quality

Maintaining color consistency in plastics can be a difficult process, and color variation may arise from multiple variables. As such, instrumental color measurement is essential to ensuring color accuracy and consistency both within and between batches. Unfortunately, time interval-based quality control runs the risk of missing out-of-spec product and allowing such products to be released into the marketplace. Additionally, such methods have often required precise sample preparation, particularly of textured and non-uniform samples, leaving room for operator inconsistency and error.

The SpectraTrend HT offers real-time monitoring that ensures color is behaving according to expectation at critical points in the production process. Because this process is digitized and automated, the human element is removed, eliminating the risk of operator variation and significantly increasing reliability of measurement. By alerting operators to unwanted color variation instantly, out-of-spec product can be automatically contained downstream, preventing it from reaching customers. This ensures that only the highest quality products enter the marketplace, thus preserving brand reputation and customer satisfaction.

Reduced Color Changeover Time

Spectrophotometers have been instrumental in improving the color changeover process by identifying when new colors come into spec. However, historically this process has also relied on manual, time interval-based testing. Unfortunately, this method typically causes operators to miss the precise moment of successful changeover, resulting in unnecessary scrap and lost production time.

The SpectraTrend HT, however, replaces time interval-based testing with continuous monitoring, instantly identifying the last good piece of the old color and the first good piece of the new color. This level of precision can reduce color changeover time and scrap by 50% or more. At a moment when just-in-time manufacturing is becoming standard practice, a more efficient color changeover process can have a significant impact on production speed, accuracy, and the bottom line.

on-line spectrophotometers
The SpectraTrend HT allows you to analyze historical data to improve efficiency and make smart decisions regarding future production changes. Image Source: JJ Ying

Improved Efficiency

Color changeover is not the only point of vulnerability for inefficiency. Identifying any out-of-spec product as early as possible at any point in the manufacturing process is essential to minimizing material waste. However, material waste is not the only concern; wasted labor spent on defective product or rework can result in reduced overall efficiency and significant costs.

When the SpectraTrend HT detects unwanted color variation, operators have the opportunity to take corrective action as quickly as possible. By identifying the source of the problem early and resolving it, material and labor waste are both minimized, thereby improving efficiency and guarding against unnecessary losses.

However, the SpectraTrend HT doesn’t only improve efficiency in the moment. Rather, its integrated software allows for long-term data collection that gives you a broader picture of your manufacturing processes. This data can be used to gain a deeper understanding of the variables that impact your color production, identify opportunities for improved efficiencies in your current manufacturing process, and plan for changes ahead. As such, it allows you to optimize efficiency on both the micro and macro scales.

HunterLab Innovation

HunterLab has been a pioneer in spectrophotometric color measurement for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive range of spectrophotometers ideally suited to the needs of the plastics industry. For many of our customers, the SpectraTrend HT on-line spectrophotometer presents exciting new possibilities for creating the highest quality products possible while realizing meaningful cost savings and creating a more efficient overall operation. Contact us to learn more about our renowned instruments and let us help you select the right tools for your needs.

Contact Hunter Lab Today
  1. “A Brief History of Plastics, Natural and Synthetic”, May 17, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27442625
  2. “Applications and Societal Benefits of Plastics”, July 27, 2009, “https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2873019/
Spectrophotometers Improve Efficiency and Color Consistency in Precast Concrete Manufacturing
precast concrete
Precast concrete offers significant practical and aesthetic advantages, including its broad range of color possibilities. Image Source: Unsplash user Luca Rüegg

Concrete is renowned for its remarkable strength and durability, affordability, and low maintenance requirements, making it ideally suited for use in a virtually endless variety of applications. From parking garages to railroad ties, agricultural products to retaining walls, concrete’s extraordinary versatility makes it “the most used man-made material in the world.”1  However, the appeal of concrete doesn’t simply lie in its practicality; it can also have significant aesthetic appeal. Homeowners turn to concrete to beautify their properties, whether via intricate modular paving, cutting-edge countertops, or contemporary exteriors. Meanwhile, designers are increasingly using concrete in aesthetically innovative ways to enhance the appearance of public spaces and shape our experiences of the world around us.

