What's The Difference Between a Colorimeter and Spectrocolorimeter?

Sper Scientific Color Management

Colorimeters vs. Spectrocolorimeters

Both colorimeters and spectrocolorimeters are instruments designed to measure color, but they operate in slightly different ways and have different applications. 

CR Series Mini ColorReaderColorimeters possess several characteristics that distinguish them from spectrocolorimeters. First, they typically sell a lower price point, making them a more cost-effective option. Additionally, their compact size make them convenient for a variety of applications in the field, and they are also relatively easy to use. Colorimeters excel in determining colorimetric values under standard illuminants, primarily focusing on reflectance measurements. However, it's worth noting that colorimeters aren't suited for intricate color analyses such as metamerism and color strength assessments. Despite this limitation, they offer advantages like reduced measurement time, user-friendliness and affordability.

The components of a colorimeter typically include a sensor, filters, and a basic data processor. During color measurement, the sample undergoes illumination from a light source adjusted to a specified illuminant. The resulting reflected light is then dispersed using filters that mimic red, green, and blue light, mirroring the human eye's functioning. These filters simulate the responses of the three types of cones in human vision.

The numerical data obtained from this process represent absolute colorimetric measurements and the color difference between the standard color and the sample under examination. Primarily employed in quality control applications, colorimeters ensure that measured values fall within acceptable tolerances, thereby maintaining product consistency and quality.

Spectrophotometers represent a more advanced and precise category of color measurement equipment compared to colorimeters. They excel in performing complex tasks such as color quality control, formulation, standard specification, tolerance assessment, and facilitating communication across supply chains. Available in both tabletop models for laboratory research and quality control and portable variants for on-site or field studies, spectrophotometers offer versatility but may come with a higher price tag.

3nh PS2060 Spectro ColorimeterSpectrocolorimeters stand out for their ability to measure color across the entire spectrum. By assessing the total reflectance or transmittance of an object across the visible spectrum wavelengths (typically ranging from 400nm to 700nm), these instruments provide detailed analysis of the sample's interaction with light. Operating with precision increments of 10 or 20 nm, they capture the photometric properties of the sample, whether in reflection or transmission, and determine its colorimetric functions. Key to their operation is the monochromator, positioned between the sample and the receiver, ensuring accurate capture of reflection or transmission values within specified parameters.

One significant advantage of spectrocolorimeters is their capability to detect metameric effects resulting from variations in illuminants, offering invaluable insights for color analysis and quality assessment.

Colorimeter Features and Characteristics

  • A colorimeter measures color by comparing the sample to a standard color scale, typically using filters to isolate specific wavelengths of light.
  • It provides measurements based on tristimulus values (usually represented as XYZ or RGB), which describe the amount of red, green, and blue light needed to match the color of the sample.
  • Colorimeters are often used for basic color measurements in applications like quality control, where precise color matching isn't necessary.

Spectrocolorimeter  Features and Characteristics

  • A spectrocolorimeter, also known as a spectrophotometer or spectral colorimeter, measures color by analyzing the entire spectrum of light reflected or transmitted by the sample.
  • It provides measurements across a range of wavelengths, giving more detailed information about the sample's color characteristics.
  • Spectrocolorimeters can measure additional color properties such as hue, saturation, and color purity, making them more versatile than colorimeters.
  • They are commonly used in industries where precise color matching and analysis are critical, such as printing, textile manufacturing, paint production, and food processing.


While both instruments are used for color measurement, a colorimeter provides simpler measurements based on filtered light, while a spectrocolorimeter offers more comprehensive analysis by examining the entire spectrum of light. The choice between them depends on the specific requirements of the application and the level of detail needed in color analysis.

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