Even 40 years ago, color matching depended on the trained eye and memory of an experienced technician.

Even 40 years ago, color matching depended on the trained eye and memory of an experienced technician. Those are still necessary today, but experienced specialists greatly increase their productivity with instruments that measure color numerically plus computer software that draws on pigment and resin databases to suggest formulations that meet color, cost, and other requirements. Communication between color buyers and vendors is improved by relying less on subjective color perception and by transmitting color information electronically instead of transporting color chips.

The advent of computerized color matching for plastics was unveiled at NPE 1968, with the launch of the Comic II digital computer, which verified colors by spectrophotometry and was showcased by Kollmorgen. It was developed in the mid-1960s by Davidson & Hemmendinger in Easton, Pa., which was acquired by Kollmorgen.

Comic II integrated a spectrophotometer with a desk-sized computer. An operator could output reflectance data to a teletype machine, which produced a punched tape. In the 1980s, such behemoths (then called minicomputers) were replaced by PCs.

In 1988 Minolta (now Konica Minolta) introduced the first hand-held spectrophotometer. The head weighed 2.2 lb and was connected by a cable to a computer/printer unit. The latest portable units today weigh a little over 1 lb. Some are as powerful as any benchtop spectrophotometer. They can read color and gloss in 1.5 sec under 11 light sources, perform color matching and correction, and display numerical and graphical results.