This broad appeal comes in part from the fact that concrete, particularly precast concrete, can be manufactured in an infinite variety of colors. Whether a customer is looking to create a bold new public building or simply update their kitchen, precast concrete manufacturers can use color to help them achieve their perfect look. However, with so many variables at play, achieving the ideal hue can be a challenge, and objective color measurement is necessary to develop manufacturing processes that will result in your desired appearance. As such, spectrophotometers are playing an increasingly vital role in the production of precast concretes.

precast concrete
The final color of concrete is influenced by a variety of factors, from raw materials to final finishing. Image Source: Unsplash user Denys Nevozhai

Variables Impacting Precast Concrete Color

Whether creating custom components or mass-producing concrete product, the primary benefit of precast concrete over cast-in-place concrete is predictability. “Since precast is manufactured in a controlled casting environment it is easier to control the mix, placement, and curing,” explains the Concrete Network. “Quality can be controlled and monitored much more easily.”2 This control extends to color; creating concretes in a factory environment enhances your ability to carefully monitor each stage of production in order to achieve your desired final result. As such, precasting is typically the preferred method of production when color is a top priority.

However, while precast concretes are manufactured in stable environments, their final colors are influenced by a wide variety of factors, including:

  • Cement color
  • Aggregate type and processing
  • Pigment type
  • Pigment ratio
  • Finishing (sandblasting, acid etching, etc.)

With such a large variety of variables impacting the final appearance of the concrete, each component must be carefully monitored in order to observe its impact on the color of the concrete and, ultimately, create your ideal hue. Spectrophotometric instrumentation allows you to easily identify the relationship between these variables and the final appearance of your products in order to create the best possible formula for your concrete products.

Spectrophotometric Analysis Improves Formulation

Spectrophotometers are essential tools for manufacturers of precast concrete, whether you’re looking to create custom color matches or ensure consistency in the production of existing hues. Unlike the human viewer, spectrophotometers can capture objective color data accurately and precisely and distill that data into numerical values, allowing for the highest level of insight into color behavior.

One of the greatest advantages of spectrophotometric technology is the way it facilitates formulation. The variables inherent to precast concrete production means that there are virtually endless material and process combinations that can impact the final appearance of your product. Modern spectrophotometers come paired with advanced color measurement software packages, like HunterLab’s EasyMatch QC, that allow you to easily correlate material and process variables with color outcomes, providing a blueprint for how to move toward the result you want and improving the efficiency of the formulation process.

To optimize the aesthetic longevity of your precast concretes, you may also wish to observe how the color of your product responds to environmental stressors. Factors such as UV exposure, temperature variation, rain, and pollution can all have a detrimental impact on the color of your products.3 Using spectrophotometric color measurement, you can analyze how these factors impact color quality, allowing you to rework your formula to correct for any unwanted color changes and improve color durability.

precast concrete
Maintaining batch to batch color consistency is essential to producing satisfactory products, particularly when multiple components must create a cohesive whole. Image Source: Pexels user Pixabay

Maintaining Color Consistency in Precast Concrete

Of course, the value of spectrophotometers goes far beyond the formulation stage. Once your formula has been perfected, you can use your data to produce a set of color standards for both your raw materials and your final product. This allows you to create an end-to-end color quality control system that will ensure you detect any unwanted color variation as early as possible. Cements, for example, are susceptible to color fluctuation due to a host of production variables, including water content, temperature, and humidity fluctuation. By confirming that your cement conforms to your color standards prior to the start of production, you ensure that you have the foundation you need to create your desired appearance. Color measurements can then be taken at various points in the manufacturing process to monitor color development and ensure color is progressing according to expectations. The color of the final product is assessed to determine whether your expected result has been achieved by comparing the final color data to your established standard.

Choosing the Right Spectrophotometer

Spectrophotometric color measurement is critical for accurate, consistent coloration. However, not all spectrophotometers are the same; different geometries allow you to analyze color in different ways, and choosing the right instrument for your needs is vital for ensuring you can capture the data you need. This is particularly true when manufacturing multiple components that must form a cohesive whole.

In order to analyze visual consistency between components, it’s advisable to use a directional 45°/0° spectrophotometer that measures the appearance of your final product the way the eye sees it. If you wish to know the total color of your samples , a diffuse/8° instrument will be a better option. Whatever your preference, there is sure to be a spectrophotometer perfectly suited to your needs.

HunterLab Quality

HunterLab has been a pioneer in color measurement for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive range of portable, benchtop, and in-line spectrophotometers designed to meet the diverse needs of our customers. We understand the unique challenges faced by the precast concrete industry and offer innovative, user-friendly solutions to help you improve your formulation and manufacturing processes. Contact us to learn more about our renowned technologies and and world-class customer support services.

