In the last week, a new file format was announced that may be of interest to CAD users.
Pantone File Format
Pantone is the primary North American standard for specifying colors. Kind of like PDF ensures an exact reproduction of a document, Pantone ensures the exact reproduction of specified colors. (Other parts of the world use other color specification standards, such as DIC in Japan.) Using Pantone is easy: you select a color, and then specify the Pantone number. See figure below. Printers and publishers know which exact color to use, making the client happy.
Every color in the Pantone palette is assigned a number
Today, however, computers work with more than just color. There are the real-world modifications to color that effect how it looks, such as surface textures, glossiness, refraction through transparent objects, and reflections. Think about how the same color looks different when used in flat or glossy paint, real or fake leather, the billions of kinds of plastic, flowing fabrics, stained and unstained wood, and metals.
Pantone reacted (a few years late, I would say) by creating a system that records the color given off by the object, and writing a new file format that records the parameters of the color. Their Total Appearance Capture hardware captures the color, while AxF is the compressed file format that records the color for use by other software. It's not a simple process to capture what the eye sees:
The scanner works by flashing different colors of lights at the material at different angles, and then recording the data -- much like a digital camera. See figure below. For example, scan a draped blanket and all the color and texture variations (and even holes) are recoded to the AxF file using RAW format, which can end up consisting of gigabytes of data. (Compression reduces it to megabytes.) Pantone also provides a virtual light booth device, which rotates the original sample while the scanned result rotates synchronously on the monitor.
Guts of the scanner
So far, a few rendering systems work with the new file format, such as from nVidia and Autodesk. Here is the link to the Web page that describes the new products: http://www.xrite.com/categories/Appearance/total-appearance-capture-ecosystem . Pantone's parent X-Rite doesn't give a price ("Request a Quote") but I suspect the hardware is in the tens of thousands of dollars.
(Hat tip to DEVELOP 3D blog for alerting me to this item: http://www.develop3d.com/blog)