The DT Next Generation Target, Version 2, or DT NGT2 for short, is a professional-grade color reference target. It serves the same kind of purposes as an X-Rite Color Checker SG, but with significantly higher precision, accuracy, durability, and build quality. Originally designed at the behest of the Library of Congress, the NGT2 is now available to Digital Transitions clients seeking the most robust, accurate, and precise color reference target available anywhere.
Color reference targets are commonly deployed in color-accurate photographic workflows. For example, in cultural heritage settings such as museums, libraries, and archives, it is important that the color in an image of a collections object such as a vase, painting, drawing, or letter is accurate to the original physical object. In commercial studio environments color accuracy means consumers better understand the color of an item they are purchasing which decreases returns and increases customer satisfaction. In scientific and research settings color accuracy and precision are often critical in using images of physical objects as sources of quantifiable data. In short, wherever there is a need for accurate and precise color, color reference targets are essential.
Color reference targets are used to measure, analyze, and improve the accuracy of color in a photographic or imaging workflow. This includes the creation of custom color profiles, checking and quantifying the color accuracy of an imaging system, validating that an imaging system complies with required color quality specifications such as those found in FADGI, Metamorfoze, and ISO 19264. They can be used both numerically (via analysis of the resulting color values in RGB or LAB), programmatically (using software such as Golden Thread, OpenDICE, or BasIIColor), or visually (by comparing the target to an on-screen image on a color-calibrated monitor such as an Eizo.
In addition to these frequent tasks, the quality and durability of the DT NGT2 makes is an excellent master reference against which consumer-grade color targets such as the X-Rite Color Checker can be measured for drift/aging/degradation. Ideally, all targets in the workflow would be DT NGT2 targets as this has significant advantages over the use of consumer-grade targets.
The most important element of any color reference target is the distribution, precision, and accuracy of the color of its color patches, and in this the DT NGT2 is unrivaled. The 130 patches have been methodically selected to evenly cover the color space described by the glossy Munsell Book of Color with special attention to the hyper-critical skintone and papertone colors that are common in both Cultural Heritage collections and fashion photography. The center 24 patches replicate the familiar 24 patch pattern of consumer Color Checker charts. Finally, there are repeated black and white patches to help check for illumination uniformity and geometry. Each target can be delivered individually measured by a NIST-traceable spectrophotometer, providing complete assurance that you have the exact measured values of your specific target.
Handling and Cleaning
Also unrivaled is the DT NGT2’s robustness to real-world handling. With consumer-grade color reference targets the perils of everyday handling, even by careful users, quickly deteriorate the accuracy of the color patches. For example, a small amount of finger grease, dust, sputum, or other environmental contamination can wreak havoc on the glossy patches of a Color Checker SG. This is compounded by the fact the color patches in a consumer-grade target are fully exposed making cleaning ill-advised, as even careful cleaning may further damage the patch. Imagine trying to manufacture consistently-sized lumber with a ruler that stretched unpredictably during normal use; using a color reference target that gets dirty easily, and is hard to clean, presents the same challenges.
These issues have been carefully and thoroughly addressed with the design of the DT NGT2. First, every patch is encapsulated in a carefully selected transparent film that abates wear and tear from normal handling by reducing the patches’ exposure to the environment, and allows the target to be cleaned of normal soiling without damaging the target or affecting the accuracy of its patches.
Build Quality and Geometric Precision
Consumer-grade color reference targets are constructed of non durable materials such as cardboard and light plastic. This has three practical ramifications. First, the shape of such targets often become misshapen over time, for example bending into a U shape, especially if the humidity and temperature of the room are not entirely static. Second, even before/without such warping each color patch is far from precisely parallel to the working surface which can lead to measurement errors that are especially problematic when generating new color profiles. Third, they are not durable over time and tend to tear, warp, or bend with normal usage.
A target whose patches are not parallel to the camera will read erratically, especially if those patches are glossy as they are in the case of the Color Checker SG. This can lead to very significant deviations, particularly in darker patches which will inappropriately pick up specular reflections of the light sources. Such issues are immediately visually obvious when the chart is significantly bent or warped with time, but can even cause issues on a brand-new seemingly “flat” consumer-grade target due to the poor quality of construction and imprecise seating of the patches.
The DT NGT2 is manufactured from a solid piece of aluminum milled to 0.001” (40μm) precision; this totally prevents warping from humidity and temperature variation, and makes the target exceptionally durable to normal handling. Each and every patch is individually laid, individually measured, and individually calibrated to be exactly parallel to the metal backing.
Finally, all DT NGT2 targets are delivered in a foam-lined latching case ideal for long-term storage when not in use, further bolstering its longevity and useful life. While an DT NGT2 may be initially more expensive, its incredible physical durability, along with the cleanability of its color patches make it a far better long-term investment.