  1. “Sustainability Benefits of Concrete”, https://www.wbcsdcement.org/index.php/about-cement/benefits-of-concrete
  2. “Advantages to Precasting”, https://www.concretenetwork.com/precast-concrete/advantages.html
  3. “Pigments for Integrally Colored Concrete”, 1980, https://courseworks2.columbia.edu/files/601625/download?download_frd=1&verifier=L7IFeYinK9Juzjya6R8pVpK0sg5Adv67JEoxgSTp
Advanced Spectrophotometers Optimize the Value of Whiteness Indices in the Presence of Optical Brighteners
whiteness index
Creating the perfect shade of white can be a painstaking process for paper, textile, and plastic manufacturers. Image Source: Unsplash user Celia Michon

White may appear to be the most simple of hues. It is the color of wedding gowns and unpainted canvases, lab coats, and freshly fallen snow, suggesting cleanliness, freshness, and purity. It’s a blank slate, a new start, an untainted surface. However, producers of products like paper, textiles, and plastics know that whiteness can be complicated, requiring precise manufacturing in order to obtain the ideal shade. From the selection of raw materials to the monitoring of processing methods, creating the perfect white is often an exacting endeavor.

Across industries, whiteness indices are an invaluable part of determining what that perfect white is and ensuring that it is consistently produced. However, as modern manufacturers increasingly turn to optical brighteners to enhance their products, the accuracy of standard spectrophotometric whiteness assessment may be compromised. Choosing sophisticated color measurement instruments and methods that can account for the effects of optical brighteners in paper, textiles, and plastics is essential to capturing accurate, meaningful data.

whiteness index
Modern whiteness indices seek to create standards of whiteness based on how humans perceive it. Image Source: Unsplash user Adam Birkett

The Subjective Nature of Whiteness Indices

A number of whiteness indices have been developed over the years that offer standardized ways of quantifying whiteness using instrumental color analysis. Although it may seem logical to assume that there is a static color we can objectively identify as “white” based on 100% reflectance values across the visible spectrum, this is in fact not the case; what the human eye perceives as “perfect white” is typically different than a theoretical “perfect white.” Richard S. Hunter and Richard W. Harold write:

The earliest studies [on quantifying whiteness] merely used average reflectance through the visible spectrum as the scale of whiteness. This was hardly satisfactory, since whitening by addition of blue dyes lowers average reflectance but increases visual whiteness. We now know that individual preference for whites makes optical criteria of whiteness variable from one observer to another.1   

It is important to note that these individual preferences are not simply a matter of “liking” one shade more than another, but a difference in perception of what constitutes a true white in the first place. As Hunter and Harold note, for example, materials with blue dye added to counteract yellowness tends to be perceived as whiter, even—and especially—when the blue dye creates a bluish tint rather than simply neutralizing yellowness. As such, modern whiteness indices attempt to quantify perception of whiteness rather than measuring “objective” whiteness, which explains why there are multiple whiteness indices and ongoing changes to existing indexing formulae. By using these indices, you can evaluate your products according to standards that take the psychophysical process of color perception into account, making them more meaningful than a theoretically objective standard that ignores how humans process color information.2   

whiteness index
Optical brighteners can interfere with standard spectrophotometric color measurement due to UV-excitability. Image Source: Unsplash user Neven Krcmarek

The Challenges of Measuring Optically Treated Materials

Modern spectrophotometric color measurement instruments, like those offered by HunterLab, come pre-programmed with a variety of whiteness indices, allowing you to easily capture index data as part of your product development or production processes. However, it’s important to remember that whiteness may be perceived differently depending on material, which means that obtaining correct whiteness index data is contingent on choosing the right index for your application. It’s also essential to select an instrument ideally suited for your methodological needs, particularly if your application presents advanced challenges like analyzing materials treated with optical brighteners.

Optical brighteners, also known as fluorescent whitening agents, are an increasingly popular method of optimizing perception of whiteness and protecting materials from yellowing. These UV-excitable brighteners work by “absorb[ing] light predominantly in the ultraviolet range and emit[ting] light in the visible range, thereby causing a brightening of the substrate by emitting more than 100% of the incident visible light.”3 In other words, optical brighteners make things look whiter.

Although highly effective for whitening, optical brighteners may also render traditional whiteness measurements inaccurate, skewed by the effect of the fluorescent components interacting with the UV light in the instrument. While UV filters can eliminate this effect, they can also potentially cause mismatches between whiteness index measurement and a human perception of whiteness. In order to correct for this and allow you to obtain meaningful color measurement, some spectrophotometers are designed with advanced UV calibration and control capabilities. By calibrating the instrument to a UV standard and controlling the amount of UV light emitted by the instrument, you are able to capture accurate whiteness index data that will closely correspond with viewer perception. Thus, it is critical to select an instrument that allows for precise UV control to ensure you can evaluate your products for whiteness and consistently create your desired white and near-white hues.

