A career as a colour technologist would suit you if you have good scientific knowledge, an enquiring mind and enjoy working with technology

As a colour technologist, you're involved with the science and technology of colour application and its subsequent performance.

Work can be found in various sectors of the manufacturing industry, where you can produce dyes and pigments for a whole range of products including:

  • textiles;
  • paper;
  • cosmetics;
  • foodstuffs;
  • medical products;
  • toiletries;
  • furnishings;
  • dye lasers, liquid crystal displays, fraud prevention techniques and ink-jet printers.

You may take on an analytical role, making sure reproduction is accurate, application is even and the colour has durability. In the retail sector, it's likely you'll liaise with suppliers and end users.

Job titles can vary so look out for vacancies for dyeing technologists or colour scientists too.

Responsibilities

Your work will vary depending on your exact role and the industry you're in but you'll typically need to:

  • oversee the instrumental measurement of colour and the accurate communication of colour to computer-aided design (CAD) systems;
  • identify colours required by clients and develop processes for accurate bulk reproduction;
  • develop new dyes and pigments to provide specified colours;
  • formulate dyes and pigments with stability in new substrates or across a range of technologies;
  • test new and rival products to establish claims for marketing and promotion to clients;
  • monitor colour reliability during production of dyes and pigments and application to products;
  • anticipate the colourfastness and stability of dyes and pigments under simulated conditions over typical life-spans;
  • refine processes for the production of dyes and pigments to save costs and minimise environmental impact;
  • liaise with factory production managers and provide technical support to dyers and other colouring agent users;
  • sell dyes, pigments and coloured products and act as a link between producers, suppliers and end users;
  • manage the work of technical assistants.

Salary

  • You may start at a technician level on a salary in the range of £17,000 to £20,000. Starting salaries differ depending on the employer, industry and relevance of work experience.
  • Once you have built up experience, you can progress on to salaries of £20,000 to £22,500.
  • Colour technologists working in supervisory roles with significant experience can earn £30,000 to £35,000+.

Salaries are moderately competitive for the chemical industry as a whole. Larger chemical companies tend to pay higher salaries than smaller, specialist employers, but the latter may offer earlier responsibility and opportunities to remain in your preferred technical area. Salaries in the retail and academic sector are slightly higher than in technical roles.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Your working hours will typically be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, this may vary with the sector, and deadlines or special projects will require longer hours, sometimes at short notice. Shifts, including weekend work, are common in manufacturing to monitor production.

Part-time work is possible, as are career breaks, but you would need to keep your technical knowledge and skills up to date while off work. Once you have significant experience you could consider freelance work as a consultant.

What to expect

  • Manufacturing can be noisy and the large-scale production of colour products is often messy. The technical side of the work depends on specialist equipment. A lot of the work takes place in a chemical laboratory, where you would need to wear protective clothing.
  • Job availability is generally restricted geographically by the location of the relevant industries: manufacturing is mostly in the North West, Yorkshire and Scotland; retail is in London, the North East and the Midlands; printing inks are in London.
  • The role doesn't typically require much travel. Other than the possibility of shift work, overnight absence from home is not common.
  • Some of the large dye and pigment manufacturers are international and may offer overseas placements or opportunities to work in teams based overseas.

Qualifications

Relevant degree and HND subjects include physical, mathematical and applied science and engineering. However, if you're planning to work in the textile sector it's also possible to enter via a design-orientated route.

The following subjects in particular, may be useful:

  • analytical chemistry;
  • applied chemistry;
  • applied physics;
  • biomedical sciences (for medical applications);
  • chemical engineering;
  • chemistry;
  • colour science;
  • production/manufacturing engineering;
  • textile technology/coloration.

Entry without a degree or HND is possible. Starting as a technical assistant, you may be able to progress to more advanced work after appropriate experience and further vocational qualifications, which some employers will sponsor.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification isn't essential. However, a Masters in a relevant area can be helpful if your first degree is in an unrelated subject. Specialist Masters degrees are available in subjects such as polymers, colorants and fine chemicals. A PhD is often required for research positions.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • technical skills to use computerised systems;
  • the ability to plan, organise and work in a team, particularly if supervising technicians;
  • flexibility to adapt to the needs of customers or business objectives;
  • excellent attention to detail when testing and developing dyes and pigments;
  • good interpersonal skills for communicating with clients;
  • an inquisitive mind to investigate new colours and techniques;
  • good colour vision, for shade and colour matching.

Work experience

It's a good idea to try to get vacation or other work experience in the colour or textile industry. In order to keep up to date with industry news, you may want to consider getting student membership with The Society of Dyers and Colourists (SDC). This provides access to the online members' forum and knowledge vault.

Competition is moderate for those with a good relevant degree and some work experience, as there are comparatively few specialised graduates.

Employers

Colour is used in virtually all products, so the range of employers is broad and you can find work in a number of sectors:

  • Chemical industry - conducting research into potential innovations in dyestuffs and pigments to develop new materials.
  • Manufacturing - working in areas including fibres, textiles, medical products, fashion accessories, paper, leather, paints, inks, cosmetics, foodstuffs, plastics and toiletries.
  • Textile industry - where specialist companies are contracted by large-scale manufacturers to take on aspects of development or production.
  • Clothing and furnishings retail - advising design teams on colour performance and new colour developments, and liaising with manufacturers about client needs.
  • Academic sector - working in specialist departments, researching new colour products and processes to apply colour to complex systems. There are only a small number of positions available in this sector to suitably qualified researchers.

The industry in general is growing and technical expertise is in demand, although computerisation is replacing some colour technologist roles.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies don't commonly handle vacancies, but those that do advertise in Chemistry World and New Scientist.

Professional development

Technical training is mainly on the job, supported by either internal or external short courses provided by professional bodies or equipment suppliers. Larger companies may start you on a formal training scheme, which consists of short placements to develop your technical and commercial knowledge.

The SDC offers a range of professional coloration qualifications at various levels including:

  • Colour Management of Textiles Diploma;
  • Licentiaship (LSDC);
  • Associateship (ASDC);
  • Fellowship (FSDC).

The SDC can award the status of Chartered Colourist (CCol) which is the highest grade and indicates outstanding practical experience and expertise. At this level, you're required to undertake at least 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year. CPD activities can include:

  • attending conferences and meetings;
  • writing reports;
  • carrying out mentoring;
  • completing training courses.

The SDC has a CPD scheme and offers various training courses which are run by experts. Find out more about qualifications and training at Society of Dyers and Colourists - Education.

You will need to keep up to date with research techniques and new technical developments throughout your career, so many employers support activities that promote this.

Career prospects

After working in hands-on functions to build your technical knowledge, you'll typically take on additional responsibility and will manage the work of other technologists, eventually becoming a senior technologist or supervisor. You can usually reach departmental management positions after ten to 15 years.

Alternatively, if you want the option of focusing on a specific area of interest, you could become a consultant or form your own specialist company. This may result in higher salaries but you'll need significant technical and management experience to be able to do this.

You may also move into production, quality control, marketing, technical sales, or research and development, although the latter may require an additional research degree.

If you work for an international company, your career development may depend on you being prepared to take on overseas projects or secondments. If you're in a small company, you may need to move employers in order to progress.

Most employers support the assessment process towards chartered colourist (CCol) status with SDC. This is useful, though not essential, for more senior posts. Senior members who have substantial relevant experience and who have achieved a high standing in the industry can be awarded fellowship by the SDC.