When undertaking a painting project, selecting the perfect color can be one of the most exciting, yet challenging parts of the process. With so many paint options to choose from, how can you confidently pick a color without seeing a physical sample first? The good news is that getting actual paint samples before committing to a color is easy and often free. Hardware stores, paint shops and most major paint brands offer sample-size paint chips, swatches or pots to test colors out.
Why get paint samples?
There are a few key reasons why paint samples are so useful:
See accurate colors
Computer screens, paint chips and color swatches can never fully represent what a color will look like when painted on your walls. The lighting in your home, the sheen of the paint and colors of surrounding furnishings will all impact how a color looks. Paint samples allow you to see the real paint color accurately under your actual conditions before fully committing to a color.
Test colors out
Small paint samples make it easy to test colors on your walls before you paint an entire room. Paint a large swatch or two of your top color choices on the wall where the finished paint will go. Live with the samples for a few days and observe how the color looks at different times of day in both natural and artificial light. This allows you to get a feel for the color before finalizing your choice.
Adjacent rooms painted in coordinating colors can provide a cohesive flow in your home. Paint samples allow you to accurately compare colors side-by-side. You can test out complementary paint colors on sample boards or swatch samples side-by-side on the walls to visualize how the colors will coordinate.
Match existing colors
If you need to match existing painted walls when touching up or when painting an adjoining room, paint samples are very helpful. Most major paint brands can accurately scan and match your existing paint color. They’ll provide you with a sample pot of the matched color so you can confirm it’s an exact match before purchasing a larger quantity.
Where to get paint samples
You have several convenient options when it comes to selecting and procuring paint samples:
Visit a local paint supply store or paint specialty shop. Most offer a selection of free paint sample chips, swatches or cards for a variety of major paint brands. While these small samples show you the color, the paint will look different on a wall than on a card. Many shops also have draw-down cards which show a swipe of actual paint for a more accurate representation.
Hardware stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s have a wide selection of in-store paint color samples from brands they carry, including BEHR, Glidden, and Valspar. Sample chips are free and sample pots are available in sizes starting at around 2 ounces for a small fee.
Direct from manufacturers
Most major paint companies such as Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams and Behr allow you to order sample pots of their paint colors online and have chips or swatches mailed directly to your door for free. Sample pots contain a few ounces of actual paint to test colors on your walls.
Some paint brands and stores offer free in-home color consultations. A professional designer will come measure your space, discuss your color preferences, and paint large swatches on your walls from their collection of sample colors. This allows you to see paint colors in your actual lighting and space before deciding.
Types of paint samples
There are a few standard options when it comes to paint sample types:
These small strips or squares demonstrate the paint color but not the actual paint. Paint chips come in fan decks that you can flip through to compare color options. Swatches are on larger cards in coordinating colors.
Some brands offer cards or folders printed with the paint color. This allows you to move the card around the room and compare to furnishings. It provides a more accurate depiction than a chip but still not the actual paint.
These are sample cards that have a swipe of actual paint across them, showing some of the depth and dimension of real paint. The color is more accurate than a chip, but the sheen may be different than the final wall paint.
Small plastic paint pots contain around 2-8 ounces of actual wall paint. This allows you to paint a section of wall to see the real color, sheen and coverage before you commit. Sample pots are the most accurate representation of your final paint.
Tips for selecting paint samples
To make the most of paint samples as you test potential colors, keep these tips in mind:
Get lots of options
Don’t limit yourself to just one or two colors initially. Get several chips, cards or pots in colors you may be interested in to expand your choices. Having many options allows you to hold up different colors together for comparison.
Test on walls
To see the true color and finish, paint swatches or samples from sample pots directly onto the wall you’ll be painting. The color will look more accurate on the actual wall surface than on a card.
Check in different light
Observe sample colors on walls at different times of day and night. Colors often look different in natural daylight, evening lamplight and morning sunlight streaming through windows.
