The eye of the beholder
By Treena Hein
Easy colour-matching with new Canadian technology.
By Treena Hein
Those of you reading this who’ve ever tried to do a colour match know just how difficult the task can be. “Paint chips and fan decks are subjective and inaccurate,” explains Zachary Strong, director of business development at Hamilton, Ont.,-based Nix Sensor.
“They are also bulky, expensive and fade easily. Dust, sunlight, humidity and time can alter the appearance of fan decks within months. This can lead to frustrating situations where the colour you order will be quite different from what you were expecting.”
It must be possible to create a device that solves all of these problems, thought Nix inventor Matthew Sheridan, who is also company founder and CEO. Indeed it was possible, and after several years of development, the Nix Pro Colour Sensor hit the market in February 2015. For the invention and commercialization of the Nix Pro, Sheridan won the 2015 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Ontario Business Achievement Award and the Ernest C. Manning Innovation Award. (He’s also won other engineering awards for other projects in the past).
Here’s how it works. Ready to use out of the box, the Nix Pro scans a colour using its own calibrated light source, with all ambient light blocked. The user holding the Nix Pro sees exactly where he or she is scanning. The data is then sent to the user’s smartphone, where he or she accesses the intuitive interface to organize, save and share colour palettes with co-workers, suppliers and customers. The app can be customized to suit any workflow and can also connect with leading paint company colours.
Even though it’s a new product, the Nix has already entered a lot of different markets, such as paints and coatings, interior design, graphic design, printing and packaging, cosmetics, food and agriculture, automotive, special effects and textiles. However, it’s particularly in high demand in the construction industry for finding best paint matches on a variety of surfaces (including metal) and for evaluating paint draw-downs.
The Nix Pro is extremely accurate, says Sheridan, which is due to an entirely new way of calibration. “Other colour measurement solutions rely on calibration tiles (or stickers) to maintain their accuracy,” he notes. “All of these things get soiled easily and fade within months, and are not used in our design. All Nix Pro units are ready-to-use out of the box and designed to maintain their accuracy over time.” The sensors on each device are assembled and individually calibrated at the company’s lab in Hamilton. “Doing this in-house allows us to achieve quality and accuracy standards above and beyond the rest of the industry,” Sheridan explains. “Our customers have responded very well to this approach because they can trust that they are getting a quality product.”
The benefits of the Nix Pro also extend to durability. Unlike any other colour sensor, it can be dropped, soiled and can withstand heat and col as well (if you get dirt or dust on it, just clean it like you would a smartphone screen). It’s very accurate on glossy surfaces and provides industry-leading battery life.
In terms of specific advantages for window and door fabricators, Sheridan points to the ability of the Nix Pro app to accept uploaded colour databases and provide best-match reports on scanned colours. “Being able to upload your own colour database is extremely important if fabricators have their own unique colour selections available,” he observes. “The Nix can therefore function as a sales tool as it can communicate best paint matches for provided swatches. This becomes a unique and valuable way to communicate your product offerings and shorten what can often be protracted conversations about colour.”
The Nix provides colour readouts in RGB, CMYK, and CIELAB and can calculate colour differences in either DE76 or DE2000. Although the readouts are not very important to glass product fabricators (as those are colour systems they likely won’t ever work in), Sheridan says being able to calculate colour differences is, to help identify when products are in spec. A DE2000 value of 3 or less is essentially a “perfect match.”
Past and future
Sheridan first came up with the idea for the Nix Pro while working with friends who do interior design. He saw them lugging around tote bags filled with paint decks and thought this just shouldn’t be needed in the 21st century. The only other option was paying hundreds of dollars for a big bulky paint deck system that only worked with one company’s paints – and existing colour-matching technology was expensive, and greatly affected by ambient lighting and human error.
Sheridan and his team were also inspired by a woman who helps people with severe burns or skin diseases with customized makeup. “She was matching colours by eye, which was time-consuming and a limiting factor in her business,” says Strong. “We looked into her options and the more research we did, the clearer it became that colour professionals in every sector, from paint to agriculture, were coping with outdated, expensive and unreliable technology that didn’t actually meet their needs. So we went about creating technology that provides extremely accurate information quickly, easily and affordably.”
While having a Canadian-made product is important to the company because of the control it provides over quality, Sheridan says it’s also important to him and his team “because Hamilton has a rich history of manufacturing and we are proud to carry that tradition forward.” The Nix Pro is now being used in 31 countries. “We have eight employees now,” says Strong, “and in addition to providing solutions for designers and builders, we are working on with large industry players to integrate Nix technology into their colour quality processes.”
The Nix Pro costs $399 Canadian, with free shipping within North America. Use coupon code “glasscanada” until May 31 for $50 off.
About Nix Sensor
Nix Sensor designs and manufactures its colour-management technology in Hamilton, Ont. Matthew Sheridan is founder and president. The company raised funds through Kickstarter to commercialize its prototype and has now shipped over 1,000 units to 30 countries. Find out more at nixsensor.com.