Are your colors what they seem to be?

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Have you ever noticed how colors can look different under different types of lighting?

For instance, say you create a painting in your studio with rich, vibrant red-oranges and soft lilacs. After setting aside the painting for a week, you decide to do some touch-ups, so you laboriously re-mix those particular colors until they look just right. After the painting has dried, you take it outside to photograph the finished piece and you are shocked to notice that the the newer strokes that looked like strong reds in your studio now appear to be more of a muted rose and the lovely lilac is now a lifeless grey. What happened?!

This is a phenomenon known as metameric failure, which is a term that describes what happens when certain colors appear to match under one type of lighting, but appear different under other types of lighting. Is this something that artists need to worry about?

Usually, you won’t need to worry about metameric failure too much when it comes to your artwork. The scenario above describes a relatively extreme circumstance which may occur if the original colors were matched the second time using a different combination of colors that appeared to be the same under certain lighting conditions.

If you want to be on the safe side, however, always examine your artwork under different lighting conditions before you declare it finished. You can check it out under flourescent lights, incandescent lights, halogen lights, and outdoor lighting to determine whether you feel happy with the colors.

When it comes down to it though, you’ll have no control over what kind of lighting the painting will be displayed under once it reaches it’s final destination (whether it will hang in someone’s home, in an art gallery, or in a corporate office) so don’t fret over it too much.

The only time when you really need to pay keen attention to metamerism is when you are photographing your art – especially if you are photographing your art for print purposes. In a future article, we’ll discuss what you need to do to ensure that reproductions of your art – whether for print or web – are as accurate as possible.

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