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In many current face-recognition (FR) applications, such as video surveillance security and content annotation in a Web environment, low-resolution faces are commonly encountered and negatively impact on reliable recognition performance. In particular, the recognition accuracy of current intensity-based FR systems can significantly drop off if the resolution of facial images is smaller than a certain level (e.g., less than 20 times 20 pixels). To cope with low-resolution faces, we demonstrate that facial color cue can significantly improve recognition performance compared with intensity-based features. The contribution of this paper is twofold. First, a new metric called ldquovariation ratio gainrdquo (VRG) is proposed to prove theoretically the significance of color effect on low-resolution faces within well-known subspace FR frameworks; VRG quantitatively characterizes how color features affect the recognition performance with respect to changes in face resolution. Second, we conduct extensive performance evaluation studies to show the effectiveness of color on low-resolution faces. In particular, more than 3000 color facial images of 341 subjects, which are collected from three standard face databases, are used to perform the comparative studies of color effect on face resolutions to be possibly confronted in real-world FR systems. The effectiveness of color on low-resolution faces has successfully been tested on three representative subspace FR methods, including the eigenfaces, the fisherfaces, and the Bayesian. Experimental results show that color features decrease the recognition error rate by at least an order of magnitude over intensity-driven features when low-resolution faces (25 times 25 pixels or less) are applied to three FR methods.