What’s the Difference Between a Colorimeter and a Spectrophotometer?

Colorimeters and spectrophotometers are the two types of color measurement instruments that are used to capture, analyze, and communicate color. In just about any industry where color accuracy is important, you’ll find that color measurement is an essential part of the production process.

The difference between a colorimeter and spectrophotometer is often a point of confusion for many color scientists. As you expand your color management expertise, we’re here to help you answer: What’s the difference between the two instruments? Is one better than the other? Which one’s for you?

Understanding the factors that distinguish a colorimeter from a spectrophotometer can help you determine which tool best optimizes your color management workflow.

A colorimeter is a tristimulus color measurement tool that provides an objective evaluation of color characteristics based on light passing through the primary filters of red, green, and blue. It simulates how the human eye perceives color.


• Compact size and high mobility
• Low-cost option for simple applications
• Simpler functionality

How it Works

1. The sample is illuminated at a 45-degree angle by an internal light source.
2. Light passes through the tristimulus filters, representing the amount of red, green, and blue light reflected from the sample.
3. Measurements from the filter are quantified into RGB values, which simulate the way human eyes are sensitive to light.

A spectrophotometer is a more complex color measuring instrument that factors in light intensity as a function of the color. It performs full-spectrum color measurement, as opposed to a colorimeter’s tristimulus procedure, and generates color data that’s beyond observation by the human eye.


• Benchtop or portable models
• Higher-end solution for complex color needs
• Greater functionality
• Higher precision from full-spectrum color measurement

How it works

1. An internal light source strikes the diffraction grating, which acts as a prism that separates the light into different wavelengths of the full color spectrum.
2. As the grating rotates, only one specific wavelength of light reaches the exit slit at a time and interacts with the sample.
3. The detector measures the sample’s light intensity, transmittance and absorbance.
4. The spectrophotometer displays this information digitally.

The above story originally appeared on Datacolor's website in a longer version. Check out the below holiday deals from Datacolor. (Click the links to grab the deals.)


Datacolor Spyder Holiday Savings

Save up to $100 on color management!

12/16/19 – 12/29/19

US only 


Datacolor SpyderX Pro

​For serious photographers and designers who want a fast, precise and easy-to-use monitor calibrator that helps achieve their creative vision.

Value: $169.99   Sale: $129.99


Datacolor SpyderX Elite

​For Expert and professional photographers and motion image makers looking for the most comprehensive monitor calibration tool for maximum control of their color workflow.

Value: $269.99   Sale: $199.99


Datacolor SpyderX Capture Pro

The ultimate color management tool kit, providing all the essentials needed to precisely manage color in your workflow from capture through editing.


SpyderX Elite – Our most accurate, fastest (4X), easiest monitor calibrator ever​

Spyder Checkr – Next-level camera color calibration with software based HSL-presets​

Spyder LensCal – Calibrates cameras, lenses and DSLR components​

Spyder Cube – Set white balance and RAW conversion.

Value: $399.99   Sale: $299.99