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What is tcs230 color sensor?

The TCS230 color sensor, also known as the TCS3200 color sensor, is an optical semiconductor component that can detect and measure colored light. It is commonly used in color detection, color matching, and color measurement applications. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore what the TCS230 sensor is, how it works, its features and applications, and how to interface it with microcontrollers like Arduino.

What is a Color Sensor?

A color sensor is a device that can detect and measure the color composition of light. It works by using optical filters and photodetectors to analyze the spectral content of the light. The sensor outputs digital or analog signals corresponding to the intensity of red, green, and blue light.

Color sensors allow machines and devices to “see” colors. They are used in various applications where color recognition, matching, and measurement are required. Some common uses of color sensors include:

  • Color sorting in industrial automation
  • Biomedical devices for colorimetric tests
  • Consumer electronics like TVs, smartphones, printers
  • Agricultural applications to identify ripe produce
  • Object recognition in robotics
  • Color matching and detection in toys and games

The TCS230 from ams-TAOS USA is one of the most widely used color sensors for basic red, green, blue (RGB) color measurement. It provides a cost-effective solution for end-user color measurement demands.

How Does the TCS230 Color Sensor Work?

The TCS230 uses an array of photodiodes with integrated optical filters to detect the intensity of red, green, blue and clear light. The diagram below shows the internal structure of the sensor:

TCS230 Internal Structure Diagram

It contains:

  • 16 photodiodes with integrated RGB color filters
  • 16-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC)
  • High sensitivity photodiodes with high IR blocking

8 of the photodiodes have red filters, 4 have blue, 4 have green and 4 are clear with no filters. The photodiodes produce currents proportional to the intensity of colored light. These currents are fed to a transimpedance amplifier that converts it to voltage outputs.

The voltage signals are digitized by the 16-bit ADC and output via the 8-bit I2C interface. The sensor integrates the photodiode and ADC on a single CMOS chip, enabling color detection with minimal external components.

Color Sensing Process

Here is how the TCS230 sensor detects color:

  1. The photodiodes with R/G/B filters produce currents proportional to the intensities of red, green and blue light.
  2. The transimpedance amplifier converts these currents into voltage outputs.
  3. The on-chip 16-bit ADC digitizes these analog voltages into digital values.
  4. The digitized RGB values are output via the I2C interface.
  5. By analyzing the relative RGB intensities, the color can be determined.
  6. The clear photodiodes provide lighting/brightness information.

The digital RGB values can be directly used for color identification and discrimination in embedded systems. Or a microcontroller can further process the data to calculate chromaticity, color temperature, lux etc. Overall, the sensor provides an easy way to add color detection capability to electronic projects.

Key Features of TCS230

Here are some of the main features of the TCS230 color sensor:

  • Photodiode arrays with integrated RGB filters – Provides color selectivity and spectral response close to human eye.
  • High sensitivity – Can detect and measure low light levels down to 0.01 lux.
  • Wide dynamic range – Large measurement range allows detecting vivid colors as well as subtle tints.
  • Digital RGB and clear light outputs – Digitized color data can be directly used for analysis and discrimination.
  • I2C digital interface – Easy to connect and communicate with via 2-wire serial interface.
  • Compact 8-pin PDIP and SOIC packages – Easily integrated into miniaturized electronics and devices.
  • Low power consumption – Requires less than 10mW during active operation.

These capabilities make the TCS230 an ideal choice for integrating basic color sensing ability to consumer products, industrial systems, and other electronics.

Pinout and Descriptions

TCS230 Pinout Diagram

The TCS230 comes in 8-pin PDIP and SOIC packages. Here are the pinouts and functions:

Pin Name Description
1 OE Output Enable Input
2 S0 I2C Data Input
3 S1 I2C Clock Input
4 S2 START Function Input
5 S3 Interrupt Output
6 GND Ground
7 VDD Power Supply
8 VCSEL LED Drive Output

The important pins are:

  • OE – Active low output enable input. Pulling it low allows the sensor to output data.
  • S0 & S1 – I2C data and clock inputs for control and data transfer.
  • S2 – START function input to initiate color measurement.
  • S3 – Interrupt output indicates end of data conversion.
  • VCSEL – Drives external infrared VCSEL diode that provides illumination.

Spectral Responsivity

The TCS230 sensor has peak spectral responsivity at:

  • Red light – 610 nm
  • Green – 550 nm
  • Blue – 465 nm

This provides good correlation with the primary red, green and blue colors visible to the human eye. The spectral responsivity curves are shown below:

TCS230 Spectral Responsivity

By using narrow bandpass filters, the TCS230 achieves selective color response and avoids false color issues. The IR blocking minimizes infrared content, improving color fidelity under artificial illumination.

