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The science behind products that sparkle and shine

Posted: 02 March 2018
The Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) collaborates with industry giants to better define the appearance of luxury products.

Picture two cars in a showroom – one is coated in a dull, rough paint, while the other is glossy, with a hint of metallic sheen. Which one would you choose?

You’re not alone – it has been repeatedly shown that for ‘luxury’ products like cosmetics or automotive paint, appearance has a significant impact on consumer choice. Appearance is also important at the quality control level, because it can often flag issues with the reliability of production techniques to manufacturers. 

Global colour and paint market infographic


But accurately defining the characteristics that give an object its unique appearance is not without its challenges. Size and shape may be easy to measure, but what about visual attributes such as colour, gloss, texture, translucency or sparkle? Believe it or not, many industries rely on characterisation and quality control carried out ‘by eye’, making it highly subjective. With manufacturers of special-effect pigments producing ever-more sophisticated compounds, there is a clear need for measurement standards in this space.

That’s where the Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) comes in. Through a Joint Research Project – xDReflect – that involved seven other National Measurement Institutes (NMIs) and twenty industry collaborators, they developed traceable tools and methods to optically characterise a range of novel surfaces. The xDReflect team mostly explored glossy materials and goniochromatic (often referred to as iridescent) paint, which changes colour when illuminated or observed from different directions. To characterise these surfaces, they had to measure light scattering, and for that, they used MSL’s new, primary goniospectrophotometer.

Goniospectrophotometers are instruments that can directly measure an object’s bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) – a factor that precisely defines how a surface scatters light at different wavelengths, making it a key contributor to a surface’s appearance. Within the project MSL developed a new detector in collaboration with the Czech Metrology Institute that has a very wide dynamic range. This allows it to accurately characterise dark surfaces, which are typically challenging because they scatter so little visible light.

MSL's Goniospectrophotometer
MSL's Goniospectrophotometer

One result of the research project is that the MSL system – built here in NZ – is now one of a small number of traceable goniospectrophotometers in the world. In addition, the project team developed a common language for the measurement of light scattering, which will be integrated into documentary standards for gloss and BRDF in a follow-on project called BiRD. Further work will establish definitions for sparkle and graininess.

These tools will provide industry with ways to objectively, and traceably, characterise materials with novel optical properties. And with collaborators that included Toyota, BASF, Maymó cosmetics and Saint-Gobain, we can expect many more products that use science to stand out from the crowd.  

Can we help you?

The Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) is New Zealand's national metrology institute. Our highly skilled scientists can work with you to solve your measurement problem and improve your products and processes. We’ve helped clients in the food and beverage, consumer goods, energy, medicine, agriculture and aviation industries, supporting New Zealand’s ongoing international trade.

We understand that every R&D problem is unique, so why not contact us to discuss your specific needs? The first hour of advice is free, and new R&D customers may be eligible for a discount (up to 50%) for consultancy services.

For more information, visit or contact MSL on

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Taking a measured approach

Posted: 22 May 2017
Did you know that the metre is defined based on the speed of light? And how can you be sure that there was actually 750ml in that bottle of wine that seemed to empty so quickly?

Metrology - the study of measurement – is critical to the existence of humanity, says Dr Fleur Francois, Director of the Measurement Standards Laboratory at Callaghan Innovation. It’s the reason that your flight from Wellington to Auckland gets you there safely, that new techniques to improve healthcare are continually being developed, and that 500 grams of butter weighs exactly the same in the UK as it does here in NZ. Across continents and cultures, it establishes a common understanding and enables confidence in the measurements that are made during these processes.

Callaghan Innovation’s Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) is NZ’s official standards body for measurement. The team’s knowledge and expertise around measurement helps businesses with their research and development, to meet regulatory compliance requirements, and to gain access to international markets. Our experts have worked with businesses ranging from food and beverage manufacturers to digital effects companies. 

We were last week honoured to host a senior delegation of Chinese government officials at our Gracefield base, who were visiting to learn more about how New Zealand encourages innovation and the way MSL supports businesses through providing high-quality and traceable measurements. 

China is a key science and innovation partner for NZ, and MSL is exploring opportunities for future collaboration to address emerging technologies. The widespread deployment of electric vehicles, and the creation of wireless power transfer, as examples, will challenge our existing measurement capabilities.

Chinese government officials visit MSL at Gracefield
Dr Fleur Francois (yellow jacket) welcomes the Chinese delegation at MSL’s Gracefield headquarters

May 20 was World Metrology Day and tomorrow, MSL will commemorate the 1875 signing of the Metre Convention at an event in Auckland with our colleagues from the Metrology Society of Australasia.  The Metre Convention provides the basis for a coherent measurement system worldwide that underpins scientific discovery and innovation, industrial manufacturing and international trade, as well as improving quality of life and protecting the environment.

The theme for World Metrology Day 2017 is “Measurements for Transport”.  The economy depends on safe and efficient modes of transport with minimal environmental impact, and this rapidly evolving industry is crucially supported by an astonishing range of measurements. MSL provides, for example, traceable measurements for the aviation industry that ensure planes fly safely.

Across the world, national metrology institutes are continually developing and validating new measurement techniques to support industry needs.  These advances play a central role in bringing new solutions to the transport sector: innovations such as hydrogen fuel cells, electric or driverless vehicles, or new generations of fuel-efficient passenger jets.

Metrology – it makes the world go round, and life a whole lot easier.

Watch this video from the VSL Dutch Metrology Institute to learn more about the importance of measurement infrastructure: 

  • Watch Fleur’s 2-minute video on how rapidly changing science and technology around measurement can help businesses save money, solve R&D challenges, and verify their product and technology claims: How measurement can cut millions out of your expenses
  • You can contact Fleur on Twitter @DrFleurNZ


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