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Matching Paint Colors Perfectly

DEAR TIM: I recently modified my living room curtains. This required patching numerous small holes. It is now time to match the flat wall paint adjacent to these patched areas. I have never had luck in getting an exact color match from the paint store. The shades are close but you can always see the painted area. Is there a way to match the color so I don't have to paint the entire room? Have you ever had success in matching colors in a situation like this? Vivian S., Cincinnati, OH

DEAR VIVIAN: Color matching has driven many people close to the edge of insanity. I recently met a frustrated woman in a paint store who said that she had over 50 quart cans of paint in her basement. These cans represented failed attempts at trying to perfectly match a wall color.

Here is a cool tool.  It is a Color Wheel or Color Computer.  You dial up the color you need and it shows you the colors you need to combine to get you there.

Here is a cool tool. It is a Color Wheel or Color Computer. You dial up the color you need and it shows you the colors you need to combine to get you there.

Matching existing paint colors can be done. If you expect a paint store to do it for you, you need to bring in a clean sample of the paint color. You also need to allow the paint store employees several days to work out the color. If you decide to attempt it yourself, the process requires patience, excellent lighting, soap and water, and a little luck. I have had great success in the past. Recently I successfully matched a 9 year old light beige color in a client's living room.

To match colors, you need to know a few facts. The color or hue of an object is actually generated by the light that is illuminating the object. Sunlight produces all of the wave lengths or color possibilities that we can see with our naked eye. Standard light bulbs do not do this well. As a result, an object viewed in natural sunlight can look very different when observed under artificial light (paint store flourescent lights, living room lamps, etc.). Parking lot lights are good examples. Have you ever noticed how your car sometimes appears a different color under harsh sodium vapor lights?

The sheen or gloss of paint also makes it very difficult to match colors. It is much easier to match flat colors than those with gloss. High gloss paints are very unforgiving. It is almost impossible to touch up a defect using the same high gloss paint just days after a new paint job!

To match your living room walls, you first need to wash them with soap and water. This process is necessary even if you decide to repaint the entire room. Paint should always be applied to a clean, dry surface.

The washing will remove accumulated dirt, grease, and smoke particles. It is virtually impossible to get an exact match on a dirty wall surface.

Grab the paints that get you close, some disposable cups and measuring spoons and you can start to blend paints until you develop your own custom formula.

Grab the paints that get you close, some disposable cups and measuring spoons and you can start to blend paints until you develop your own custom formula.

Once the walls are clean, proceed to your local paint store and ask for numerous color chip samples that are close or match your wall color. Take these back and hold them against the walls in different spots on a sunny day. Attempt to select a color on a wall that receives indirect sunlight. Never hold a chip on a wall illuminated by a sunbeam. If you are lucky, a color on one of the chips will match closely..

Proceed to the paint store and purchase a quart of flat paint that will be custom tinted to the color chip you feel is the closest match. I have had the best luck matching colors when I select a color that is slightly darker than the color I am trying to match. Purchase an additional quart of plain white paint at the same time. You will need this to adjust the color back at your house.

Apply a small amount of the pre-mixed paint to your wall. It may look like a perfect match when you first apply it. Many flat paint colors deepen as they dry. The wet, glossy nature of the paint and the fact that the color pigments concentrate as the paint dries cause this phenomenon. If the paint dries darker, that is fine. You will now start to make micro-batches of paint on your own using your plastic measuring spoons and paper cups.

Take a teaspoon of the tinted paint and a teaspoon of the pure white paint and mix them together in a paper cup. Always rinse and dry the measuring spoon completely before you scoop paint from a different can. Apply this to the wall and allow it to dry for 20 minutes. The use of a hair blow dryer will accelerate the drying time. Adjust the proportions of white paint and colored paint if you do not get a perfect match. Keep track of the test paint areas and the proportions of paint that you mix with one another. With a little luck and lots of patience you will probably get an exact match.

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