Compare to surroundings
Look at samples with nearby furnishings, floors, counters, etc. that will remain the same. This gives you an idea of how everything will coordinate with the new wall color.
Use flash photography
Taking photos of sample paint colors with a flash can help you better evaluate the undertones. Cool undertones can look too bold and warm undertones can look dull in photos.
Using and storing paint samples
Once you’ve procured an array of promising paint samples, use them strategically around your rooms:
Always label the back of each card or pot with the manufacturer, color name and/or code. This avoids mixing up identities later.
Compare on walls
Paint at least 8-10 inch square swatches of your top contenders directly on walls where the final paint will go. Observe them over several days before deciding.
Keep paint cards organized in their original packaging or a binder. Seal lids tightly on sample pots. Store containers upright and away from extreme temperatures or moisture.
Save for touch-ups
Once you’ve selected your final wall color, save the remaining paint from sample pots to have for future touch-ups and repairs. Just ensure you labeled the color properly.
Being strategic with samples
To make the most of sampling before committing to a paint color for your space, use these strategies:
Take photos of your rooms to bring along when getting samples. This helps you select colors that will coordinate with existing items that will stay unchanged.
For the most accurate idea of the final look, prime walls with white primer before painting color samples. The white backdrop shows the true undertones.
Use sample pots to paint a section of wall that needs coverage, like over a dark color. This checks opacity and hiding power.
Get samples in both flat/matte and eggshell/satin sheens to see which finish you prefer. Higher sheens show more defects.
View in natural light
Situate sample colors on walls where sunlight regularly hits to see how natural light affects the tone at different times of day.
Coordinate accent walls
Sample accent wall colors alongside the main wall color. Contrasting hues can look very different against each other than alone.
Compare to furniture
Hold or lean paint samples against furnishings, tile, countertops, etc. to visualize how tones will coordinate.
Sampling exterior paint colors
For exterior paint projects, adapt your sampling strategy:
Use foam boards
Outdoor paint samples can be painted onto foam boards that are portable and reusable. Move boards around the home exterior to compare.
Account for landscaping
Consider how mature trees and shrubs will impact sunlight on exterior surfaces when selecting sample colors to test.
Factor in siding color
If you aren’t painting brick or masonry, get samples of paint colors that will coordinate with the existing siding color.
Visit at different times
Evaluate exterior paint samples at various times of day and seasons. Natural light can drastically alter tones.
Take photos of outdoor paint samples to see how the house color selection visually impacts your home’s exterior style and curb appeal.
Coordinate with roof
Compare paint options to your roofing materials. Complementary or matching tones help the exterior appear more cohesive.
Ordering paint for large projects
Once you’ve selected the perfect color from samples, follow this best practice when purchasing paint:
Buy more than you think
For large painting projects, purchase more paint than online paint calculators estimate. It’s smart to have 10-20% extra on hand.
Stick with the same batch
Try to buy enough paint in the same batch or formulation number to complete the entire project. Batch variations can cause noticeably different colors.
Factor in edging/touch-ups
Beyond the wall area, account for extra paint that will be required for cutting in edges and doing touch ups after main painting is complete.
Keep leftover paint stored properly in cool, dry conditions in sealed containers. This extends the shelf life for future paint touch-ups.
Save your receipt
Keep your paint receipt with leftover paint cans. Most retailers allow returns on unopened cans within 30 days if you purchase too much.
Getting free paint samples during the planning process is an important step to ultimately selecting the perfect paint color. Sample chips, cards and paint pots allow you to view colors accurately before committing. Carefully testing paint samples under your own lighting conditions, against your existing furnishings and on the actual walls that will be painted helps ensure that you pick a color you’ll still love after living with it. With so many sample options available from retailers and manufacturers, there’s no need to guess at a paint color or rely only on the limited accuracy of color swatches. Take advantage of sampling to confidently select a shade you’ll enjoy for years to come.