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Paint Colors – Mix to Match

Twenty-five years ago, I saw the most interesting thing. I was at Kathy's (my wife to be) house picking her up for a date. A professional painter was there working. He was in the process of custom blending an interior paint color for my future mother-in-law's dining and living room.

This painter had numerous plastic ketchup and mustard bottles filled with different pigments. He would squeeze pigments into the white base paint until he got close to the desired color. Kathy's mother stood there and watched while he mixed. Occasionally he would apply some to the wall to see if it was right. Once Kathy's mother was satisfied he proceeded to mix the rest of the paint according to the quantities of pigment that were added. It was amazing how easy it was to do!

It is Still Possible

You can still do the same thing that Andy the painter did for my mother-in-law. It is possible to purchase the concentrated pigments from certain paint stores. Of course you have to be willing to experiment. The beauty of this process is that you can create an infinite amount of colors.

Andy did the exact same thing for some outdoor patio furniture. He had a green paint that was a little too green. So he simply started adding some black until the green paint became a much deeper shade. As long as you go slowly, you will get positive results. The key is not to add too much pigment at once.

The Old Days

75 years ago, the paint industry was very different. First of all there weren't any paint stores. You went to a hardware store. There you could buy basic paint in white. Often you could purchase the paint ingredients: linseed oil, mineral spirits, titanium dioxide, and pigments. You would take these ingredients and blend your own paint!

Exterior house painters would actually mix up 10 - 15 gallons at a time to paint the exterior parts of a home. The ingredients would be placed in a large garbage type can. A popular color at the time was robin's egg blue. The painter would get an approval from the house wife or husband and make sure that he had enough paint mixed up to coat an entire side or two. It was tough to get an exact match using crude paint mixing methods.

The industry started to change about 50 to 60 years ago with the introduction of premixed colors from the paint factories. There would be rows and rows of gallon cans in paint stores of different colors. There were no site mixed color machines in the hardware stores.

During the 1950's and '60's, the paint companies began to introduce site mixed color machines into paint stores. This greatly reduced the amount of inventory since the paint companies just had to supply the different bases to which the store employee would add pigment.

As time passed, the quality control of the pigments increased and the calibration of the pigment measuring devices. These improvements allow you to go to a paint store two weeks after buying a premixed color and walk out with an exact match.

Unknown Formulas

If you know the formula you can get a match. But often the paint can is discarded. Knowing the color name can help but it is not a guarantee. Color names can change and are unique to each manufacturer.

A paint store employee with a good eye for color and three or four days can often get you very close to a color. This will happen only if you bring in a clean, large (greater than 1 square inch) sample of the paint. Flakes of plaster are just not big enough.

Time is a critical factor. If you expect a perfect match on a color matching attempt the first time AND within 10 minutes you are dreaming! An exact match by a store employee can take 10 or more attempts. The store manager will not let an employee work on samples in the back while other customers walk in. So, you need to give them time.

Blending a Color

If the walls or ceiling you are trying to match are clean and uniform in color, you will have a good chance at matching the color. Dirt blotches, smudges, heating duct dirt tails on the walls can make matching virtually impossible. If you have these conditions and apply fresh paint nearby, the new paint will stand out even if it is an exact match.

To blend a color into a wall once you have gotten a match, you need to feather the paint. This means apply it thinly at the edges of the painted area. This creates a thin edge of paint instead of a hump. Practice the technique in a closet. The paint, even when applied thinly will still look somewhat heavy. Once dry it will look like it was applied with a feather!

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