How to communicate CMF: Color, Material and Finish!

May 5, 2024

Industrial designers, product engineers and manufacturing engineers all work in tandem to push out products that are aesthetic, easy to use and reinforce brand identities. During the initial design phase, the industrial/product designer often has a vision for the product color and feel and this is communicated via product requirement documents or user research. Using CMF as the overarching principle negates ambiguity in the product design and ensure that there’s no room for error.

So lets break down CMF:

Color

The best way to specify color is using the Pantone Matching System (PMS). The pantone color palette contains over 2000 colors; essentially every color that you can possibly image. All you have to do is choose the pantone color code for the one that matches all your requirements. We would recommend a design team that works with a range of product to purchase a Pantone Color Guide which consists of all standard colors.

There is another color chart standard called RAL, often used across Europe. However in Singapore we often find ourselves using Pantone as the go-to.

Pantone Color Guide
Pantone Color Guide

Material

This is the simplest out of the CMF verticals. All you’ve got to do is choose the kind of material that best fits your use case and key differentiators. You could start off by choosing between plastics and metals and then go deeper into these to understand which exact material fits your situation.

There may be certain specific cases where there aren’t many material choices. Commonly seen in biomedical, construction and aerospace applications.

You may refer to our article here to get an idea about the most common material choices that we get on our platform.

Plastic pellets used for injection molding
Plastic pellets used for injection molding

Finish

The finish of a product is a function of the color and the material of a its constituents.

For plastics in particular, the surface finishing can be of many kinds, ranging from different textures like satin, glossy to even more complex ones resembling leather and fabric.

For injection molding, finishes are denoted using SPI (Society of Plastic Industry) standards or VDI (Society of German Engineers) standards. 3D printed parts largely depend on surface treatments done to the parts.

Metal parts have material specific finishing such as anodizing for aluminum and powder coating for steel. There are also common processes such as plating and painting. For un-coated metals, the surface finish is described using the Ra (roughness average) value.

SPI Finishing Chart
SPI Finishing Chart

You may refer to our surface finishing article here for more details.

CMF: Coming together

We recommend that you create a document with the assembly that the team is working on and explain the color, material and finish for each of the components. This would help ensure that expectations are aligned and there’s no chance for miscommunication.

Thank you for reading!