Actual Useful Information About #TheDress and Accurate Color

The average customer doesn’t understand how the images they see on their screen got there. It’s voodoo, magic, and for online retailers a customer service problem waiting to happen. #TheDress is much ado about something that actually matters to all retailers and I’ll try to keep the “why” as non-techy as possible.

You can’t control Color

You can’t control color in print, but the illusion of control can be maintained by having someone who knows color do your prepress and match color at the press run. I know, bummer right? All these years and accurate color is still a myth. There are so many variables involved in achieving accurate color that even if you get perfect color on press, where your customer views the catalog will alter the color. Sunlight is blue, lightbulbs are yellow, florescent bulbs are green and so on. Older people see more yellow because the lenses in their eyes yellow over time. Most men see less color than most women. Click to read more. You can’t control color in the online world at all. Not even a little.

Does that matter?

Probably not. If you have a product assortment that requires absolute color matching, the only way to make sure the customer is getting absolute correct color is a swatch service. For most products, foods and services “pleasing color” is fine. Pleasing color means just that: pleasing to the eye. Your meat isn’t green, your bird feeder looks copper, everything appears as one would expect.

Online is a challenge

Color online is device dependent, which means that every computer controls it’s own color settings. So while we can maintain the illusion of control with print, online is the wild, wild west of color. Monitors use RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color and if your monitor isn’t showing the Blue channel #TheDress is gold and white. Photoshop can make anything any color but, once it goes online, any monitor can make anything any color. You’re shoveling smoke into the wind.

Is there nothing that can be done?

If it matters, and #TheDress is a good example of why it could mess with returns and burn a lot of customer service time, then you can consider the following steps:

  • Offer swatches
  • Add a guide to calibrating a monitor to your customer service page. Just kidding! Your customer service and IT people would tar and feather you. Think about teaching 65 to 80 year old customers how to find their monitor color settings on every monitor out there, then walking them through the process of matching your company’s color profile. Not going to happen. It would be easier and less painful for the nice folks in customer service if you just go down and staple their hands to their foreheads.
  • Make sure the color names are well done. If you have colors like “Blushing Jade”, “Persimmon Illusion” or “Disco Green” you’re not helping. If you have different colors in every department and they all have different shades but the same names, you aren’t helping. If you don’t have color standards already, developing company wide color standards is a great use of your time.
  • Make every effort to provide accurate color by having monitors set to the same color profile. Designers have color calibration tools like Spyder. They’re way more fussy than most people need. If your teams calibrate their monitors to the same standards, you’ll be close. If you are in the creative department, take the time to calibrate your monitor properly—for you it matters. If you do photo editing buy a color calibration device.

Accurate color  matters and you should care because it will impact inventory and customer service. But you still can’t control it. Do the very best you can, then take a deep breath and let it go.

Sarah Fletcher

President/Creative Director Catalog Design Studios Inc.
Co-Founder Catalog University


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