Color is going digital in many ways and only the digital fingerprint of a color standard allows textile and apparel suppliers to know the target they have to work towards in the dye house. The ability to communicate and share these electronic color standards digitally speeds up textile and apparel production. It also helps in increased color quality and a more sustainable approach towards fabrics dyeing.
The ability to work on color calibrated, digital images of the multi-colored material and share these images across locations, is the most recent enhancement to the management process. Proven processes from solid colors will be adopted for greater efficiencies, also for non solids. In the same way as digital color communication and assessment is common for solid colors, digital camera technology helps in gaining the same benefits for non-solid colors like present in laces, prints etc.
The overall market size of color management technology is ranged at US$ 40 million. The textile and apparel market triggers continues growth of 4 percent annually for the color management industry.
Color management includes several different applications and solutions. Despite new technologies like digital color assessment using digital camera technology, the entire field of visual color assessment, using light-booth adds to this market. The creation of an accurate reflectance curve from a superior spectrophotometer is a common practice since several years. Color management certainly starts with the accurate reading of color samples, and the numerical assessment of color quality. The field of match prediction and recipe correction is a seamless addition to the first step as it allows in obtaining the correct, most feasible recipe that fulfills the use case of the fabric in regards to the final apparel good. The entire process of dying samples in the laboratory up to the final production and process optimization contributes to the field of color management as well. If errors are made at any step of the process, the color quality decreases, so color management will not be done well.
The benefits of color management and digital color communication add substantial improvements towards the global goal of the textile/apparel industry for getting every year more sustainable. Despite consolidation towards number of dye houses in the world, the increasing capacity makes investments in modern color management technologies mandatory. In addition a starting trend towards a more local sourcing, requires that industries that had be investment averse in times of lower demands, consider now to utilize modern equipment to fulfill the every year growing demands of the textile/apparel brands and to gain a competitive advantage, where labor cost is a considerable disadvantage.
Looking at the textile/apparel souring workflow it is always about at least 2 partners working together, the brand or retailer, who is looking to fill his shops with latest, trendy fashion and the various suppliers around the globe. In numbers, the supply base defines obviously the bigger market for color management when it comes to numbers of installations. On the other hand, without a Specifier, adopting modern color management technologies to increase his quality and sourcing situation, the entire color management concept does not work. Looking at the regional distribution, China is still the biggest market for color management solutions, but the Indian sub-continent and south east Asia shows fortunately every year increased demand and installations. The numerous retailers in the US and Europe represent as well a good portion of places where color management is used. Certainly the color specification and color-qc demands other solutions than the manufacturing side of the game, but with a wide distribution of local sourcing offices, close to the manufacturers, the retail/apparels side of the business represents an every year growing portion of the market.
Digital color technology in general and color management specifically is still relatively new technology, compared to the long lasting history of textile dyeing. Despite the fact that reliable instruments and software solutions serve the market for more than 3 decades, there are still several uncertainties and misunderstandings present. It all starts with understanding the technology and differentiating between different solutions. If you take for example the 2 main instrument geometries that are widely spread in the industry, you need to work with a diffuse illumination to allow proper color matching. On the other hand, when it comes to color qc, where the appearance of a product needs to be compared visually or instrumental, the benefits of a directed 45/0 geometry are evident. Also as color management starts at the designers desk, where trendy colors are defined, the different tools used at that stage, compared to accurate color definition by instruments and reproduction on screen, paper and final fabric create misunderstandings and often sets wrong expectations. The design world tends to live in RGB color spaces, but when it comes to textile dyeing and measuring color accurately, reflectance values take over and the dyeing chemistry drives a large portion of which colors can be achieved on which fabric and with which necessary properties for the end user. Fortunately technologies are around to help both ends of the textile apparel sourcing process and improvements on displaying accurate color on screen, next to communicating color inspirations and comparing them to different stages of the manufacturing process has streamlined processes a lot.
A large area where accurate color management is challenged is not related to measure of display colors. The conversion of an accepted lab dip into production is one of the biggest challenges and time/cost consuming step in the sourcing process. Thanks to optimal use of reliable lab-dyeing machinery and a reproducible working in the lab, the transformation into the bulk production can be seamless. Customers achieving close to 100% right first time and transfer rate from lab to production, indicate that working with the right equipment and utilizing best practices, allows great improvements towards cost, quality and as a positive side effect, makes textile production every day more sustainable.