Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Until recently calibrations of tristimulus colorimeters were performed against lamp standards. However, the uncertainty of these source-based calibrations increased with the burning hours of the lamps. These calibrations can now be performed against detector standards, lowering the uncertainty significantly.


The expanded uncertainty of the NIST primary color-temperature lamp-standards is 8 K (k=2). However, both the long-term stability and the spectral distribution of the lamps can significantly change with burning time. By performing the tristimulus colorimeter calibrations against detector standards, the uncertainty of the color measurement uncertainty and the long-term changes in the measurement uncertainty can be significantly decreased.

The first detector-based tristimulus colorimeters were designed with an irradiance-measuring trap detector, where a temperature controlled filter-wheel was inserted and moved between the input aperture and the silicon tunnel-trap detector. However, because the windowless photodiodes were exposed to the ambient air, the illuminance responsivity decreased by 0.2 % from 2003 to 2007 and by another 0.1 % to 0.15 % to 2009. Also, the baffling inside of the trap-photometer was not efficient enough, allowing a small portion of incident light to bypass the filter as a result of internal reflections in the photometer. To improve these problems, a second generation tristimulus colorimeter was developed. 

In the new-generation colorimeter design, the detector was closed with a wedge window. The 0.5° wedge was needed to avoid interference fringes in the output signal of the photodiode when calibrated at the tunable-laser based SIRCUS facility. The spaces on the two sides of the temperature controlled filter-wheel are small resulting in five orders of magnitude blocking in the ultraviolet and infrared wavelength ranges even when the input aperature is overfilled by the incident light. Also, the thickness of the filter packages is at least 4.5 mm to minimize fringes. 

A picture of the second generation colorimeter is shown in the upper right column, where the front cover, including a 5-mm diameter aperture, was removed for better illustration. A preamplifier with eight decade gain selection is attached to the side of the colorimeter. The filter combinations were individually optimized to obtain the smallest possible spectral mismatch to the CIE standard color matching functions. The measured spectral responsivity functions of the colorimeter channels are shown on a logarithmic scale at the right. The relative expanded uncertainty of the spectral responsivity measurements was 0.1% (k=2). Measurements of this reference colorimeter show no responsivity degradation between 2007 and 2009.

The illuminance responsivity scale was transferred to the reference tristimulus colorimeter through calibrations at the SIRCUS facility and the Spectral Comparator Facility (SCF). Measurements at SIRCUS provided the responsivity scale between 360 nm and 960 nm, while measurements at the SCF extended the scale to 1300 nm. The combined uncertainty of the illuminance responsivity scale provided by these facilities is 0.2 % (k=2), a factor of two improvement over the existing scale published in 1996.

The scale for color temperatures can be determined either from spectral irradiance responsivity measurements or from spectral irradiance measurements at the Facility for Automated Spectral Calibrations (FASCAL). The expanded relative uncertainty of source-based, color-temperature calibrations is 2 K (k=2) at 2856 K. The color temperature uncertainty increases to 8 K (k=2) at 2856 K when propagated from the FASCAL-calibrated lamp standard to the reference colorimeter on the photometer bench. In contrast, the expanded uncertainty of the new detector-based color temperature scale is 5 K (k=2) between 2200 K and 3200 K.

Major Accomplishments

  • This is the first detector-based color scale which was suggested and then implemented by NIST. This scale has significantly lower color measurement uncertainty and higher stability than traditional lamp-standards based color temperature scales.
  • The NIST-developed tristimulus colorimeter was extended with a fifth channel to apply software-implemented matrix corrections for six different special test-source distributions. As a result of the corrected spectral mismatch errors, the extended tristimulus colorimeter can measure solid state light sources, including blue and red LEDs, with decreased chromaticity differences (~ 20 times).
  • The detector-based color temperature scale has been transferred to the Air Force and the Navy. The utilization of the new color scale by the Navy is planned for 2013.
Created September 30, 2016, Updated December 4, 2019