In this article, a new architecture for a four-colour optical detector circuit is presented. The proposed detector uses a photodiode as its basic light transducing element and a mixed signal readout circuit for signal processing and decision making. The readout circuit requires only two comparators, two multiplexers and a few logic gates to produce a digital 4 bit output that represents the right colour detected. The proposed detector is advantageous because the number of required components is fixed even if the number of detected colours is increased. The feature of having a fixed number of elements while increasing the number of detected colours is important especially in component count (i.e. low cost) and low power consumption. The proposed detector can be used as an autonomous and portable real-time pH monitoring applications. The objective of this article is to present a validation of a novel four colour sensor architecture using simulation and experiment as a proof of concept for a future implementation as a CMOS integrated circuit using the Austria Microsystems 350 nm technology. © 2013 Copyright Taylor and Francis Group, LLC.