• Color Matching

Color Matching in a Retail Environment

by Ian Barclay
Director of Color Operations for Colortec/Dyeables
(Colortec is a  business that colors the large majority of womens’ formals shoes and accessories in the western hemisphere.)


You just bought a pair of running pants to go with the wind-breaker you bought a month ago at that big department store. You see the pants and know they are a good match with the jacket. While you are there you pick up some running shoes and wrist bands in the same color, what a fashion statement. But wait, outside the shoes and wristbands are not at all the same color!!!!

The jacket and running pants are made of the same material, manufactured by the same factory, and dyed by the same dye-house using the same colorants and additives. The shoes and wristbands are made from different materials, at different facilities, with different colorant processes, with a different choice of colorants. Welcome to the world of Metamerism.

Metamerism is a phenomenon that occurs when a color swatch and a sample match in one light source but not in another. Metamerism is almost inevitable with some colors and less of a problem in others. Several factors can compound this problem, including colorant class, coloration processes, and color-matching between manufacturers. Even when metamerism is expected, Colortec/Dyeables constantly makes efforts to minimize it.

Fighting Metamerism when Colormatch Formulating

All colors change when viewed in different light sources. Your goal when mixing a color is to try to use the same choice of colorants that where used when the target color was dyed (a Tan for instance can be made from many different combinations of mixing colorants). When you find the right combination of colorants, the finish color (shoe) will change the same as the target color (dress) in different light sources. Unfortunately without expensive equipment, software, and education, Trial & Error is the only practical option to find out what colorants you should use.

Also make every effort to use three or less colorants in a formula as this will also help to lessen the chances of metamerism.

Different materials (cotton/polyester/rayon/wool/nylon/ect) all have different color and coloration characteristics.

Optical brighteners are present in most dyeable shoes and hand bags (but not all) and some dresses (but not all).

Here are a few tips to help you assess color in the retail environment:

1) Always compare the sample (the dress) to the standard (the color book) in the same light source-the agreed-upon cool white fluorescent, as noted above.

2) Avoid spotlights, neon signs, track lighting, mall windows, outdoor windows, skylights, etc. as well as brightly colored walls, posters, or banners. All of these can influence color judgment.

3) Use a white card or white paper to cover color swatches surrounding the target swatch. Other colors in your field of vision will affect your color judgment.

4) Hold the standard (target swatch) and the sample (dress) at a 30-degree angle to overhead lighting.

5) Buttons and other small samples are more easily influenced by the color of the standard. The bigger the sample, the better.

6) Don't look at a color for more than 5 seconds at a time when assessing. The brain compensates for color differences perceived by the eye after a few seconds.


When a customer indicates that an event will take place outdoors (a wedding, photos, etc.), you can make an assessment using outdoor lighting. However, time of day, time of year, weather conditions, and latitude and longitude all affect color assessment. Keeping all these variables in mind, your customer can still get some idea of a color match using these guidelines:

1) Do not stand in direct sunlight. Sunlight will affect your eyes' ability to see beyond the shine of the material to the color.

2) If a color matches under both indoor lighting and daylight, it could still have characteristics of metamerism due to different dye classifications and processes.

3) The colors that are most likely to have metameric problems include taupe, mauve, lilac, tan, celadon, gray/blues, and grays.

4) Stores with limited access to outside light could set up an area with a Durotest Daytlite 65 TXC 2ft 20watt fluorescent bulb. This bulb will not replace a ball of flaming gases 93 million miles away but will simulate average daylight and save you running in and out of the building.

5) If a customer insists on a daylight match, and has no stock color choices, this would then be considered a Custom Match and would have to be referred to Dyeables custom dye department.

Incandescent Lighting

Another common indoor light is incandescent (typical household bulbs) lighting, sometimes referred to as "Candlelight". Often a customer purchases an item in store lighting (Cool white flourescent) then goes home and looks at the item (shoes) next to the target color (dress) and calls back the next day unhappy. The best cure is prevention in this case. Having an incandescent light nearby to turn on when assessing the color and to show during final assessment can give the customer a realistic idea of what the color will look like when ordering, as well as before they take the item home.

General Electric’s 40,60,or100 watt frosted bulbs are suitable standard bulbs available most anywhere.

If a customer insists on an incandescent match, and has no stock color choices, this would be considered a Custom Match and would have to be referred to the Dyeable’s custom dye department.


When formulating dyes on your own, encourage your customer to purchase all shoes with as close to the same type of material as the target (dress) and to keep all styles and sizes ordered in the same material. Avoid a customer bringing you different brands of shoes. Different companies use different finish additives on white shoes.

If your customer insists on different fabrics, start a batch large enough to dye all shoes, then formulated to match any Matte Satin before Luxe and Luxe before Satin.

After you like the color for Matte then thin it to work for Luxe, then thin it to Satin. Using this technique you alleviate the need to try to get a parallel color balance twice or three times.

Chiffons and transparents

If a customer would like a color-match to the top layer of a Chiffon or transparent/translucent material, it would be best to assess the material and matches with a swatch "backed" with a piece of the same material the final product (shoe) would be made of ……. Back a chiffon with a luxe
When assessing or formulating for any multi-layered color it is best to "step back" from the swatch and target color to judge color based on a "composite" of the colors that are layered together and which they create. Remember, even the client wearing the shoes are going to be at least 3-6 feet away from the shoe/dress match and everyone else usually much further.

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Agreed-upon Light Source for Colortec/Dyeables

To ensure a consistent visual match, of any sample (a shoe or pocketbook, for instance) with a given standard (retail color book or dress sample), the viewer (customer, salesperson, or lab tech) must make all color judgments in a consistent light source. This includes:

1) assessing the target color (the dress),
2) selecting the correct swatch in our color book and
3) viewing the final product (the shoe or pocketbook).

The Colortec/Dyeables agreed-upon light source for all vendors is F11/10, cool white fluorescent lighting (most commonly used retail lighting). Judging colors in other light sources will not guarantee a match.

To set up a compatible lighting environment to judge our book colors, a store should set up an area for viewing using one or more of the following 35K Ultralume bulbs:
1) Phillips 2ft Fluorescent bulb #F20T12
2) Phillips 4ft Fluorescent bulb #F40
3) Phillips 8ft Fluorescent bulb #F96T12

It is beyond the scope of this paper (or a paper the size of WAR & PEACE) to discuss color theory and application, dye chemistry, and all the other real world challenges of dyeing shoes and matching color. This paper is an ongoing work in progress, as questions arise, edits will be made.

Please feel free to call me with any questions 8-5 EST at 207-777-5096 Ex#27
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