Talking the Talk: Textile Color Standards

color-wheel-pencilsEsther sent me a link to a great post called Tools of the Trade: Textile Color Standards. Michelle Engel Bencsko, the designer writing the entry, discovers the beauty and ease of industry standards. Rather than verbally attempting to describe fuchsia or whatever, she draws the shade and hue from a reference standard each party has on their respective end. Here’s a quote:

I’m 4 collections into Cloud9 now and it was becoming apparent that I need a  steady source for my color standards. For example, I had gone so far as to cut up a perfectly good shirt to show my mill what “Shell” looks like. After struggling for much too long to find the perfect “Pebble” I decided it was time to go back to my roots and hit the pros.

This entry is instructional in two ways. One is direct and practical -how to communicate desired shades with other professionals. Second is indirect, that standards are an incredibly useful tool to facilitate communication. [Standards also apply to your production process; why have the expectation that your partners should do all the heavy lifting and explain everything to you when you have access to the tools to teach yourself?] Michelle continues:

Buying color standards is an investment, but in the scheme of things, it’s not  the biggest investment. Now that I have my full range of commonly-used core colors, I feel quite professional-like. I have cut my 4×6 standards in half and put a little header card on them for easy reference to hang  on the back of my office door. I did the same with the other half and those will be sent off to the mill. Now when I develop new collections, I can simply refer to colors by name and know that they have the standards waiting at the mill. No more taking the time to scrape up, prepare and mail pieces of fabric swatches… just an email with .pdfs of my artwork and some specifications and we’re off and running.

There is a cost to moving up a level professionally but it’s all the more difficult to justify when it’s hard to define the value of the investment. Being able to talk more precisely without misunderstandings? How do you calculate the value of a conversation? It’s a feeling -mostly relief- not something you can put a price to. Accumulating the bits of ephemera and knowledge is part and parcel the accouterments of your trade. Having these standards are akin to badges, signs of your professionalism manifest. If you’ve ever been in a designer’s office, you likely have no idea what these things are nor the value of them. Once you start to learn about them and acquire them, it changes everything. Then, going to the same designer’s office, you see dollar signs on all those swatch books, charts, and reference books because you know what they cost. And you know the designer takes her/himself very seriously. And we covet, yes we do! It’s amazing how doors will open for you with the right word to the right person.

Her recommendation for color standards was very educational for me. If I had been in the market for something like this, I would have gone with Pantone and not thought another thing about it (although Miracle probably already told me but I’ve since forgotten). She says there’s better options -like SCOTDIC– something I hadn’t given much thought to. Hers is a qualified opinion (everyone is entitled to an opinion but it doesn’t mean they’re equally valid) she says:

I was first introduced to SCOTDIC years ago when I would receive official brand color palettes from major retailers like Target or Walmart or JCPenney. Most major retailers have private label brands- those brands that are exclusive to the retailer ie: Merona, Faded Glory or Stafford respectively. These brands are often outsourced to different vendors (like the one I worked for) and/or are produced in the company’s own sourced mills. If you’re a private label developer, you typically get a style guide which would include a seasonal color palette. These colors would need to be strictly adhered to- with crazy color testing and everything- as these would help unify the brand.

If you’re interested in making the wisest selection, read Michelle’s opinion of the three major color standard systems, Pantone, SCOTDIC and Color Solutions.

Image courtesy

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  1. Jasonda says:

    Great topic! Currently my “colour standards” are paint chips from the hardware store – not for communicating with printers, but rather for communicating with custom fabric design clients during in-person meetings. It really seems to be helping so far, but I’ll definitely be upgrading to a professional colour system soon.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I was really intrigued by this post. I work in the automotive industry, where colour matching of fabric/plastics/paints/etc takes an entire department of people reviewing & working with suppliers to match the components to master plaques, ensuring that all the visible components of a vehicle come together in a harmonious way. It was interesting to consider how this process of colour communication/matching plays out in the fashion industry.

  3. Barb Taylorr says:

    Thanks for opening my eyes to Pantone alternatives. My biggest frustration with Pantone is the random way the colors are sorted as they add to them every season. Having all the reds (for example) grouped in a logical way like this would be a huge time-saver, and that certainly can translate into a quantifiable cost savings!

  4. This is not related to the above article but I need some help please. I thought I saw at some time that the forms/templates published in Kathleen’s book are available somewhere in this forum so I do not have to cut my book apart to make copies. Can anyone help? Thanks

  5. Paula,
    I think various people have shared soft copies of their spreadsheets on the forum. If you have bought the book then you can be a member (maybe you already are). To access the forum, click on “Member Forum” in the blue bar just under the image of the shears at the top of the page.

  6. Mark Miller says:

    We have used SCOTDIC for many years and have liked it very much. You can add to your book, buy larger swatches, as well as swatches in different fabrics. It has been helpful not just in establishing a standard (because truthfully many of our fabric vendors do not neccessarily use it, but just having another way to resource a color library.

    Nothing against Pantone…no stories to tell. Simply that we have been pleased with SCOTDIC.

  7. Nikki keye says:

    Can anyone share the cost of this system..ballpark? I looked on website (fairly quickly) with no success!

  8. Thanks Allison and Kathleen.

    Nikki keye I went to the SCOTDIC website to find prices as well and found that I had to register then wait for a return email with access code to enter the pages regarding product info/prices. Am waiting for that email.

  9. Trish says:

    “Having these standards are akin to badges, signs of your professionalism manifest.” – Kathleen

    This made me laugh because I tell my students not to get “caught up” in all the cool trappings in the fashion laboratories. Just because you own these things does not make you a designer. Effort, action, experience… all aided by these “badges” but all necessary to make you the real deal.

  10. Marie-Christine says:

    I’d guess that the SCOTDIC samples are hundreds of dollars, if only because I shudder at the time to dye all those samples and make them into books. Yes, it does make a difference what the fiber is. But does it make that much of a difference that you can’t use the Pantone stuff your graphics person certainly has lying around already??

    When I sold yarns online, I provided Pantone numbers for them. My take on it was that communication is a 2-way thing. It’s not enough for me to have a set of good samples, it’s better if my clients have matching ones too. And I’d rather my clients only had to spend $20 on their samples, or I’ll be jerking off with how great my lonely samples are all by myself.. Pantone wasn’t perfect, but it’s generally available, and it was way better than the nothing that was out there at the time.

    I’d also like to point out that using samples for matching, whatever they are, takes training. I do believe most people can become decent at color perception, if they pay attention, but it’s not a skill most people practice. A wheez-bang set of samples in the hand of someone who’s approximative about color isn’t going to really help. Practice, and/or ask an experienced person to do your matching at first.

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