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Colorimeter vs. Spectrophotometer: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 27, 2023
A colorimeter measures color based on human perception, while a spectrophotometer measures light intensity across a spectrum.

Key Differences

A colorimeter is an instrument that measures the absorbance of particular wavelengths of light by a specific solution. A spectrophotometer, on the other hand, is an instrument that measures the intensity of light across a broad spectrum.
Both tools are crucial in labs, but for varying purposes. While a colorimeter gives results based on three primary colors (red, blue, and green), a spectrophotometer provides data across a full spectrum, offering a more detailed analysis.
In terms of accuracy, a spectrophotometer typically holds an edge, as it can identify multiple wavelengths, while a colorimeter focuses on specific, predefined wavelengths. For tasks like determining the concentration of a solution, a colorimeter might be sufficient.
However, for in-depth analysis, like discerning the various components in a mixture, a spectrophotometer would be the instrument of choice.

Comparison Chart

Measurement Basis

Measures color based on human perception.
Measures light intensity across a spectrum.


Relatively simpler in design.
More complex with the ability to analyze full spectrum.


Measures specific, predefined wavelengths.
Can identify multiple wavelengths.

Typical Use

Determines concentration of a solution.
Discerns components in a mixture.

Data Output

Results based on three primary colors.
Provides data across a full spectrum.

Colorimeter and Spectrophotometer Definitions


A colorimeter is a tool for color comparison and consistency checks.
To ensure product consistency, manufacturers use colorimeters for quality control.


A spectrophotometer offers detailed light analysis, distinguishing multiple wavelengths.
Researchers rely on spectrophotometers to obtain a granular analysis of light samples.


A colorimeter assesses color based on human eye perception.
Using a colorimeter, we can better understand how the human eye perceives different colors.


A spectrophotometer is an apparatus for measuring light intensity across a spectrum.
The lab technician employed the spectrophotometer to observe the various light intensities.


A colorimeter operates based on three primary colors: red, blue, and green.
The readings from the colorimeter are derived from its analysis of the three primary colors.


A spectrophotometer can determine the concentration of substances in a solution by assessing light absorbance.
The spectrophotometer revealed the exact concentration of the chemical in the mixture.


A colorimeter is an instrument used to measure colors.
The scientist used the colorimeter to determine the shade of blue in the sample.


A spectrophotometer is used in labs for a diverse range of applications from chemistry to biology.
The biologist used the spectrophotometer to study the light-absorbing properties of the algae.


A colorimeter quantifies the absorbance of light at specific wavelengths.
She calibrated the colorimeter to accurately measure the light absorbance.


A spectrophotometer provides an in-depth analysis of materials, identifying various components in mixtures.
With the spectrophotometer, the forensic expert could pinpoint the various elements present in the sample.


Any of various instruments used to determine or specify colors, as by comparison with spectroscopic or visual standards.


An instrument for measuring or comparing the intensities of the colors of the spectrum.


An instrument used to determine the relative intensity of various wavelengths in a spectrum of light.


(physics) An instrument used to measure the intensity of electromagnetic radiation at different wavelengths.


An analytical instrument for measuring the degree of absorption of light at different wavelengths by a chemical substance. A specific pattern of absorption intensities at a series of wavelengths is a characteristic of each different chemical substance.


A photometer for comparing two light radiations wavelength by wavelength


How does a spectrophotometer differ from a colorimeter?

While a colorimeter measures color based on human perception, a spectrophotometer measures light intensity across a spectrum.

Which instrument would be better for detailed analysis of light samples?

A spectrophotometer, due to its ability to measure light across a full spectrum.

How does a spectrophotometer determine concentrations?

It measures the amount of light absorbed or transmitted by a solution, which correlates to concentration.

What's the primary purpose of a colorimeter?

A colorimeter's main purpose is to measure and quantify colors based on human perception.

Are the results from a colorimeter as detailed as a spectrophotometer?

No, a colorimeter provides results based on three primary colors, whereas a spectrophotometer offers a broader spectrum analysis.

Are colorimeters and spectrophotometers typically portable?

While some models are benchtop and larger, there are portable versions of both instruments available.

Is a colorimeter limited to lab applications?

No, colorimeters are also used in industries like manufacturing for quality control.

Are there digital versions of colorimeters?

Yes, digital colorimeters offer more precision and ease of data interpretation compared to traditional ones.

Do colorimeters operate on the full spectrum of light?

No, colorimeters operate based on three primary colors: red, blue, and green.

In what scenario would a colorimeter be preferred over a spectrophotometer?

When the primary need is to determine the concentration of a solution or check color consistency without needing a detailed spectrum analysis.

Is calibration important for a colorimeter?

Yes, calibrating a colorimeter ensures accurate and consistent measurements.

Can colorimeters assist in quality control?

Yes, colorimeters are essential in industries like manufacturing for color consistency checks.

What kind of light source do colorimeters typically use?

Most colorimeters use LED or tungsten filament light sources.

Can a colorimeter identify multiple wavelengths like a spectrophotometer?

No, a colorimeter focuses on specific, predefined wavelengths.

Which device is typically more complex in design?

A spectrophotometer is generally more complex than a colorimeter.

What fields commonly use spectrophotometers?

Fields such as chemistry, biology, and forensic science commonly employ spectrophotometers.

How versatile is a spectrophotometer in lab applications?

Very versatile; it can be used for various analyses from determining substance concentrations to studying material properties.

What's the advantage of using a spectrophotometer over other instruments?

It provides a detailed light analysis, distinguishing multiple wavelengths, and is versatile for various applications.

Can a spectrophotometer determine the components of a mixture?

Yes, a spectrophotometer can discern the various components in a mixture by analyzing light absorbance.

Can a spectrophotometer be used to measure the color of objects?

While primarily for measuring light intensity, some spectrophotometers can assess color when paired with appropriate software.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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