Factors to consider when selecting non-contact colour measurement sensors

Author : Stephen Smith, Product Sales Engineer, MICRO-EPSILON UK

12 May 2017

There are several key factors to consider before purchasing or specifying a non-contact colour sensor, including accuracy, the type of surface or object being measured, environmental conditions and mechanical setup, says Stephen Smith, Product Sales Engineer at MICRO-EPSILON UK.


How accurate does the sensor need to be? Is it the absolute colour that you need to measure or just colour detection? For measuring absolute colour, the sensor accuracy (measured in Delta E) will need to be high, in the range 0 to 1.0 ?E.

What object or material do you need to measure?

For non-contact colour sensors, the ideal surface for sensor performance and accuracy is smooth and flat, where the same optics can be used. However, textured or structured surfaces can also be measured accurately by changing the measuring head on the sensor and/or light source. In addition, multiple sensors can be used to measure at different measuring points on the sample prior to averaging these values.

Curved surfaces or samples can also cause problems for colour sensors. On a curved surface, the light from its source is reflected to the receiver differently compared to a flat surface. If the sensor controller is not set up accordingly, the accuracy of the sensor will suffer. For a sensor to perform accurately, the measurement opening has to be fully covered and, generally, the curved radius of the sample should be fewer than 10 times the diameter of the measurement field.

Even transparent or translucent objects can be measured using a non-contact colour sensor.

Environmental conditions

In many production processes, the temperature will fluctuate. If the colour sensor becomes too hot, its accuracy may suffer, for example the Delta E value of the sensor will change as the temperature increases. Therefore, look for a supplier that states clearly on the sensor datasheet how the accuracy of the sensor changes with temperature.

Detritus and oil will affect the accuracy of colour measurements. Non-contact colour sensors are more sensitive to contaminants in the measuring gap.

Mechanical setup

Mechanical mounting of the sensor and maintaining the distance between the sensor and the target object crucial, particularly if the sensor is integrated to an inline production process. Vibrations from the surrounding environment may move the sensor and affect its colour measurement accuracy.

Filters and lenses

Lenses are vital when measuring colours. Clear glass lenses are used for large distances and matt surfaces, while sensors with diffuse lenses are used for inhomogeneous, textured and shiny surfaces. A polarising filter is normally used for highly reflective surfaces. Sensors with UV LEDs tend to be used for fluorescent objects. Look for a supplier that can offer a range of different lenses across its sensor series.


If colour measurements need to be made on high-speed production lines, the inline colour measurement system will need to be integrated to other industrial control/quality control systems. The measurement system should therefore provide various connectivity/networking options including digital interfaces such as Ethernet, EtherCAT and RS422. These interfaces allow colour measurements to be monitored remotely.

Unlike conventional inline colour measurement systems, the latest advanced systems recognise colours by both comparing them to reference values and using the reflection spectrum to ensure unique identification.

Adaptive learning

Most suppliers will provide their colour sensors with a ‘teach-in’ function. This enables the sensor to learn and adapt to the application by using samples of the correct colour. Following this process, the sensors are able to compare the colour samples they have been taught with the target object, then operate independently, normally outputting a pass/fail signal.

Contact Details and Archive...

Print this page | E-mail this page