HunterLab Innovation

HunterLab has been a leader in spectrophotometric technologies for over 60 years. Today, our renowned product range includes portable, benchtop, and in-line options designed to meet the high standards and diverse needs of our customers. Our commitment to innovation has led us to develop solutions to even the most advanced color measurement challenges, including the problems posed by optical brighteners in paper, textiles, and plastics. Contact us to learn more about our renowned spectrophotometers and let us help you select the right instruments and methods for your needs.

  1. The Measurement of Appearance, 1987, https://books.google.ca/books/about/The_Measurement_of_Appearance.html?id=vK5DK9vqyCgC&redir_esc=y
  2. “Standard Practice for Calculating Yellowness and Whiteness Indices from Instrumentally Measured Color Coordinates”, 2015, https://www.astm.org/Standards/E313.htm
  3. “Optical Brighteners: History and Technology”, October 2000, https://www.iiconservation.org/node/2144
Why Measuring the Color of Dog Toys Matters
plastic film
As dogs take on a magnified importance in the lives of their owners, consumer spending on dog toys is rapidly rising. Image Source: Unsplash user Isaac Moore

“Right here, Charlie! Look here, Charlie!” says Tamiko Manago.1 Charlie is sitting on Santa’s lap, wanting no part in “looking here.” As Manago’s pleas go ignored, the photographer shakes a string of jingle bells. This seasonal call finally catches Charlie’s interest. He looks over, and the photographer captures the scene Manago and her partner, Eric Bouffard, have been hoping for. As for many families, the Santa picture will be featured on Manago and Bouffard’s Christmas card. Unlike most other families, however, the creature sitting on Santa’s lap isn’t a small child, but a 5-year-old terrier mix.

While getting your dog to pose for holiday pictures may have seemed outlandish a few years ago, it’s becoming a common occurrence at regular Santa operations and specialized pet store events alike. The phenomenon casts into stark relief the changing role dogs are playing in the lives of their owners. No longer “just a dog,” dogs have become cherished family members, occupying vital space in both special events and everyday life. This new level of importance is reflected not only in sentiment, but also in monetary terms: Dog toys are taking up an expanded portion of the family budget as owners seek to keep their pets happy, occupied, and loved. For example, approximately 70% of owners will buy their dogs Christmas presents, purchases that will make up a hefty portion of the $1 billion spent on pet toys this year in the United States.2

“We see parents getting toys for their 5-year-old and also toys for their 5-year-old dog,” says Sarah McKinney, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart. “They are definitely adding more to the basket.” And dog toy sales aren’t just keeping pace with children’s toy sales—they’re eclipsing them. As Jim Silver, president of Toys, Tots, Pets & More, explains, “Toys have held steady at about $21 billion on average for the past decade, but the pet industry is growing like crazy.”

While the rapid expansion of the dog toy market is a boon for manufacturers and retailers, many owners aren’t just looking for any dog toy—they’re seeking out toys of the highest quality and greatest appeal. To keep up with these demands, spectrophotometric color measurement is playing an increasingly critical role in dog toy production.

plastic film
Dogs have limited color vision, making some toys more practical than others. Image Source: Unsplash user Jay Wennington

Does the Color of Dog Toys Matter?

Color matters to humans. Virtually every purchasing decision we make—from our clothes to our cars, our cough medicine to our cleaning products—is informed to some extent by color. Of course, it’s no different for dog toys. Some owners stick to a favorite hue when making their selections: more and more, we’re seeing lines of toys released in signature color groups, allowing customers to buy a range of items with identical coloration. Others have practicality in mind, picking colors that will make it easy for them to find the ball in the park, should their dog fail to retrieve it. However, while color may be used initially to attract the human customer, it also plays a role in how the dog interacts with the toy once it has been purchased.

Many people erroneously believe dogs can only see in black and white, thus rendering the color of a toy an irrelevant factor in the dog’s level of interest. However, dogs can see color, just not in the way humans do. While humans have three types of cone cells, allowing us to identify red, yellow, blue, and green wavelengths, dogs have only two types, limiting their color vision to blue and yellow wavelengths. This is similar to people who have red-green color blindness: they can identify blue and yellow, yet can’t accurately perceive other colors—red looks muddy, green and orange look yellowish, and purple appears to be blue. According to Stanley Coren, columnist for the American Kennel Club’s Family Dog:

