• Michael Skalka

The Color of EVERYTHING!

The importance of this primary color mixing system to achieve a matched color compared to a sample is that an objective, numerical value could be assigned that corresponded with the hue of the sample. So instead of saying that a sample is light yellowish-brown, the red, yellow, blue slides could be used to describe, but more importantly, to replicate in the future, the color that was matched when the initial measurement was taken. This has profound significance for describing color in a quantifiable, duplicate way that does not rely on memory or guesswork.



From the annals of “unsung heroes” comes another member of the scientific community who contributed to the field of color measurement. The ability to control anything in the world of industrial production is impossible unless it can be measured. Color is no exception.


This essay explores the crossroads of alcohol production and color measurement that expanded over time to include the measurement of a wide variety of products. Joseph Williams Lovibond, 1833 – 1918, used his professional training in chemistry to achieve quantifiable control in the production of beer. His invention, the Lovibond Tintometer was introduced in 1887. Lovibond created it to match the color of one batch of beer with another as a way to control production quality.

While you might think that a device to measure color invented in 1887 is obsolete, this is far from the truth. The core concept of the Lovibond color colorimeter is sold today by many scientific instrument companies. The need to compare the difference between two colors is no different today than it was in the 19th century when Lovibond invented the device. The hue, value and chroma of beer was determined to be an indicator of consistency between batches.

Today, modern Lovibond color comparators can be as simple as engineering a way to put two colors closely side by side with consistent illumination so they can be compared visually. The more sophisticated instruments that can identify the sample against a database of standards that match known benchmarks for product consistency, identity and quality.

Beer makers, petroleum refineries, dye manufacturers, sugar and flour producers and many others all have a need to assure that the color of their finished products are consistent and match previous production runs. In some cases, the finished product must match a particular color standard to be considered as ready for sales release.

An integral part of Lovibond’s original color measuring instrument involved using transparent, tinted red, yellow and blue glass slides that were organized from very light tints to dark tints. By inserting into the colorimeter the right red, yellow and blue hues, viewing the light transmitted through all three slides simultaneously could be used to match a test sample for comparison and quantification.

The importance of this primary color mixing system to achieve a matched color compared to a sample is that an objective, numerical value could be assigned that corresponded with the hue of the sample. So instead of saying that a sample is light yellowish-brown, the red, yellow, blue slides could be used to describe, but more importantly, to replicate in the future, the color that was matched when the initial measurement was taken. This has profound significance for describing color in a quantifiable and can be duplicated in a way that does not rely on memory or guesswork.

So, how does this obscure, little known device made by a British beer manufacturer have any bearing on our art world? The history of color theory is rooted in understanding visible light and how the eye and brain use red, blue and green to perceive color. Many theorists parsed the spectrum to map color space on paper to indicate where colors “resided” on a two- or three-dimensional rendering of color space. It was not until the early 1940s that color measurement tools introduced scientists to using instrumentation to identify and catalog color so that it could be accurately positioned in a color matrix.


Joseph Lovibond’s contribution to color measurement science was based on the idea that the subtractive model, the one we all use as artists to mix proportions of red, yellow and blue to render all colors (as opposed to the additive model where blue, green and red light mixes to form color) could be used to compare and match existing items in a way that could be quantified using tinted ramped intervals of red, yellow and blue combinations.


The Lovibond instrument is a mechanical form of what every artist does in their brain and hands when mixing colors. Some artists practice this mixing methodology almost exactly like the Lovibond colorimeter when they limit a palette of red, yellow and blue pigments making all primary, secondary and tertiary colors out of just 3 primary hues. (Artist add white to achieve values that primary colors cannot produce unaided)

So, an artist is a human Lovibond colorimeter, even if they use more than just a primary palette. Training and experience send signals to the brain to add more yellow, red or blue to a mixture to achieve the desired hue. It would be possible to quantify the amount of each color to achieve a hue by precisely measuring the volume of selected pigments. Several computer programs calculate and display hues when multiple colors are input into the software.


We all know that pigments have individual characteristics such as color bias that influences a mixture. We compensate for this constantly. Stopping to think about how amazing the human brain is at working out color mixing is a point worth pondering. It is made all the better by sitting down with fellow artists to share a pint or two of a pilsner (Lovibond value #3) a porter (Lovibond value #24) or a stout. (Lovibond value 30) along with some pretzels (L*a*b* surface color measurement = 55.4 11.3 37.3) Yup, EVERYTHING manufacturers produce is measured and recorded.


The Syntax of Color

28 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All