LED Lighting – Color Perception and Design

How it affects our color perception and what designers need to know.

Author: Shoshana Burgett, Pink Elephant Productions

LED Lighting – How it affects our color perception and what designers need to know.

In another episode of structured color – Shoshana Burgett, Founder of Colorkarma, and Ryan Stanley, Global Colorist, Materials, and Color Innovation for PVH discuss the wonders of LED lighting.  We share hints and tips on how apparel, footwear, and packaging designers can leverage current lighting standards like D65 and D50 to understand where LED lighting fits and how it can be managed within the design and creative process, 

Shoshana Burgett: Hi, this is Shoshana Burgett from colorkarma.com. I am here with Ryan Stanley, the Senior Director of color; all things color PVH. Welcome again.

Ryan Stanley: Good to be here.

Shoshana Burgett: Good to be here. So we’re going to continue on our last conversation about illuminance. And the heated topic around LEDs.

Ryan Stanley: Yeah,

Shoshana Burgett: Right. You said, you know, incandescent is still one of the most used lights, as is fluorescent, right. But we see more and more LEDs and especially in retail spaces. So where do LEDs sit in this visualization and understanding when you have the three other illuminants to check under? I mean, you said incandescence, you said the cool white, and D65, which is daylight, right? So, where does LED sit in that range?

Ryan Stanley: You know, I’m a bit of an odd duck in that regard.

Shoshana Burgett: As always

Ryan Stanley: When you talk to most people in the industry, ideally, people want to know, they want digital tolerances against exactly how under the illuminant, that the color is going to be evaluated under. The wacky thing with LEDs is there are so many different types, there are so many different versions of it, they’re changing so often that it’s kind of hard for a standard body AATCC to D65, cool white, incandescent, stay stable for however many decades, LEDs are changing, almost by the week, the month, the year.

Shoshana Burgett: Yep, exactly.

Ryan Stanley: So I took a step back from this and thought to myself, what is the purpose of design execution? It’s making sure in my mind, it’s stewards of their selected color, right? So in whatever environment that they evaluated, in whatever environment that they’ve chosen that color. Now, ideally, I have a spectral curve. I have a standard curve to match a color standard and associated digital data to match if I’m, so what’s that, quote, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, if it was like a duck talks like a duck and quacks like a duck. It’s a duck. Right? So if I have a standard reflectance curve, and regardless, forget about LEDs for a second, if I’m looking at sets of illuminance taking snapshots of that color, under different parts of its spectral curve. A red cast light incandescent, a blue cast light, day light, you know, maybe a yellow or warm casted light, a cool white or ultra loom, or whatever else like that. I’m getting a good overall assessment of the level of potential inconstancy of that color. And or if I’m comparing a standard to a batch, any metamerism that might exist underneath those different illuminants. So at that point, our LED definitions in regards to execution really required. Potentially not. The industry has been getting away with not having one for however many years now.

Shoshana Burgett: Many years.

Ryan Stanley: Yeah, and they’re in the stores. And people are buying clothes and have been buying clothes under LEDs and looking at their clothes and their objects under their home LEDs. And we’re still matching color consistently. I got to think maybe then the secret sauce is defining color under a set of illuminance that looks at the curve in its entirety to define metamerism and inconstancy and not necessarily relying on having the actual illuminant table for that led.

Shoshana Burgett:  You’re measuring under those three different lighting sources to create a spectrum that is under an LED, you’re going to still have that spectrum.

Ryan Stanley: Yeah

Shoshana Burgett: Especially because now users have control over the LEDs. So if it’s morning, the LEDs are switching more to the blue, but during the day, it’ll go over to the yellow and red. And so in your theory, which I like is as long as you have those three points in time of variations, then it doesn’t matter because the LEDs are going to be within those three ranges.

Ryan Stanley:  Yeah, the call out you’re looking for, if you’re trying to coordinate a mixed media style that has all different materials on it that are dyed with different sets of dye, and you’re trying to get it to be as constant and minimize metamerism as possible. If you’re doing that looking at traditional illuminances, like ultra loom or cool white, daylight, incandescent, you’re exactly right, you’re looking, you’re identifying if a level of inconstancy would exist. And if you still so choose to pick a standard that is inconstant. Now you’re matching that inconstancy for your batch because now you’re looking at it under those illuminances. And you have defined tolerances against it. And then the color will look, however, the color will look under whatever light it is, because that’s how it works. So as long as you’re mitigating inconstancy,

Shoshana Burgett: Right

Ryan Stanley: And by having digital tolerances under at least three sets of illuminance, that cover that gamut or that cover that reflectance curve, you’re mitigating metamerism against your standard. And that’s how we’ve been getting away with not having defined LED tables in our color evaluation software.

Shoshana Burgett: And to your point, you have those three different standards. So again, no one has the high under an end-user, you can only wear that shirt under that light, and you can only do this under that light. By having multiple standards, you cover that range. And in printing, it’s usually just D 50. But this actually applies to print and packaging. Because as you go to the stores, as we said, even the basic cosmetic and beauty counters, whether or not that’s a CVS or Target, they’re now all doing LEDs under each shelf. And your whole lighting and experience is now very different than what the approval was, which was originally D 50. So again, you should be looking at it under a range, so that you understand the various experiences that the end consumer is going to have whether or not that’s a shirt, a package, a box, or your shoes.