One amusing or odd fact is that the most popular colors for dog toys today are red or safety orange. However, [they] may appear as a very dark brownish gray or perhaps even a black [to the dog]. That means that bright red dog toy that is so visible to you may often be difficult for your dog to see. That means that when your own pet version of Lassie runs right past the toy that you tossed she may not be stubborn or stupid. It may be your fault for choosing a toy with a color that is hard to discriminate from the green grass of your lawn.3

As such, it’s important to consider the practicality of dog toy colors when making your color selections. If a dog toy will be used outside in grassy areas, blue will be contrasted against the green grass, while a yellow toy will blend in. If you’re creating a toy that will be used for water play, yellow will help the toy be visible against the background of the water. You can also take advantage of color contrasts; using multiple colors—such as blue and yellow or white and red—can make toys stand out from their environments. Keeping these factors in mind can help you develop toys that facilitate play and enjoyment for both the dog and the owner.

plastic film
Spectrophotometric color measurement helps you create new products and monitor products in production. Image Source: Unsplash user Patrick Hendry

Measuring the Color of Dog Toys

Creating dog toy colors that appeal to owners and dogs alike requires thoughtful consideration of market trends, color psychology, and practicality. It also requires the use of spectrophotometric color measurement to develop your ideal formulations and ensure accurate coloration throughout your manufacturing process.

Spectrophotometers allow you to capture and communicate objective color data from virtually any material, giving you the information you need to create pigment and dye formulations and observe how pigments and dyes interact with host materials such as plastics and fabrics. This ensures that you can develop exactly the right materials and processes to produce your desired hue in a single product or across a product line comprised of disparate materials; your plush toys can match your tennis balls, your chewy bones can match your Frisbees. Once in production, spectrophotometers can be used to monitor each stage of the manufacturing process for correct coloration, allowing you to quickly identify and correct unwanted color variation. If you are using the same equipment to manufacture products of different colors, the data provided by your spectrophotometer helps you make more rapid color switchovers, which can be particularly useful to increase the efficiency of limited and seasonal production runs.

Spectrophotometers are particularly invaluable as consumers become more conscious of potential health hazards posed by dog toys. While there are currently “no specific regulatory requirements for pet toys other than general safety requirements for consumer products which would be overseen by the Consumer Products Safety Commission,” some retailers, like Petsmart, are implementing their own safety testing procedures.4 With owners and retailers becoming increasingly concerned with the materials to which dogs are exposed, Robert L. Vetere, president of the Pet Products Manufacturing Association, says that many dog toy manufacturers are “ramping up on quality control.”5 This quality control may require replacing old products with healthier alternatives and developing new color formulations, toy materials, and manufacturing processes to increase safety. Whether you are switching to organic materials, eco-friendly fabrics, natural dyes, or dye-free production, spectrophotometers play a critical role in this transition, ensuring that owners and their canine companions will find your new products appealing and functional.

HunterLab Quality

HunterLab has been a pioneer in color measurement technologies for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive lineup of portable, benchtop, and in-line spectrophotometers designed to meet the diverse and exacting needs of our customers. Combined with our customizable software packages, HunterLab offers end-to-end color quality control to ensure you can develop and produce the best possible products. Contact us to learn more about our innovative technologies and let us help you select the right tools for your needs.

  1. “Holiday Shoppers are Splurging on Pet Gifts”, December 21, 2014, http://beta.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pets-holiday-gifts-20141222-story.html
  2. “Retail Stores Want to Cash in on Growing Chew Toy Sales”, September 26, 2017, https://nypost.com/2017/09/26/retail-stores-want-to-cash-in-on-growing-chew-toy-sales/
  3. “Are Dogs Color Blind?”, November 12, 2015, http://www.akc.org/content/entertainment/articles/are-dogs-color-blind/
  4. “Law Library Article”, http://www.americanpetproducts.org/law/lawlibrary_article.asp?topic=62
  5. “For Pet Owners, Too, Toys a Reason for Concern”, December 22, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/22/business/22pettoys.html
Spectrophotometers Aid the Development of Eco-Friendly Plastic Film Alternatives
plastic film
A new generation of eco-friendly plastic film alternatives are being introduced to eliminate the environmental damage brought on by traditional plastic films. Image Source: Pexels user Scott Webb

Last month, a series of incredible photographs taken off the Honduran island of Roatan began making its way around the Internet. The images didn’t depict the turquoise waters and white sand beaches we typically associate with this small sliver of Caribbean paradise. Instead, they captured a different kind of island, one made of “cutlery, bags, bottles, and wrapping floating among the seaweed.”1 In one image, taken from underneath the rubbish pile, the garbage is shown from the sun’s rays penetrating the water, a stark reminder of how ocean-bound refuse can compromise underwater ecosystems.

