Resources, tools can help ensure an accurate refinish color match

June 1, 2019
Whether a painter is working with the latest spectrophotometer or using traditional color decks and tint charts, the key to getting the right color match is having access to a comprehensive database with robust reflectance data and algorithms, which lead to the right color formula and help ensure an invisible repair.

These are exciting times in the automotive refinish industry. Dramatic advances in color technology combined with familiar and reliable resources have created a diverse array of digital and print tools that make accurate refinish color matching faster and easier than ever, and since accurate color matching saves time and money, boosts productivity and increases customer satisfaction, everyone involved — paint manufacturers and distributors, OEMs, collision centers and consumers — is eager for refinish colors to match the first time.

Whether a painter is working with the latest spectrophotometer or using traditional color decks and tint charts, the key to getting the right color match is having access to a comprehensive database with robust reflectance data and algorithms, which lead to the right color formula and help ensure an invisible repair.

Identifying colors and variants

With new, sophisticated colors being introduced every year, along with a significant number of variants, it’s critical that a paint manufacturer keep up with all the changes. At PPG, we have a web-based global database we update daily to give painters the latest information available. The ever-expanding database currently has more than 3.5 million formulas painters can call up quickly using the most advanced tools in the industry.

To ensure a database stays current, paint manufacturers gather color information from numerous places. Automotive OEMs are a key source, since they regularly work with paint companies when developing new colors. However, as painters know, a vehicle’s actual color does not always match an OEM’s prime formula. Two cars painted the identical OEM silver may have slight variations even if they were painted at the same plant. Variants that appear frequently are cataloged in a paint company’s database along with the original OEM prime.

Parts programs also provide color information. If a color match can’t be found in the database, or if a painter needs a specific manufacturer color in the database, a car part can be sent to the paint company for analysis. A “special” can be produced for a particular instance, and if a color is deemed popular enough, a variant is born.

U.S. ports of entry are also a source of variants. If a paint company monitors incoming auto shipments at ports, field color experts are often the first to see the real-world version of a new vehicle color when they perform on-the-spot color audits against OEM information. If the field experts identify a color deviation, they alert the paint company’s color lab, and if warranted, a variant is developed.

PPG delivers more than 25,000 colors annually through parts programs and the port of entry process. In these situations, when a variant is identified, PPG adds it to the database for future reference. Accessing that color database is then the key to finding the right color match. There are several innovative tools to help achieve this using digital, print or support tools — depending on what works best for your body shop.

The digital path to the database

Innovative internet-enabled software programs have come a long way to deliver information to painters. Software advancements now provide Google-like color search capability, incorporate spray-out libraries, personalized mix sessions, volume estimators, job management, customized settings and advanced reporting. The PPG database, as an example, can be accessed by a software program that, with its customizable search options, allows a paint technician to quickly locate the latest color variants for exteriors, bumpers, and accent and under-hood colors all in one system. Digital software technology opens the database for painters to obtain better-than-ever accuracy in color formula retrieval, matching and mixing of paint.

Another effective digital tool is a software-supported spectrophotometer that is designed to identify colors and retrieve formulas. This sophisticated instrument allows a close look at a vehicle’s surface and is extremely helpful in identifying color through the reading of color angles and texture. Technicians benefit from the captured images in two ways: 

  1.  Taking measurements of an unblemished surface
  2. Looking at the images for the best blendable color match.

The basis for any spectrophotometer’s color matching capability lies in an extensive color formula database containing reflectance and image characteristics along with high-level mathematics that efficiently and accurately delivers “target to match” returns to the end user. A spectrophotometer with these advanced capabilities can dramatically increase a collision shop’s throughput and minimize costly redos.

Print tool fundamentals are better than ever

For collision centers that prefer print tools for identifying color formulas, highly efficient, industry-leading solutions are available. Major paint companies offer color variant decks with chips that are chromatically arranged for speedy reference, giving the painter the ability to choose a color that comes closest to matching the vehicle. Colors are updated regularly with OEM prime colors and the latest variants.

Tinting guides are an additional component in a well-stocked color-match toolbox. Through written descriptions and large, graphic color chips, the charts provide toner information and help guide painters through the tinting process. Painters can determine what specific toners will do to adjust a color to achieve the desired results.

Going the extra step with support

While not every paint company offers this asset, color librarians are great sources for identifying historic and hard-to-find colors. Color librarians use an old-school technique: searching through reference books, old color guides, even car magazines to match colors. Color libraries are a treasure trove of information.

Customer support to help with the use of color tool hardware and software is also a resource to draw upon. At PPG, for example, our Color IT team can be reached through our Help Desk and our Field Support Team to help with software installation and setup, network and internet connectivity, warranty replacements and software training.

Which path for you?

There are multiple paths to refinish color accuracy. The digital, print and support tools are all there. Which are right for your operation? Facility size, number of employees, production numbers and, of course, budget are all considerations in the approach selected. The leading paint manufacturers offer a variety of color-matching resources, and your paint distributor can help you choose what is right for your particular situation. In fact, it’s always a good idea to check with your distributor to make sure you have all the latest information and the tools you need to get color matches right the first time.

About the Author

Nicole Sinclair

Nicole Sinclair is PPG senior manager, color solutions for Automotive Refinish, North America.  She oversees market need and develops strategy for color innovation, including digital, print and support tools. With more than 20 years of experience in marketing, including 10 years in the professional coatings industry, she drives understanding of end user needs and delivers solutions that differentiate PPG in the marketplace. 

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