Color-Match Technology: How The Pros Match Original Paint
In the old days, matching paint colors during auto body repairs was a hit-or-miss process. Paint technicians would scan the catalogs of body paint manufacturers to find the original color and order the paint. For custom colors, they would manually mix paints together and “eyeball” the outcome to attain the closest match. Not surprisingly, results varied considerably depending on the color and the skill of the technician.
These days, auto body professionals use sophisticated technology tools to create, including computer programs, pigment scanners and in-house paint mixers, to achieve perfect color matches for their repairs. They also use high-performance paint sprayers to ensure full coverage of the surface and produce a more complete color match.
Spectrophotometers Make the Difference
Today’s auto body paint specialists rely on the spectrophotometer – a small device connected to a computer that electronically measures color – to match the car’s original paint color. It works by shining a white light on the panel being repaired to precisely measure the wavelength of light reflected off the panel, and then storing the reading in digital memory. This reading is often called a “prescription” because it identifies the exact amount of various pigments required to achieve a color match.
To avoid interference with the reading, spectrophotometers use interference filters to deflect other light wavelengths so that only the true color of the original paint is measured. The wavelength representing the correct color match is allowed to pass through the filters and is then sent to the computer, which calculates the amount and shade of pigments needed to create a perfect color match.
Ensuring a Perfect Match on the Car
Achieving an accurate color match does not automatically ensure that it will look the same as the original paint once applied to the panel. The paint color on a car can appear slightly different when viewed from different angles. In addition, the type of paint gun the technician uses, the mixing volume set at the spray nozzle, and the angle at which the technician applies the paint can all impact the way the tiny paint flakes settle on the panel. This can, cause discrepancies in shade that are difficult to see close up, but easy to spot at a distance.
To avoid this problem, paint professionals use high-performance paint sprayers to ensure the right mix comes out of the nozzle and that it gets evenly distributed across the auto body part being painted. More important, after mixing the correct paint color, experienced professionals don’t immediately apply it to the car. Instead, they spray a small amount on a card and let it dry. Then they place the card next to the original paint on the car (in sunlight) to test the accuracy of the match. If it doesn’t match perfectly, they will adjust the formula for the paint and repeat the testing process until it matches.
When spraying the color-matched paint onto the panel, the technician also sprays the new color into the other areas of the panel being repaired so that it gradually blends into the existing color. This requires the technician to use a seamless spray pattern and to stop the new painting just short of the edge of the panel. Otherwise, it could carry over to adjacent panels and create an obvious mismatch.
Mobile Paint Matching
Recently, new mobile technologies, called “color finders,” have been introduced that make it quicker and easier for auto paint professionals to retrieve color information from manufacturers. Using a smart phone, tablet or other mobile device, they can now access various web sites to research colors by manufacturer, year, color code and color designation to find what they need to mix the paint matching formula. They can also confirm color matches by viewing a digital representation of the paint’s color.
Some paint manufacturers have also introduced handheld spectrophotometers that use built-in cameras to identify colors in waterborne paint systems. These convenient portable devices enable auto body paint pros to find precise color matches for even the most complicated color effects, allowing them to quickly calculate and produce the color formulas they need.
Auto body painting has come a long way in the last two decades. As paint matching and application technologies continue to evolve, the ability to achieve perfect color matches will only get better.