Paint Color Samples: All the Basics

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    Paint Color Samples: Everything You Think You Know is Wrong

    Paint swatches
    Mathew Zucker / Getty Images

    Paint color samples seem like a slam-dunk. Smear on a sample, pronounce it perfect, and proceed to buy 30 more gallons.

    Not so fast. Even the choice, purchase, and application of paint color samples are not so simple. Here are a few strange facts about paint color samples and some tips, too.

    Fact: Color Paint Samples are Not Real Paint

    Surprised?  Most people are.  One would think that paint samples are drawn from the real paint itself.

    Instead, paint samples are temporary coats of paint that should later be top-coated. They are watery and do not behave like real paint during application. After application, they look "streaky," so a second sample coat is recommended.

    What Is a Paint Color Sample?

    Paint color samples are liquid servings of watered down paint in sizes ranging from 7.2 oz. to around 30 oz.

    These samples are available from both paint stores (i.e., Sherwin Williams) and big box and hardware stores (i.e., Home Depot and Ace). They are meant to be brushed onto the area that you intend to paint.

    How to Request a Color Sample

    1. Go to the store and find the color chip card of the color you like.
    2. Scan nearby colors of varying shades and intensities. Can you find two or three that are close to your first pick? If so, pull them out, too.
    3. Use a pen to check mark all of your picks and take them to the paint counter.
    4. Tell the customer service associate you would like samples of each color.
    5. It usually takes 15 minutes for samples to be mixed.
    6. Upon receipt, verify that the mixes are correct. Wrong mixes do happen.

    Paint Samples Are the Truest Way to Settle on a Color

    Forget the online virtual painters. Forget the color chip cards. Short of laying down real paint, applying a paint sample to the exterior of your house is the best way to really see what the color will look like.

    Samples Always Cost You, But Less Than Buying Real Paint

    Expect to pay no less than $5 for a paint sample. Paint manufacturers don't want color samples to cost a lot because they want you to eventually buy the product. The more samples you buy, the better off you will be.

    Continue to 2 of 2 below.
  • 02 of 02

    Paint Color Samples: Changing Colors

    Bright Green Paint
    Bright Green Paint. Getty / pagadesign

    Color Can Look Similar When Viewed Individually

    Obviously tans, green, and reds look different when viewed alone.

    But what about greens that are close together in the spectrum? Think you can immediately tell the difference? Some people can, and that is one reason we pay designers for their time.

    But most homeowners will benefit from placing colors next to each other.

    Large Quantity Color Samples are a Waste of Money

    It is like love at the first sight. From that first brush-stroke, you know if it is in the right ballpark for you or not. So, then you have 7 oz. of unwanted paint. Now what? Just another can of paint to take to paint recycling.

    Yes, Colors Really Do Change One Shade After Time

    Paint manufacturers recommend that you wait two hours before judging whether the color is good or not. This is true. Just apply fresh sample paint next to an aged sample, and you will see one shade of difference. It's worth the wait.

    Reminder: You Absolutely, Positively Need to Get Exterior Colors Right

    Exterior paint is such a monumental undertaking that you absolutely, positively have to get it right.

    No messing around here. If you get a bathroom color wrong, just repaint. But exterior house painting can take weeks of your time as a DIYer or thousands of dollars when hiring a pro. It's not a decision to be make lightly.