Instrumental Measurement Helps Wood Manufacturers Produce Repeatable Colors


Posted on April 14, 2017

Customers Expect Repeatable Colors in Wood Products

When customers are shopping for quality wood products, they pay attention to color. So, when you’re manufacturing pool tables, cabinetry, furniture, wood paneling, and other quality wood products, it’s important to meet color specifications. Implementing color tolerance standards for each product is the first step towards repeatable results and increased customer satisfaction.

 Repeatability is essential when filling orders, either for individual customers or large distributors. The end customer will expect a wood product that is about the same color as the display model they saw in a store, or the picture they saw online or in a catalog. Color is one of the most direct impressions a customer will have of a wood product. Based on color1, they will decide if a product is suitable or not. So, as a manufacturer, you must be able to make each product in a line out of the same color wood. 

Simply making each piece in a product line out of the same species tree is not sufficient to entirely control color. Different minerals and chemicals2 in water, soil, and air in the tree’s environment can affect the final color of its wood. Also, various stresses in the life of the tree—such a strong wind events, droughts, or fires—can affect the wood’s color as well. Not only does the natural color of wood differ, but differences in stain application and environment can alter the color of wood as well. So, trusting to species and stain to create repeatable colors in your wood products is a good way to build a pool table with different color legs

Spectrophotometers Ensure Color Repeatability in Wood Products

The best way to guarantee repeatable colors in wood products manufacturing is by the implementing an objective color quality control system. For each product, an acceptable range of colors must be chosen. These colors can then be translated into numerical coordinates on a color scale like the CIE L*a*b* system. After the wood is stained, quality control engineers should scan it with a spectrophotometer. These instruments determine the color of an object on an objective, numerical scale by observing reflected light. Engineers then compare this number to the standard. Then they pass acceptably colored wood into production, and incorrectly colored wood back to be recolored. 

When measuring the color of wood with a spectrophotometer, it’s important to note that wood naturally possesses color variation in its grain. A certain amount of variation is expected, and an inherent part of the product. To measure around this3, it’s best to take a series of observations with the instrument of different areas of the base color, not the grain. When averaged together, this sample of the base color provides an accurate measurement of the overall color. While this may sound onerous for the quality control engineer, a handheld instrument can record these observations in seconds. The instrument can then produce an average measurement based on built-in algorithms, delivering results with machinelike rapidity and accuracy.

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