Color: Can the Web Match the Real Thing?

BOSTON--I once ordered curtains from a famous furniture store's Web site. The color on the monitor, a soft green, matched my favorite chair exactly. When the real thing arrived in the mail, however, it looked more like old broccoli. The culprit wasn't a bad dye lot--it was my monitor. Monitors vary in brightness and contrast. They also display only red, green, blue, and combinations of the three, a color palette too limited to reproduce the far richer hues of the real world. This is a significant problem for online clothing and cosmetic retailers who would rather not see their products returned.

At this year's Seybold Boston trade show, Imation (888/466-6973, www.imation.com ) announced a new technology called Verifi, which it says will reduce the gap between real and Web colors. This web server software is based on color-management technology originally developed for print publishing and should be available later this year. Pricing is not yet set.

How does it work? Visitors to sites with Verifi will be asked to perform a three-step test that includes picking a square that most closely matches the blue of another square and turning down the monitor's brightness until a particular word is invisible. The software analyzes the results, creates a profile for the user, and then delivers images that match the profile. For example, if the testing shows that your monitor adds a blue cast, Verifi instructs the Web site's special image server to create versions of the images that compensate for too much blue.

Neither the testing nor the profile creation require the site visitor have a Web browser plug-in. And unlike the main competitor, True Internet Color from E-Color ( www.ecolor.com ), the profile-specific versions of the images live on the site's server--not on Imation's servers. Left to be seen, of course, is whether surfers will be willing take the extra steps necessary to use either of these technologies.

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