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The high cost of what have historically been sophisticated research-related sensors and tools has limited their adoption to a relatively small group of well-funded researchers. This paper provides a methodology for applying an open-source approach to design and development of a colorimeter. A 3-D printable, open-source colorimeter utilizing only open-source hardware and software solutions and readily available discrete components is discussed and its performance compared to a commercial portable colorimeter. Performance is evaluated with commercial vials prepared for the closed reflux chemical oxygen demand (COD) method. This approach reduced the cost of reliable closed reflux COD by two orders of magnitude making it an economic alternative for the vast majority of potential users. The open-source colorimeter demonstrated good reproducibility and serves as a platform for further development and derivation of the design for other, similar purposes such as nephelometry. This approach promises unprecedented access to sophisticated instrumentation based on low-cost sensors by those most in need of it, under-developed and developing world laboratories. © 2013 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.