Choosing Paint Colors and Making Your Own Paint Samples

Posted by Sheela Cooper

OK, it’s time to fess up – how many sample pots of paint are lurking in your garage, under your sink, or in your basement? How many dollars have we all invested in trying to find just the right color for our kitchen/bedroom/bathroom, and how much storage space are we sacrificing to these little color-filled containers?

While I absolutely believe that paint samples are an important part of finding the perfect color for walls, I have a hard time investing lots of dollars into paint samples that, for the most part, will never be “the one.” Even though big box stores offer paint sample pots for about $3 each, specialty paint stores may charge up to $8 for a sample! After a few samples, it really adds up. So what’s a paint obsessed gal to do to find the right wall color? How about creating your own paint samples in a very cost effective way? |

Making your own samples works best when you’re considering a range of shades of one color, for example, blue. I recently went through this process while I was trying to find the perfect shade of blue for a bedroom in my house. I wanted a shade that was warm and happy, yet not babyish. It could not be too dark, but also not too light. It had to complement the orange accents that I had planned for the room as well; overall, I had high expectations for this blue!

I started by getting every paint sample card in shades of blue that I thought might work for the room. I’m not embarrassed to say that I went to no fewer than four stores to collect these cards – hey, I’m just exploring all of my options! I came home and taped dozens of cards up on the wall. It was easy to see immediately which ones were completely wrong, so I took those down. I noted which colors my eye kept going to, so I kept those up. I lived with those for a couple of days, and then finally picked my favorite one out of the batch.

I went and purchased a sample of that selected paint swatch (it was Valspar Crystal Sea). Once I had painted a large piece of poster board with the sample (I did two coats and allowed it to dry completely) and hung it up in the room, I realized that I still liked it, but it wasn’t quite right. In this case, it was a little too light and had a little too much green. I wanted it to have a little more depth as well. But, I could picture how I could tweak the color to make it more like what I wanted.

So here’s where my secret weapon comes in: acrylic crafts paints from the craft store. These two ounce paint bottles cost about 50 cents each when they are on sale, but even at regular price they are usually less than a dollar. If you invest a few dollars and purchase one bottle of white, one gray, one black, one navy, and one robin’s egg blue, you’ll be in great shape to start making your paint samples. (Of course if your desired paint color is orange, you’ll need to purchase acrylic paints in orange, red, white, gray, and yellow to get a range of shades. Same idea for green, etc.)

It’s important to start with the purchased paint sample that wasn’t quite right and build on it. In my case, I knew I wanted the color to be a bit deeper, grayer, and less green. I added varying amounts of gray, white, and navy blue, and after many different mixing attempts, I came up with a shade that was just right. For example, I put three teaspoons of Crystal Sea with a teaspoon of white, one of gray, and a few drops of navy onto a paper plate, mixed well, and painted the color onto a piece of poster board. You must let it dry completely (preferably two coats) to get a true picture of the color you created.
With this technique, you’ll probably have only a few teaspoons of the final color to paint on your poster board. That’s OK, because once you find a color that you like (and that may take a dozen various mixing attempts), take that painted poster board to the paint counter at your closest big box store and have them match that color into a sample for you. You’ll then have plenty of paint to use on a large piece of poster board to confirm that this is the right color choice.

Crystal Sea is on the left, and my new color creation is on the right. 

In the end, you’ll have spent about $10 on samples instead of $30 or more. For that $10, you will have two paint sample pots, plus about ten different mini samples that you created with your sample and crafts paints. There will be minimum waste, and the acrylic crafts paints last for quite a while, so you can use them for future color mixing needs as well. If you want to get really creative, you can skip the original sample paint purchase and just start mixing your crafts paints to see if you can get close to the color you are envisioning (and save money in the process!). 

For example, if you want a warm gray-based blue like I did, try mixing some robin’s egg blue with a hint of navy, some gray, and some white. The robin’s egg is a great base since that has green in it, and warm blues have a green undertone. Use some cheap foam brushes for mixing on paper plates, and just wash and reuse the brushes when they are dry. The paper plates can simply be thrown out. Storing the crafts paints takes up much less room than those paint sample pots, so they are really a win all around. And you’ll discover all sorts of color secrets as you mix paints, such as adding even a hint of white to straight navy results in dark purple and not a lighter blue. Who knew?

Do you love paint like I do? Have you created any custom paint colors lately? Tell us about it in the comments. Thanks, and happy painting!

NOTE: Always use caution and common sense when using any paint products. Always paint in well-ventilated areas. I have no affiliation with any products shown or mentioned in this post.


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