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Inside Innovation at Xerox: Scientists Create Computer Language to Interpret More than 50,000 Ways to Describe Color


Xerox opens online lab to demonstrate how simple it can be to improve color in printed documents
NORWALK, Conn.- Scientists at Xerox Corporation (NYSE: XRX) have taken the concept of “paint by number” to a whole new level with the release of a technology that translates detailed human descriptions of color - such as “brilliant yellow” - into mathematical algorithms that tell a computer how to edit that specific hue.

The ability to use easy-to-understand phrases such as “Make the blues a lot more vibrant,” or “Make the skin-tone colors slightly more warm,” to adjust color in specific areas of an image has far-reaching implications for today’s office worker, graphic artist, printer or photographer.

To demonstrate the capabilities of its new Natural Language Color technology, Xerox opened an interactive demonstration in an online test lab called Open Xerox. In the demo, users can change color in specific areas of a photograph without needing to use complex editing software. While scientists at Xerox continue the research, a version of the technology now is available as the Color By Words feature of the newly-announced Xerox Phaser™ 7500 color printer.

“You shouldn’t have to be a color scientist to get the right color where you want it,” said Karen Braun, herself a color scientist at the Xerox Research Center Webster (N.Y.). “We created a tool that is as natural and as easy to use as simply describing what you want to change. The tool allows customers to meet ever-tighter deadlines by bringing color printing tasks in-house, right to the desktop.”

Translating Complex Color Attributes
To develop the Natural Language Color technology, Xerox color scientists used special measurement instruments (called colorimeters) to associate numbers with specific attributes of light or dark, color name and vividness.

Specifying an exact color name for a set of numbers is no simple task because there are many ’fuzzy edges’ when it comes to describing color. For example, when does blue become ’greenish blue’ or ’bluish green’? Is there a difference between the two? Braun’s team of color scientists, engineers, and work-practice specialists studied focus groups to learn how people describe and distinguish between different colors as well as different shades. People were surprisingly consistent with each other in their use of color language.

“Xerox performed thousands of experimental observations to ensure that the phrasing accurately adjusts the colors,” she said. "With more than 65 words in its vocabulary, the software can create over 50,000 possible color variations of the user’s picture.

Color adjustment exactly where you want it
Unlike current color printers and applications that use wheel or slide color editors offering limited changes to brightness or contrast across the entire image, Xerox’s technology can alter the color in specific areas of the image without affecting the rest of the document. The proper instructions are sent to the printer and the resulting image is printed.

You can test drive the technology in French, Spanish, Italian, English, and German by going to Xerox’s technology web portal at In the future, Xerox plans to expand Natural Language Color technology to more printers, multifunction systems, and other Xerox workflows. Xerox also plans to showcase additional technologies at the Open Xerox web portal for visitors to try out.


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