Ryan Stanley: Yeah, your stickers that you held up in our last conversation. I mean, that’s a great example.

Shoshana Burgett: I love them

Ryan Stanley: If you’re only looking at color under a single illuminant, then you could coordinate your printed package, and think that it’s fantastic. And then you’re exactly right, then they stick it in the store underneath an LED string. And your green turns brown or your khaki turns red, or your gray turns purple. And now you’re telling an entirely different story from what you wanted in the first place.

Shoshana Burgett: Exactly. And that’s really, you know, a nice way to do that and approach LEDs. That’s it, that’s really nice. And it is different. Because I know from my days, and you said yourself at AATCC. We keep discussing how to standardize LEDs. And I do like your approach and the theory to it. Because again, it’s all theory until proven otherwise. But to support your theory. We’ve had LEDs for years already. And so it’s already working in that approach.

Ryan Stanley:  Am I a dork? Yes. Do I want defined tolerances for exactly how the color is going to be evaluated under ie: definitions of all LEDs? Yes. Am I gonna get that? I haven’t gotten it yet. So it’s a matter of how do we manage it? How do we mitigate issues that might crop up with color, ie: metamerism and inconstancy? The only place I could see where standardized LED definitions would make sense, is if the design would want to have them in whatever evaluation software that they’re using upstream to build their story from the very beginning. I mentioned in our last conversation having their color palettes, Photoshop, Illustrator, whatever else under the different illuminance to decide if they’re comfortable with the level of inconstancy that exists for some of the colors for traditional color standards. So in that instance, if they want to build their palette out under a particular illuminant that would be beneficial then for design.

Shoshana Burgett: Right.

Ryan Stanley: But then which one do they pick? How is it standardized? Ideally, we would push these standard committees. Ideally, we need to have those conversations with AATCC, the RA 36 committee, and include design. So the rules that we come up with for management of this is not so execution-focused. I mean, it’s good that we have that of course.

Shoshana Burgett: Right.

Ryan Stanley: But I think that the one piece that we’re missing is paying attention to how the color is selected in the first place,

Shoshana Burgett: Right

Ryan Stanley: The environment in which the color is selected in the first place.

Shoshana Burgett: Right and we focus so much on the QC and the process. So there are so many things by not engaging, the earlier the defining of the colors. And you know, what that looks like under the different illuminance, the different materials, we need to include the creative community in those processes and in those committees.

Ryan Stanley: So there’s where I can see standard definitions for LED illuminance would potentially make sense, the designer wants to make sure. But otherwise, they again, they still have our standard set of illuminance, you know, ultra loom, D 65, cool white, incandescent, whatever else like that. So, depending upon the brand, depending upon the message of the brand, or you know, where the colors are going, the environment that the colors are going to be evaluated in, they still have the opportunity to look at the existing illuminance and building that and build it that way. So it doesn’t stop them from being able to create, but, the more information you have, the better.

Shoshana Burgett: The more information you have upfront, the better decisions, the smarter decisions you make, and you’re not pushing the problem forward. Right, you’re solving it upstream. We have to include more creatives in this discussion, which is, again, part of why we do this and why we’re having these conversations.

Ryan Stanley: I think a word that pops up again and again across all of our conversations is, trust and partner trust,

Shoshana Burgett: Trust and communication, and building that over time, and then you speed up.

Ryan Stanley: You start having design included in these illuminant definition conversations, you start exposing them to inconstancy and metamerism words that they typically might not have heard, unless they’re being talked to, from their color execution team for things to pay attention to. For example, not being forced to use a lightbox, but to pay attention to color under different lightboxes. So imagine how much easier those conversations would potentially be in the industry if there was, you know, a design group included in these AATCC conversations.

Shoshana Burgett: And your keyword was they are talked to, right?

Ryan Stanley:  Talked at.

Shoshana Burgett: Yeah, talked at and so they’re not part of the conversation. So that’s kind of what we’re trying to resolve. They need to be part of that conversation and have that baseline understanding. And, yes, it makes them more marketable, it enhances their skills, it also gives them more freedom to design and create and be faster and more efficient. Who doesn’t want to have that on their CVs, or, you know, promotions or everything else you’s not talked at to? No one wants to be talked at, they want to be part of the conversation, and by understanding the different illuminants the different types of processes, they’re part of that conversation. They’re a part of that engaging discussion of how to solve it, how to do it, how to move things forward.

Ryan Stanley:  Yeah, right now, I mean, the conversation goes as follows: design says you don’t understand my design aesthetic and what I want, and execution says, You don’t understand the digital tolerances or the tolerances that I’m trying to define against all the different materials and the different substrates and whatever else. And it’s this constant, back and forth.

Shoshana Burgett: At the end of the day, time, money, and basic physics of how the color will look on that material with that technology. So instead of doing this, they have to work together so they understand it because I can’t change the physics of what’s going to happen

Ryan Stanley: Again, that’s why I like to quote “a rose by any other name…”, once the colors picked, it is what it is.

Shoshana Burgett: It is what it is.

Ryan Stanley: Then it’s just a matter of, defining it and executing it to that standard.

Shoshana Burgett: Yep. Ryan, thank you so very much for our fireside chats.

Ryan Stanley: Yeah. I love it.

Shoshana Burgett: This is Shoshana, Burgett from colorkarma.com have a wonderful and colorful day.

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