What’s remarkable about the photographs from Roatan isn’t simply the vastness of this particular plastic island, but the fact that it is just one of many. More than eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year. As Ian Johnston, environmental correspondent for The Independent, writes, “There will be more plastic than fish by 2050 and 99 percent of all seabirds on the planet will consume some.”2 But while Roatan’s plastic island may only be a drop in the ocean, many hope the images will raise awareness about the problem and spur change. “Think about your daily lives,” writes Caroline Power, a resident of Roatan, in a Facebook post. “Do you still use plastic bags? Ziplock bags? Plastic wrap on your food?” She believes that by examining our habits, we can make smarter choices to diminish our destructive impact on the environment.

For some, however, preventing plastic pollution isn’t simply a matter of making different choices with currently available materials, but creating products that replicate the appearance and functionality of their traditional plastic counterparts without the negative environmental consequences. One of the most important areas of interest is the development of eco-friendly plastic film alternatives. While these innovative products open up exciting possibilities for reducing reliance on traditional plastic films, their success depends on close monitoring of color and haze using spectrophotometric instrumentation.

plastic film
Traditional plastic films often end up in landfills or the ocean, where they present significant environmental dangers. Image Source: Pexels user Emmett

Why Plastic Film Matters

Plastic film is used in a wide variety of applications, from food packaging to grocery bags, landscaping to agricultural uses, electrical fabrication to art conservation. Part of its appeal lies in the fact that it is possible to manufacture plastic film in a broad range of colors and haze levels, making it extremely versatile both functionally and aesthetically. However, its broad appeal also translates into significant amounts of waste, particularly as most plastic film is employed for temporary, disposable usage rather than as enduring goods. According to Chaz Miller, state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, “Plastic film provides 17.5% of all plastic in the waste stream.”3

One of the challenges traditional plastic films present is lack of biodegradability and recyclability. Although some plastic films can be recycled, suitability for recycling and remanufacture depends on resin type and color as well as individual film characteristics, thus disqualifying many films. Even certain types of plastic films that are technically recyclable present practical problems for many non-specialized recycling facilities, as they can “snag conveyor belts and wheels in the sorting machines, bringing the whole process to a grinding halt.”4

When this plastic film isn’t recycled it has to go somewhere, and that means the landfill, incinerator, or natural environments. All of these can have significant environmental consequences, including contributing to the physical destruction of natural lands, releasing persistent chemicals into the atmosphere, harming wildlife, and disrupting ecosystems.

The Possibilities of Eco-Friendly Films and Plastic Film Alternatives

As awareness of the dangers traditional plastic films present grows, a number of organizations have begun investigating the possibilities of eco-friendly plastic film alternatives, particularly in applications related to food packaging. Last year, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a biodegradable film made with milk protein casein, which could replace plastic film wraps. “It feels like plastic wrap when you look at it and hold it, but it does not stretch as much,” says Laetitia Bonnaillie, a research chemical engineer at the USDA. “Applications we are thinking of now are those single-serve packages that use so much plastic. The purpose is to make a packaging that has that has zero waste.”5 While Bonnaillie envisions that the film may initially be used for cheese, snacks, and meats, but could expand into broader usability. Because it is 250 times more efficient as an oxygen barrier than traditional plastic film and can potentially provide enhanced UV protection, the film can also prolong the shelf life of foods.

But the casein film isn’t just biodegradable; it is also edible and can be flavored. Tatsiana Savitskaya, a chemist and professor of physical chemistry at the Belarusian State University, is also experimenting with edible films, which she believes present exciting possibilities for creating truly zero-waste packaging. “As an example of edible film, there is packaging for candy. We pack the candy into the edible film and can eat the candy with this primary packaging,” she says, “We have also wrapped our edible film around fish or meat. You can pack it and fry it without oil, because we can add oil into the film—and also the spices.”6  

Other organizations are experimenting with eco-friendly films made materials such as potato peels and culls, chitosan, and dehydrated fruits. In the future, additives such as probiotics, vitamins, and dietary boosters could be incorporated into these films, giving them additional benefits and broadening their appeal. “The consumer is more and more interested in saving the environment while also optimizing nutrition,” Bonnaillie explains. “There is definitely interest in this.”7

plastic film
Spectrophotometric color and haze measurement is essential to creating high-performing plastic film alternatives. Image Source: Unsplash user Caroline Attwood

Using Color and Haze Measurement to Perfect Films

Widespread use of eco-friendly plastic film alternatives may still be some time off, but the development of these materials requires paying close attention to not just environmental impact, but appearance. After all, plastic products are useful and without high-performing alternatives, making meaningful changes on a broad scale is an uphill battle. Many consumers will want products that look as similar to traditional plastic films as possible, particularly clear films that allow packaging contents to be plainly visible. However, there are also infinite possibilities for creating new looks via unique color and haze combinations.

