How to Pick (or Match) a Color

In a recent year, over 30 consecutive customersusing color chips alonechanged their mind on the color that they had chosen, after seeing the actual paint (often many gallons of it). None had taken this advice seriously. You really should test your color selections in advance with a quart of paint as explained below!

Color Selection

If you do your homework and give us actual color names or color formulas, without us making an extra trip to your house or the paint store, you can avoid paying $35 per trip for service calls. If you just pick your color/s from a fan deck and hope for the best, or provide cans or other actual samples for us at the time of the bid, we will have them matched free, provided that you are willing to accept the store’s match, sight unseen.

The Problem

All right, so you’ve asked your friends and neighbors to recommend a reliable painting contractor to you, or you’ve checked Angie’s List or called the Better Business Bureau. You may have closely examined some nearby homes because you know that people are often unwittingly pleased with mediocre quality. You’ve gotten in line on your painter’s schedule. Now you can sit back, and when your time comes around for painting, you’ll glance at a few color chips and then watch the transformation. Right? Wrong! By far the hardest part remains: selecting colors! This should never be left to become a last minute decision.

People are often either surprised or horrified upon seeing an actual brushed-on sample of a color that they selected. Having painted for over thirty years, I can easily attest to the fact that getting people to realize the importance of seriously involving themselves in color selection, and looking at actual paint, is a critical factor in their satisfaction with the job. Most people believe that only “indecisive” people can’t readily select colors. Yet scientists are constantly discovering more about how people react to color!

If you’re going to sell your house any time soon, you’d better carefully consider the “packaging.” Prospective sellers might especially prefer the relative safety of choosing a standard color from a small brochure, rather than a custom color from a large fan deck, as the smaller palettes have been specifically selected for popular acceptance.

Color selection is a very personal decision. You have to live with your choice; it should make you happy, not necessarily a paint store clerk, a decorator, or your painter. You may get some outside opinions, but you’ll have to make the final color decision, just as you would any other decision. No one else can determine what you like!

You may think that you have a “good eye for color,” and that you can make a good selection from chips alone. Maybe so, but the experts can’t do it! If you make a good selection from a chip on the first try, it is due primarily to chance! Occasionally the chips themselves don’t quite represent the paint. I have only seen one serious discrepancy due to a chip, however. Usually it’s the small size of the chip that deceives the eye. Due to this reality, your scheduling may have to be postponed if you haven’t made definite color decisions in advance. Stains should be ordered several days in advance to be certain that enough stock in the right base is available.

The Solution

There is only one logical solution. You need to purchase and test out some colors! Most people need to allow several days for multiple trips to the paint store for samples, and several nights to “sleep on it.” I will reimburse you for any paint that I can use, so long as I know about it before I purchase the rest of the paint. When using standard colors, any product in a quart should be accurate enough. Many products, such as stains, are only available in gallons. Don’t experiment with gallons unless you have to, such as with custom matched exterior stains. In practice, I have to schedule work according to who has notified me that they have made color selections!

Color Matching

Allow at least twenty-four hours for a store to match your color! You may think that the easy solution is to match the existing color. Actually it is often quite difficult to match a color using color chipsluck as well as skill is required. If you don’t have a touch-up can from the previous painting, then trial and error is the only way to be certain of a match using chips. It is possible to use the exact product that was used before, but it’s likely to be obsolete, or an inappropriate type of product. Furthermore, there are inferior products on the market. I guarantee several brands. I must also charge more for products that I don’t get a discount on. Old touch-up cans are great for using to obtain original, unfaded colors. Short of having the previous color name or number, the only practical way to obtain a match is to break off the tip of one of the little triangular trim pieces found on most houses on the lowest part of the eaves, and have the paint store match it. It’s well worth the effort. Incidentally, I always leave touch-up paint when I’m finished.

Most paint stores are only open from 7 A.M. until 5 P.M., but Home Depot and of course Lowe’s are open later in the evening. Be sure to write the color name or number on your contract for a permanent record. I don’t keep color records! Don’t trust a store to keep track of your color selections! Please notify me as soon as you have made definite color selections to avoid possible scheduling delays.

Number of Coats

The number of coats necessary is primarily determined by the color you select and the number of years between coatings. Changing colors will increase the likelihood that a second coat will be necessary (for 60% more). The greater the change, the greater the likelihood that a second coat will be necessary. If you want to change to or from white, then assume that two coats will be necessary.

Cedar Siding or Trim Stains

You can select from hundreds of colors. Quarts of stain aren’t sold, so buy quarts of paint in the same color to test the color. Often an exact gallon to quart match isn’t possible because the increments of the gallon formula may not be evenly divisible by four. The stores would rather sell you a gallon but you can ask them to round off the formula and get very close except on very light colors. Paint, being thicker than stain, will not help determine how many coats of stain are necessary to make a color change. Paint a sample on scrap wood or cardboard that is at least one square foot. You need a large sample for accurate visualization. Be sure to view colors in sunlight!

Custom colored paints and stains come in different color intensity bases. The very darkest colors fade very quickly, due to the fact that dark colors absorb lots of ultraviolet light and get “cooked” for the same reason asphalt gets hot. You can have more colorant added to your quart samples after you have tried them, but only if they are fairly close to the actual color you want. Too much colorant will weaken any protective coating, but if you ask for it you’ll probably get it.

I should note that most people consider it important to choose colors that complement the color of their roof. Another possible idea is to choose a color similar to your gutters so that they don’t stand out, because gutters aren’t something you want to stand out. You will most likely select a color that is too light on the first try. Most stores use computers to assist in color matching. Computer matching is not exact; check the match carefully. Note that having trim (eaves, etc.) stained or painted in a different color than the siding costs 33% more.

Entry Doors

If you have a custom paint created, then you may need to select or match a satin door color made in latex paint. Your unique formula may not work in another type of product. Should you want a different or unrelated color for your main entry door, then prepare to “go nuts,” because people often do when making this decision. If your test quart is satin, or another sheen, it will work for your doors. If your varnished front door needs touch-up stain prior to re-varnishing, you must buy that. The Anderson’s General Store has a good selection of tiny cans. I’ll touch up the door at no extra cost if you go to the pain of finding a matchotherwise we’ll just varnish the door as is.


Most of the above advice is also applicable to stucco, so I won’t repeat it here. Flat paint rather than stain is used, and the color selections most people choose are light colors. Get samples of pastel colors or choose from hundreds of light fan deck colors. I recommend that you select colors made with the lightest base for stucco colors. Some of the best stucco colors are on “interior” color brochures. These can be made in exterior paint. When you see a color that you may like, ask if it is a color made in the lightest base.

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