The (Color) Blind Leading the (Color) Blind: Women & Paint Matching - BodyShop Business
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The (Color) Blind Leading the (Color) Blind: Women & Paint Matching

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If your shop suffers from color-matching problems and your painters are men, color blindness could be costing you.

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Typically when you walk into a shop, the only feminine influence you see (if any) is in the office. But could there be an advantage to having the women in your production area being located somewhere other than on a calendar?

Research seems to suggest there is.

On average, one out of every eight American males has some form of colorblindness. More often than not, this color deficiency is related to the inability to distinguish between various shades of red and green or blue and yellow; it’s not a complete lack of color vision. (In fact, it’s extremely rare for someone to see only in shades of gray.)

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This same failure to discriminate between subtle shades, however, is found in only one of every 230 females.

Why the Disparity?
The reason for this significant disparity is the genetic difference between the two sexes. The gene pinpointed in color-deficient individuals is located on the X chromosome. And since males have only one X chromosome, the recessive gene takes over and the trait is evident. Because females have two X chromosomes, the recessive trait for color deficiency is usually masked by the “normal” gene. Despite her normal color perception, the female passes on the color-deficient gene to her children.

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Professor of Anthropology Helen Fisher of Rutgers University notes that women also possess a greater ability to match colors and a more accurate color memory. This “memory” makes women able to remember color value, hue and saturation more accurately than men. Among other things, this contributes to the ability of most females to be able to more efficiently color match.

Dichro What?
The technical name for the most common form of color deficiency is called dichromatism. This means the person is only able to see saturated colors with extremely short (blue) and long (yellow) light wavelengths, with other colors appearing gray or muddy. Because those of us with standard color vision are able to see pure red at long wavelengths and pure green in the approximate center of the color spectrum, this contrasts sharply with those who have the deficiency.

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Because the wavelength of a color is really what you’re aiming to match in our industry, a color-deficient person using only the wavelengths he’s able to see correctly will find it almost impossible to match the color properly, even if he’s studied everything ever written on color theory.

I Informally Investigate
After realizing the impact that the high percentage of color-deficient males in America may actually have on the collision repair industry, I ventured upon an informal mini-investigation of my own:

I compared the production times of two male and two female employees at two separate shops. The male employees were both painters and both primarily responsible for color matching prior to the “study.” The females were both taken out of the offices of the shop and had no previous automotive paint-tinting experience.

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Although the research was, for the most part, unscientific, the outcome was noteworthy. The two females proved to be as much as 200 times more efficient when tinting (appearing to have more of an “eye” for color). More surprising, of the two males, one was later found to be color deficient. Because this particular shop had a history of poor color matches, it’s safe to say that many shops facing this same problem may, in fact, have color-deficient employees mixing their paint. And this would not only slow production time, but would mean a heavy loss in the paint and materials department – and a lacking end product.

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Test for Color Deficiency
Testing the employee in charge of mixing for a color deficiency can save the shop hundreds of dollars or more on tinting classes – and from the constant stress that comes along with such a frustrating problem. A simple way to test yourself or others for color deficiency is by using Ishihara plates. Named for the Japanese ophthalmologist who invented them, these “plates” call for the subject to discern a pattern of colored dots among a field of dots, which are a different color than those in the pattern.

Regardless of whether you test or don’t test, keep in mind that only a minuscule .02 percent of the female population is color deficient and that women also have greater color memory and ability to match colors. So, while the bikini-clad ladies hanging on your shop walls may provide some sort of inspiration for your employees, you may instead want to consider the benefits of having a real female in your production area to realize a more important incentive: profits.

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Writer Jill Kraus is the office manager for a Long Island, N.Y., shop.

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