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The Challenges of Color Online

Posted by Lesandre on

Color is a tough business when conducted via the internet. We get many returns because customers realize the leather/vinyl dye they ordered is nothing close to what they are trying to match.

In our quest to mitigate this, we hired a professional photographer to create color-balanced images for us. In the process we received a brief course in Color Balancing/Light 101. It all boils down to the differences between reflected and transmitted light.

Spectrum of Visible Light as part of Electromagnetic Radiation. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Copied under Free Content and Public Domain License.

The spectrum of visible light will bounce off an opaque surface, say an apple. This is called reflected light, which your eye perceives as the color of the apple. Its appearance will be affected by color of light shining on it. For example, if the light is blue, the apple will appear more purple (blue and red mixed together). Under a yellow light, the apple would look more orange (red and yellow mixed together). You may notice this phenomenon with the change of seasons. The light in spring is very cool and blue; in autumn it is very warm and golden.

In a photograph, the color (light) of the apple is not reflected but rather transmitted through a camera lens. The photographer’s challenge is to mimic the object’s color (reflected light) via the camera’s transmitted light.

This is why we need a real sample, not a photograph, to mix a Custom Color.

Light emanating from a computer screen further complicates things. You're not seeing the reflected light of an object. You're seeing images (transmitted light) projected by a computer screen. The color you see depends on the calibration or settings of your monitor. 

Our photographer painstakingly calibrated his camera and set up a studio in our workshop, taking care to photograph each sample under the same conditions.

The post-production work was just as arduous. He proofed and adjusted each image so that it resembled its real leather counterpart when viewed on a color-balanced monitor.

Despite all his expertise, many of our colors were wildly off when viewed on uncalibrated monitors. Eggplant looked like a greenish-black on both our new, sexy 27” iMac and our old covered-wagon-of-a-PC.

Surprisingly, the color-balanced image of our Eggplant dye is less accurate than our scanner's reproduction.

Exhausted of time and budgeted funds, I spread our hides of dyed leather on the scanner, pushed the button, and did nothing more than crop and collage the resulting images.

What surprised me was how good they turned out, all things considered. For now, that will be the modus operandi for future additions to Rub 'n Restore®'s color line.

If you’re looking at our website on a color-balanced computer and wondering why we’re calling a lime color Persimmon (or you want to really see the difference between Mocha and Cognac), send us a self-addressed stamped envelope and request samples.

You can also send us a sample you’d like to match. More about choosing a color here.

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