Communication Interface

The TCS230 uses a 2-wire I2C compatible serial interface for communication. It acts as a slave device connected to a master microcontroller. The color data registers can be addressed to retrieve measured RGB values. Some advantages of I2C communication are:

  • Allows easy connectivity with microcontrollers like Arduino, PIC, etc.
  • Provides reasonably fast data transfer rates up to 400 kbits/sec.
  • Supports multiple sensors connected to the same I2C bus.

The typical connected configuration is shown below:

TCS230 I2C Interface Connection

The sensor is powered from a 3.3V or 5V source depending on the supply voltage range. Pull-up resistors Rp connect the SCL and SDA lines to VDD. The microcontroller master initializes communication by issuing a START condition followed by the sensor I2C address with the read/write bit low.

This is followed by a register address byte specifying which color data register to read. The TCS230 then replies with the digitized color value bytes. The master completes the transaction by sending a STOP condition.

Color Registers

The TCS230 has several registers that store the measured color data as well as configuration settings. These can be read and written to via I2C interface. The registers include:

Register Address Register Name Description
0x04 COLOR_RDATA Red color value
0x06 COLOR_GDATA Green color value
0x08 COLOR_BDATA Blue color value
0x0A COLOR_CDATA Clear/unfiltered value
0x0C COLOR_CONFIG Configuration settings
0x0E COLOR_STATUS Interrupt status bits

The measured 16-bit RGB color values can be directly read from the COLOR_RDATA, COLOR_GDATA, COLOR_BDATA registers. The COLOR_CDATA register provides the ambient lighting level. The other registers allow configuring integration time, power state, interrupts etc.

Arduino Code Example

Here is a simple example of Arduino code to read RGB values from the TCS230 sensor using I2C communication:


#define TCS230_ADDRESS 0x39 // I2C address

void setup() {
Wire.begin(); // Init I2C
Serial.begin(9600); // Init serial

void loop() {

Wire.write(0x04); // Red data register

Wire.requestFrom(TCS230_ADDRESS, 2); // Request 2 bytes
if(Wire.available()It initializes I2C communication, then reads the red, green and blue registers in sequence. The 16-bit color values are reconstructed from the MSB and LSB bytes returned. Finally, the RGB values are printed to the serial monitor.

Applications and Uses

The TCS230 color sensor enables color detection and measurement in a wide variety of applications. Some of its typical uses are:

  • Color detection in robotics – For object classification, path tracking, sorting objects etc.
  • Industrial automation – Color based sorting of products, matching and quality inspection.
  • Biomedical devices – Colorimetric detection in point-of-care devices.
  • Lighting products – Measurement of color temperature, automatic tuning to color themes.
  • Consumer electronics – Color correction in cameras, automatic white balance.
  • Agricultural systems – Detecting ripeness and quality by fruit color.
  • Toys and games – Interactivity based on color sensing.

The low cost, availability in easy to use modules and I2C interface make the TCS230 a popular choice for adding color sensing ability. With additional external optics and lighting, it can be adapted for specialized color measurement needs as well.

TCS230 vs TCS3200

The TCS230 and TCS3200 are two closely related color sensor models from ams-TAOS USA. Here is a comparison between the two:

TCS230 TCS3200
Photodiodes 16 PIN integrated array 64 PIN advanced array
Digital Output I2C Interface SPI Interface
Color Channels RGB + Clear RGB + Clear
ADC Resolution 16 bit 18 bit
Package 8-pin PDIP/SOIC 20-pin SSOP
Price Lower Higher

In summary:

  • TCS3200 has higher resolution and advanced photodiode array.
  • TCS230 is lower cost, simpler packaging and I2C interface.
  • TCS230 adequate for basic color measurement needs.

Limitations of TCS230

While useful and economical, the TCS230 has some limitations:

  • Lower resolution and accuracy compared to advanced color sensors.
  • Prone to errors under low and rapidly changing lighting.
  • Has fixed RGB responsivity peaks, lacks tuneable filters.
  • Basic I2C interface not suited for very high speed data acquisition.
  • Sensitive to noise without additional EMI shielding.

The sensor needs controlled and consistent lighting conditions to provide optimum performance. The simple 3 channel output is not sufficient for high accuracy color measurement. Applications needing sophisticated color processing may require a more capable multispectral sensor.


The TCS230 color sensor provides an easy and affordable way to incorporate color sensing ability into electronic systems and devices. With its photodiode array, RGB filtered detection and I2C digital interface, it can detect and measure red, green, blue light intensities. The digitized color data output can be utilized for a variety of simple color identification, discrimination and measurement tasks.

While it has some accuracy limitations, the TCS230 is a versatile entry-level color sensor. For basic light color measurement requirements in fields like robotics, industrial automation, biomedical devices and consumer electronics, the TCS230 provides a cost-effective solution.