Establishing color and haze standards for eco-friendly plastic film alternatives will rely heavily on the use of spectrophotometric instrumentation. Spectrophotometers allow you to analyze color and haze with extraordinary accuracy and precision, giving you the information you need to evaluate new products and determine your own tolerance for aesthetic variation. Ingredient and process variables can be correlated with color and haze data to give you greater insight into how each variable affects the appearance of your product, allowing you to fine-tune your formulation and manufacturing process until you achieve your desired result. This includes analyzing the impact of nutritional and flavor additives, allowing you to integrate these novel components while maintaining your desired appearance. If your product needs to look similar to existing products, you can easily compare your product to that which you are simulating on an objective, numerical basis. You can also use spectrophotometric data to create a signature look for your products, making them stand out from the pack.

However, spectrophotometers aren’t just useful during product development. Rather, they can be used throughout the manufacturing process to ensure that your high aesthetic standards are maintained. By instantly alerting you to undesirable variation, you can rapidly identify formula or process faults and prevent a faulty product from being released for public consumption. While this is critical for companies manufacturing already well-loved products, it is also essential for new products to establish themselves in the marketplace and develop a reputation for quality. As such, spectrophotometers play a vital role at every stage of product creation.

HunterLab Innovation

HunterLab has been a leader in the field of spectrophotometry for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive line-up of portable, benchtop, and in-line instruments designed to meet the exacting needs of our customers. Our spectrophotometers are renowned in both the plastics and food industries due to their remarkable accuracy, precision, and ease of use, bolstering your ability to innovate and continuously create products of the highest quality. Contact us to learn more about our spectrophotometers, customizable software packages, and world-class customer support services and let us help you select the right tools for your needs.


  1. “Tide of Plastic Rubbish Discovered Floating off Idyllic Caribbean Island Coastline”, October 24, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/plastic-rubbish-tide-caribbean-island-roatan-honduras-coast-pollution-a8017381.html
  2. “How Plastic is Damaging Planet Earth”, September 28, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-how-planet-earth-environment-oceans-wildlife-recycling-landfill-artificial-a7972226.html
  3. “Plastic Film”, October 1, 2010, http://www.waste360.com/Recycling_And_Processing/plastic-film-201010
  4. “Something Ugly Happens if You Try to Recycle Plastic Grocery Bags at Home”, March 14, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/can-you-recycle-plastic-bags-2016-2
  5. “Milk Protein Used to Make Biodegradable Food Wrap”, August 21, 2006, http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/milk-protein-film-1.3728398
  6. “Edible Packaging: The Future of Eco-Friendly Packaging?” http://www.dw.com/en/edible-film-the-future-of-eco-friendly-packaging/a-19165362
  7. “The USDA is Working on a New Type of Sustainable Food Packaging”, August 23, 2016, https://thinkprogress.org/usda-edible-food-packaging-9caa16d7d4fd/
Spectrophotometers Help You Stay on Top of Color Trends
color trends
For decades, pink has been associated with femininity, but it wasn’t always that way. Image Source: Pexels user Chimene Gaspar

Pink wasn’t always cool. For years it spoke to a kind of hyperfemininity, standing in for the word “girl”. It was the color of Barbies and bubble gum, nail polish and Mary Kay Cadillacs. It was regarded as a stark dividing line between genders and an excess of girlishness, and girlishness was not something to be taken seriously.

Of course it wasn’t always this way. When pastel-colored children’s clothing first emerged in the mid-1800s, pink had no gendered associations at all. By the early 1900s, however, that had changed. “The generally accepted rule is pink for boys, and blue for girls,” announced Earnshaw Infant’s Department in 1918. “The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”1 And so it went until the 1940s, when the associations reversed and pink became visual shorthand for “girl” while blue announced “boy”. Despite a temporary return to more gender-neutral apparel in the ‘60s and ‘70s’, these associations largely remain intact today.

Now that is changing and manufacturers of consumer products and packaging are an important part of both responding to and shaping this cultural transformation. To stay on top of and drive changing color trends, it’s imperative to implement strict color quality control protocols throughout the product development and manufacturing processes.

color trends
The celebration of millennial pink is an important lesson in how cultural conversations can transform our associations with color. Image Source: Unsplash user Erol Ahmed

The Evolution of Color Trends

Color is known to be one of the most significant drivers of purchasing decisions for virtually all consumer goods, from furniture to food, clothing to personal hygiene products. Color preferences are not static, instead they constantly change in response to cultural shifts and marketing efforts. Staying relevant and creating desirable products, then, requires understanding and being responsive to color trends.

