A few years ago, an appliance manufacturer sent out a shipment of color-coordinated washers and dryers to a major retailer. But when the shipment of products arrived, the retailer noticed a serious problem: the appliance pairs didn’t appear to be the same color at all. This complaint puzzled the manufacturer; they had visually assessed their products carefully during manufacturing and found that each pair of appliances was perfectly color-coordinated. So why did the retailer see a clear difference in color between the washers and the dryers?
It turns out that neither the manufacturer nor the retailer was entirely wrong in their visual color assessments. The manufacturer was assessing the color of the washers and dryers under incandescent lighting, while the retailer was looking at the products under the store’s fluorescent lighting. In incandescent lighting conditions, the products appeared perfectly matched, but under fluorescent lighting, they appeared to be two completely different colors. This phenomenon is called metamerism, and it’s a common challenge for appliance manufacturers.
Metamerism occurs when two different colors appear to be the same under certain lighting conditions and not the same in others. When you’re trying to color-coordinate household appliances, metamerism can be frustrating and potentially costly; if you fail to identify the phenomenon during manufacturing, you may end up shipping mismatched products to your customers or having to repaint or recoat all of your products.
Thankfully, there is a simple solution to this problem. By using a spectrophotometer that is capable of measuring color reliably and accurately, you can easily detect metamerism before products reach customers and even before products enter mass manufacturing. Spectrophotometers use advanced spectral analysis to calculate the exact color of a product under different lighting conditions, offering you a truly accurate measurement for every color-coordinated appliance in your line.
The Importance of Color Coordination in Appliances
Most homeowners and interior designers prefer matching appliance sets because color coordination can make a room appear more cohesive and aesthetically pleasing. Jayme Neumann, an interior designer and promotions manager for Whirlpool, says that a room containing a matching set of appliances is almost always more visually appealing than ones that contain mismatched appliances.1 She explains, “It might look funny to just have one appliance be stainless—it may look like it’s an old [appliance], or [the homeowners are] replacing their appliances just one piece at a time.” While overtly mismatched appliances can be an issue, even a very slight color mismatch between appliances can disrupt the visual cohesion of the room; an ivory-colored oven will likely clash when placed next to a microwave that is a slightly brighter shade of white. This is why many customers often buy appliance packages, expecting perfect color matches.
Because today’s customers expect their kitchen and other household appliances to match perfectly, manufacturers must test their products thoroughly to ensure that each set truly matches. A slight variation in color between two appliances could be visually distracting, and this problem will be even more evident if the two appliances are installed right next to one another (like a washer and dryer set or a double oven).
The rise in popularity of brightly-colored household appliances also adds new impetus to think carefully about color coordination and metamerism. Decades ago, the most popular appliances were typically white, black, or stainless steel. Today, many homeowners and interior designers are choosing colorful appliances in unique shades like cherry red, dusty pink, fluorescent orange or mint green.2 In fact, one manufacturer offers more than 750 different finish options for their line of kitchen gadgets. However, these new color choices pose an interesting challenge for appliance manufacturers. Metamerism can cause these colors to appear dramatically different depending on whether they’re viewed under natural light, incandescent light or fluorescent light. And, some colors are more prone to the metamerism phenomenon than others, which can be a challenge for manufacturers that make appliances in a wide range of different colors.
How Lighting Impacts Appliance Colors
Certain colors will be impacted by metamerism to a greater extent than others, depending on the lighting conditions.3 For example, appliances that are in muted shades like taupe, grey, light blue, tan or lilac are more likely to be impacted by the metamerism phenomenon compared to brighter, more saturated appliance colors like fluorescent orange or green. This is because it may be difficult to spot a color mismatch in muted shades using visual assessment alone. In certain lighting conditions (like incandescent), these subtle colors might appear to match, but in brighter lighting conditions (like fluorescent), the subtle differences in color could become more obvious to the naked eye. Halogen lighting and natural daylight are the only lighting conditions that provide the most accurate view of the appliance’s color.4
However, you can’t guarantee that your appliances will always be viewed under halogen or natural lighting conditions. Retailers usually use fluorescent lighting in stores, and some homeowners prefer to use incandescent lighting in their kitchens and laundry rooms. But while you can’t control the lighting conditions outside of your manufacturing warehouse, you can ensure that your appliance sets match perfectly with each other in any environment. By taking metamerism into account and thoroughly testing your appliances for color variation under different lighting conditions, you can guarantee that all of your products are perfectly coordinated.
How to Avoid Metamerism
Because there is a high demand for color-coordinated household appliances, manufacturers need to have reliable protocols for detecting metamerism in order to ensure that their appliance packages are a perfect color match. Using spectrophotometers, you can prevent metamerism from interfering with your color quality control process; spectrophotometers are far more reliable than the naked eye when it comes to detecting color variations and these instruments can even account for changes in lighting.
Spectrophotometers work by gathering reflectance data from your sample and can then create a spectral curve based on these findings. Samples that have identical curves will be a perfect color match, no matter what lighting conditions they’re exposed to later. Samples that have different curves, however, will not be a perfect match. When two sample curves are different but overlap at at least three points, then they are likely to be metameric. This means that the two samples may appear to be the exact same color under, say, incandescent lighting, but when viewed under fluorescent lighting, they could differ in color significantly.
In addition to identifying metamerism, a spectrophotometer can also help you closely analyze how well two different-colored samples will match under different lighting conditions.. HunterLabs EasyMatchQC software can convert a measurement of your color into 24 different illuminant/observer combinations. By comparing any pair of these combinations, the spectrophotometer will place your product sample on a Metamerism Index (MI),. On this scale, if the MI is 0.5 or less, than your samples are a good color match regardless of lighting conditions, but if the MI is between 0.5 and 1, then the sample colors aren’t as well-matched. Any samples with an MI of more than 1 are obvious color mismatches. By using this index and the spectrophotometer’s precise measurements, you can ensure that every household appliance set matches perfectly, whether they’re sitting on a well-lit showroom floor or installed in a dimly-lit kitchen.
For more than 60 years, HunterLab has helped manufacturers refine their color quality control methods, ensuring that all of their products are as consistent in color as possible. Our state-of-the-art spectrophotometers are capable of measuring a wide range of samples, including coating and paint finishes for high-quality kitchen and other household appliances. Contact us to find out how you can improve your own color measurement methods. Our experienced staff can walk you through each step of the process, and offer you the best tools for your needs.
- “Do All Appliances Have to Match?”, http://www.kitchens.com/blog/kitchenology/do-all-appliances-have-to-match ↩
- “Colored Kitchen Appliances”, https://www.homedit.com/colored-kitchen-appliances/ ↩
- “Color Metamerism: When Colors Are Not What They Seem”, July 24, 2015, https://www.houzz.com.au/ideabooks/50547318/list/colour-metamerism-when-colours-are-not-what-they-seem ↩
- “How to Pick a Paint Color: The Lighting Perspective”, https://www.pegasuslighting.com/learn-articles/how-to-pick-a-paint-color-the-lighting-perspective/ ↩
Mr. Philips has spent the last 30 years in product development and management, technical sales, marketing, and business development in several industries. Today, he is the global market development manager for HunterLab, focused on understanding customer needs, providing appropriate solutions and education, and helping to solve customer color challenges across these industries and cultures.