Don’t Skip the Swatch

published Jul 30, 2015
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(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

You’ve probably heard it a million times: for the best results, test your paint colors in your room to see how they work with the light sources before committing to a full room (or even a full wall) paint job. It’s the final step in any color choosing process and it’s the one that many of us tend to skip, but it really can make a big difference; your chances of ending up with a color that you absolutely love goes way up when you work through this final stretch instead of giving it a pass.

(Image credit: Abby Stone)

First of all, you’ll need to get a small quantity of each the 3-4 colors you are deciding between. You can often easily purchase tester quantities these days and it’s worth the small cost to NOT have to repaint over a color a few months down the line (its the “measure twice-cut once” of the paint world!).

If you are the just-go-for-it gutsy type, paint your swatches directly on the wall and don’t be shy – go for at least an 12 x 12 inch square of the colors and paint them wherever you need to, in multiple places in the room, since you’ll want to see the colors in different areas as per Dabney’s tips below. The bonus of doing this method is the built-in guarantee that you’ll be motivated to get the paint job done soon after – goodbye swatches, hello beautiful new color.

If you can’t bring yourself to mess with your current wall until you are 100% sure and ready to do the full job, then follow the process shown in the photo above and paint several big swatches on heavy cardstock that you can tape up (or lean up, as the case may be) onto your wall. This makes it easy to move them around OR if you are really hardcore, you can create several swatches of each color so you can view them on different walls at the same time, in different lighting situations.

If you really don’t want to spring for the testers or don’t have the time to make the samples yourself, at the very least, pinning up the small pre-printed swatches you can get at the store is better than nothing, so give that a go.

Whichever method you use, live with the swatches for a few days before making your decision. You want to see them in different lighting situations and give yourself a chance to really “digest” the colors and get comfortable with the choices.

Dabney is our resident expert on evaluating color; here are some of her very helpful tips and things to consider when going through this color swatch review process:

Tip: Evaluate your paint swatches at different times of day to make sure you see just how the color will change over time. Also, move the paint swatches around to different areas in the room, or paint multiple swatches on different sections of the walls.

As sun moves across the sky each day, it changes dramatically in intensity and direction. Longer shadows in the late afternoon or evening can affect the color perception. Colors will look differently as a result.

  • Morning: Early light has a mixture of warm colors and give paint a luminous glow.
  • Afternoon: At noon, light is decidedly bluer. At the peak of sunlight, color can get washed out.
  • Evening: As the sun approaches the horizon again near sundown, the light becomes warmer.

Tip: Turn on various lights — even if it’s still light out — to see how they affect color. If you are in the middle of a renovation, try to have the lights installed before the painting happens.

Different artificial light will all have a different relationship with your walls and ceilings. Since a lot of stores (especially big ones like Home Depot) mostly use fluorescent bulbs (unlike regular homes) the discrepancy is often pronounced, and therefore disappointing. That’s why, when you get paint home, it often looks completely different than it did in the store. The good news is that the type of light bulbs available in stores has changed a lot over the years, so you have more options to control their effects on the room in question. Here’s are some general differences.

  • Incandescent: Warmer light that enhances red, yellows, and oranges. Downplays cooler colors.
  • Fluorescents: Cooler light that enhances blues and greens, and diminishes warmer hues.
  • LEDs: More flexible than the other bulbs and looks good with most paint colors.
  • CFLs: Depends on the bulb, so check the Kelvin rating. The lower the number, the warmer the bulb. Full spectrum bulbs mimic daylight.
  • Halogen: Also closely resembles daylight, and makes colors stand out more.

Please share your tips on using and evaluating color swatches with us in the comments below – we’d love some hive-mind intel on what’s worked for you!