Paint Color Sample Tips

Paint color samples on small square boards next to paint brushes and tape roll

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Using a paint color sample on your walls, ceiling, cabinets, or whatever you want to paint is the best way to determine the final look. Online paint color visualizers and paint cards do have their place but nothing can match the fidelity of real paint pigment in real life.

What a Paint Color Sample Is

Paint color samples are liquid portions of a paint-like product, ranging from 7.2 ounces to around 30 ounces.

Paint color samples are meant to be applied to the actual surface that will be painted. Paint samples cannot be removed from the surface; they must be painted over.

Paint samples, physically, as not the same as the eventual paint that you may buy. The pigments are the same since the purpose of the sample is to represent color. But paint color samples don't have the same body as real paint.

Paint samples are available from both paint stores, such as Sherwin-Williams, and from large home centers and hardware stores, such as Home Depot, Lowe's, and Ace Hardware.

Because paint samples are temporary coats of paint, they must later be top-coated. Even during use as a sample, they tend to look streaky. So a second coat of paint sample is recommended.

How to Request a Color Sample

  1. Visit a paint store or home center with a paint department.
  2. Find the color chip card of the color you like.
  3. 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.
  4. Use a pen to checkmark all of your picks and take them to the paint counter.
  5. Tell the customer service associate you would like samples of each color.
  6. It usually takes 15 minutes for samples to be mixed.
  7. Upon receipt, verify that the mixes are correct. Wrong mixes do happen.
  8. In most cases, you will need to pay for the samples. Expect to pay no less than $5 for a paint sample. At one time, paint manufacturers handed out free paint color samples. But fewer companies do this anymore.

Tips For Working With Paint Color Samples

Paint on Poster Board

If you don't want to deal with repainting a wall covered with paint color samples, use white posterboard for the sample. Coated posterboard is best. Pin the poster board to the wall. Another advantage of applying paint samples to the posterboard is that you can move the boards around to see the color in different lights.

Pink paint sample added to small board to tape to wall

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Use Foam Brushes

With paint color samples, it isn't worth it to use premium brushes. In fact, foam brushes are usually all you need to apply the sample. Just be sure not to use inexpensive brushes called chip brushes. Chip brushes tend to streak the paint.

Foam roller and flat foam brushes next to color paint samples on board

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Stick to Smaller Sizes

One trend among paint companies has been to offer larger paint samples than ever before. While this does help you to see more of the paint color on the wall, you also have more unwanted color that you need to cover up.

Not just that, unwanted paint color samples must be disposed of, especially since they aren't suitable as a true paint product. Leaving a paint can open over time will help the paint eventually harden. Better yet, use an inexpensive paint hardener from your local paint store or home center.

Give It Some Time

Paint manufacturers recommend that you wait two hours before judging whether the color is good or not. If you're wondering if this is right, try this simple experiment. Apply a fresh sample paint next to an aged sample. You will see one shade or even more of difference.

Green paint sample on board next to fresh green paint applied to wall with foam brush

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic

Use Paint Samples For Exteriors

If you're painting a bedroom or bathroom and get the paint color wrong, it can be redone. While it's not a project you'd be anxious to do, it can be done. Exteriors are different.

Exterior painting is such a big job that you need to get it right the first time. This is when paint samples really come in handy. Simply pick a side of your house that isn't too obvious, and apply any number of paint color samples. Let the color samples stay there for about a week as you assess them.

When you're done, apply a couple of coats of exterior primer to cover up the colors.

Different gray paint samples added to exterior wall with paint brush

The Spruce / Sanja Kostic