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How can I identify a paint color?

How can I identify a paint color?

Identifying a paint color you like can be challenging, but there are a few methods that can make it easier. Here are some tips on how to identify and match a paint color:

Use a color matching tool

One of the easiest ways to identify an existing paint color is to use a color matching tool. Paint brands like Sherwin-Williams, Behr, and Benjamin Moore offer apps or physical color tools you can use in-store to match the color you’re looking for.

To use a matching tool:

– Bring in a paint chip, fabric swatch, or other physical sample of the color you want to match. The larger the sample size, the easier it will be for the tool to read the color accurately.

– Use the tool according to the specific brand’s instructions to scan and analyze the sample. Some tools are handheld devices while others involve holding a physical sample up to a scanner.

– The matching software will provide you with the closest exact color match in that brand’s catalog. It may also suggest coordinating colors in the same color family.

Matching tools take the guesswork out of identifying an existing paint color and make it easy to find the exact branded paint color for touch-ups or to match other items in a room.

Use a color identification app

In addition to hardware color matching tools, there are also several paint color apps that can help identify a color. Color capture apps like ColorSnap Visualizer, Paint My Place, and Color grab use your smartphone camera to capture a photo of the color you want to match. You simply snap a photo or upload an existing image, and the app will analyze the color in the photo and provide matching paint colors from major paint brands.

Color matching apps are convenient if you don’t have a physical sample of the paint color or if you just want to experiment with color options virtually. However, be aware that the app will be matching the color as it appears digitally through your camera, which may not always perfectly represent the true color due to lighting and other factors. For best results, try capturing your sample color in natural daylight.

Look for an existing label

If you have an existing painted wall or other painted item, try checking if there is any remaining paint can label or sticker with the original color name and code still attached. This can give you the exact original paint color immediately without having to perform any guesswork.

Paint labels with the color name/code are typically found:

– On the lid of the paint can

– On the side/bottom edge of the can

– On the plastic rim of the paint can lid

– On a sticker attached to the back of a cabinet door or furniture where paint may have been used

– Sharpied or written on the back of the item

If you don’t have the original paint can, see if the previous homeowners left any labels or records of the paint colors they used. This can provide helpful clues for narrowing down the search.

Consult your local paint store

For a more hands-on approach, visit your local paint specialty store with your color sample in hand. Associates at stores like Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore are experts at analyzing colors and making recommendations. Describe the room the color is in, where you last purchased paint, and any other context that could help the store associate suggest possible matches.

Paint store employees have access to large databases of paint colors. They can hold your sample next to paint swatches or even use a spectrophotometer machine to analyze the color precisely. Based on your sample, they may be able to provide one or more close color matches or options within the same color family. This is especially helpful if you don’t know details like the original paint brand used.

Test paint samples

Once you narrow down one or two likely color matches, purchase or obtain paint samples in those colors. Paint samples allow you to test shades on a wall before committing to a full gallon. Spread the samples on poster board or paint them directly onto the wall surface. Moving the samples into the actual room/lighting helps reveal how the colors look in real life.

When evaluating paint samples:

– View the samples throughout the day since color appears different in morning, afternoon and evening light.

– Compare to surrounding items like trim and furniture to ensure the tone coordinates.

– Paint a larger 2 foot by 2 foot or 3 foot by 3 foot sample area for a more accurate view of how the color looks.

– Enlist a second opinion from someone else looking at the samples before finalizing your decision.

Taking time to test potential paint colors with samples helps ensure you select the closest match to the original paint color.

Invest in a color evaluation tool

For DIYers interested in frequently matching paint colors, consider investing in your own spectrophotometer or portable color reader device. This professional-level equipment provides detailed digital color readings of any surface, removing the guesswork of determining a close match.

Handheld color readers from companies like Pantone and Nix give instant readings of a paint sample’s RGB, CMYK, or HEX color values. More advanced standalone spectrophotometers analyze the exact light spectrum reflected by a surface to match colors with unparalleled accuracy.

While an investment, these tools allow you to match any paint color quickly on your own without having to rely on paint store associates. For decorating, design, and paint professionals, this equipment is a must-have for efficiently achieving perfect color matches.

Be flexible

When trying to color match, it helps to be flexible. Rarely will you identify an exact 100% color match, simply due to changes in paint formulations and finishes over time. Aim to find a shade in the same color family that complements surrounding items rather than match the previous color exactly. If needed, consider repainting adjacent surfaces in a coordinating color so no obvious mismatch is visible.

Identifying a paint color match takes some effort, but using these tips you should be able to track down your desired shade. Approaching the process methodically and using the right tools will have you matching colors like a professional. Don’t be afraid to get a little help from paint store employees, color apps and hardware when needed too. With some perseverance, you’ll achieve color coordination success.

Paint Color Matching Methods

Method How it Works Pros Cons
Paint Color Matching Apps Use your smartphone camera to capture a photo of the paint color you want to match. The app analyzes the photo and suggests coordinating paint colors. Convenient, easy to use, provides multiple color options Depends on camera color accuracy, only provides approximate matches
Physical Color Matching Tools Scan a paint sample with a branded color matching device. It reads the sample and matches it to paint colors in that brand’s catalog. Provides precise match, matches to brand’s existing paint colors Requires access to the tool, only works for that paint brand
Paint Store Assistance Bring your sample to a paint store. Employees can visually match or use spectrophotometers to analyze and match the color. Matches to variety of paint brands, experts assist you Requires trip to store, match depends on employee’s expertise
DIY Spectrophotometers Use a portable spectrophotometer device to digitally analyze a color and determine an exact match. Highly accurate, matches any color, works for multiple paint brands Expensive equipment purchase required

Tips for Identifying Paint Colors

Tip Details
Check existing paint labels Inspect paint can lids, stickers, or labels on painted surfaces to find the original color name/code
Test in natural daylight View paint color samples and matches in morning, noon, and evening light to evaluate true color
Get large samples Paint 2 x 2 or 3 x 3 foot sample patches directly on the wall for most accurate view
Compare to surroundings View samples next to trim, furniture, etc. to ensure coordinating tones
Enlist a second opinion Have someone else look at sample(s) before finalizing match
Be flexible A close match in the same color family often works fine vs. an exact match


Identifying an existing paint color can be a challenge, but following a systematic process makes it easier. Using tools like smartphone apps, physical color scanners, and professional assistance simplifies matching paint colors. Testing large samples, making comparisons, and checking paint labels also helps narrow down options. With some persistence and flexibility, you can achieve the right paint color match for your space. Just remember there are many options to aid your search, so take advantage of the technology and expertise available.