Perhaps of the most fascinating and surprising color trend to emerge in recent years has been the celebration of pink. Specifically, millennial pink, which Elle Décor describes as “not quite salmon, but not quite rose.”2 The shade began to gain momentum in the early 2010s driven by high fashion designers like Céline, Ryan Roche, and Jonathan Saunders, the release of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Glossier packaging, and the nebulous world of social media. In the fall of 2015 Pantone announced Rose Quartz, a now-familiar version of millennial pink, as its 2016 Color of the Year, inspired in part by an Agnes Martin exhibit at the Tate Modern. Soon, pink was everywhere.

So what accounts for the rise of millennial pink, this in-between shade, different from the pale pastels of receiving blankets, more muted than Barbie pink? “We’re in a moment of ambivalent girliness,” writes Véronique Hyland in The Cut. “We’re embracing our girlier impulses: our vocal fry, the “likes” and “ums” we were told would hold us back, our #girlboss-ness. But we’re not quite there. We still have to hold something back.”3 However, others believe the popular of pink arises not just from a newfound celebration of femininity for women, but larger conversations about gender fluidity and breaking down of gendered barriers. “As gender sheds its once-binary definition in favor of a more complex, inclusive, and comprehensive one, pink is undergoing a similar rebranding, rejecting the increasingly defunct girly-girls only interpretation of femininity,” says Kim Vandervoort of Salon. “It seems obvious that this generation’s creative types would, knowing or unknowingly create an aesthetic that … mirror[s] the softening of rigid gender boundaries. It’s a pink for everyone.”4

color trends
Spectrophotometers allow you to stay responsive to ever-changing color trends by facilitating color formulation and ensuring consistency. Image Source: Pexels user Lum3n.com

Staying on Top of Color Trends

While millennial pink is having its moment and may have a long-lasting impact on how pink is perceived, color trends inherently change. Already, tastemakers are shaping the development of tomorrow’s hot new colors, requiring everyone from paint companies to publishers, fashion houses to furniture makers to shift their attention toward new hues. This process is facilitated by modern spectrophotometric technologies.

Spectrophotometers are designed to see color the way the human eye sees it, only better. By distilling color information to objective numerical data, color can be analyzed with the highest degree of accuracy and precision, replacing the subjectivity inherent to human sight. This allows you to create concrete color standards when developing new color formulations, regardless of material. You can also analyze virtually any type of sample to create standards reproducing historical colors. With your standard in place, the manufacturing process can be continuously monitored to ensure the colors of all products fall within your accepted range of tolerance, giving you the ability to instantly detect unwanted variation. If your products or product lines are comprised of multiple, disparate materials, then the color data provided by your spectrophotometer allows for easy color matching to ensure cohesion.

With color trends quickly changing, having flexible and versatile spectrophotometric instrumentation enables you to continuously stay on top of color trends and make rapid color switchovers. Some spectrophotometers, such as those offered by HunterLab, are also able to create an extensive archive of color data that can be drawn on to easily re-introduce past colors. Data can be shared across multiple manufacturing sites, allowing for seamless color communication. As a result, you can ensure consistent, accurate coloration regardless of location. Spectrophotometers allow you to create a complete color quality control system that will ensure you meet the exacting and changing preferences of your customers.

HunterLab Innovation

HunterLab has been a pioneer in color measurement technologies for over 60 years. Today, we offer a comprehensive range of portable, benchtop, and in-line spectrophotometers designed to meet the diverse needs of our customers in a broad range of industries. Our instruments are sought out by companies all over the world to act as the core component of their color quality control protocols owing to their extraordinary accuracy and ease of use. Contact us to learn more about our renowned spectrophotometers, customizable software packages, and world-class customer service and let us help you select the perfect color measurement tools for your needs.

  1. “When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?”, April 7, 2011, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/
  2. “40 Pale Pink Gifts that are Perfect for the Millennial in Your Life”, November 9, 2017, http://www.elledecor.com/design-decorate/color/g9203971/pale-pink/
  3. “Is There Some Reason Millennial Women Love This Color?”, August 2, 2016, https://www.thecut.com/2016/07/non-pink-pink-color-trend-fashion-design.html
  4. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Millennial Pink”, July 2, 2017, https://www.salon.com/2017/07/02/watch-what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-millennial-pink/
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