Paint swatches are small color samples on a card or paper backing. These are dedicated to single paint color, are usually 4” x 8” in size, and can be readily found at any hardware or home improvement store.
Paint swatches are built to get an idea of the actual paint color when it’s dried on the surface. In other words, these samples help to represent the color you will be picking.
But it’s essential to remember that they’re not always 100% accurate because the shade on the swatch may look different in real life, depending on the lighting and other factors.
So, to get the maximum benefits, you should know a bit about them in detail, the various types available, and how to use them ideally.
Types of Paint Swatches
The different types of color swatches or samples you will commonly find in paint and hardware stores include:
1- Display Chips
(Samples in the form of paper strips)
These samples are suitable for DIYers and starters who often love to paint and renovate their home interiors. You may find them as free binders or fan decks full of printed samples at stores near you. Just stack them up and take a look to compare the warm and cool colors side-by-side.
Display chips are easy to use at home as well; you only need to pull, cut, and fold them before placing them on your walls. Leave them there for a few minutes to get an idea of the color you want to narrow down to.
There are also a few paper samples larger than display chips that can help you better understand the colors you’re considering. Using painter’s tape, you can tape them up on your wall for testing.
For accurate decision-making, keep some of the different colors/swatches up for a while. In different light sources, compare your choices to one another. Observe how colors appear in various lighting conditions, including artificial and natural light sources.
2- Peel & Stick Paint Samples
(Easier and effective for larger areas)
Peel & Stick color samples are easy to work on multiple large surfaces and areas, as you can reuse them from wall to wall in different rooms once peeled.
These are generally available in 9″ x 12″ size strips. All you have to do is peel the color sample of your choice and stick it onto the wall. Once done, step back and decide if you like it or not. If not, remove the color sample and stick another of your choices.
The greatest thing about these Peel & Stick color samples is that they are affordable, and you can buy multiple of them in different colors without having to worry about spending too much money.
You can virtually choose as many paint colors you like and think would look best with the interior design. Keep the ones that fit in, and throw out those that don’t. This way, you can attempt to figure out what you don’t like about specific colors, so you can quickly go through the rest of them.
3- Liquid Paint Color Testers
(You can brush them on to test like real paints)
Liquid paint testers or sample bottles of liquid paint come in sizes like one-ounce, eight-ounce, sixteen-ounce, etc. You can apply and test them on scrap drywall, a piece of white foam, cardboard, or directly to a small section of your main wall.
Larger-size liquid paint samples will also let you use disposable foam rollers or brushes to apply the paint to a surface, which can get a good idea of the shade and paint’s texture you will be choosing. I recommend making a five-foot-by-five-foot square of a testing area on your wall and using that as your test canvass.
If you plan to paint an entire room, putting at least two coats of paint on all walls (same or different colors) is a good idea because the changes in natural light during the day and artificial light at night can change the appearance of the paint.
Remember that a gallon of paint usually covers 400 square feet, so you can use an eight-ounce paint sample to cover as much as 16 square feet with a single coat. If you are to apply two coats to test the results, choose the paint sample size appropriately.
Another big benefit of using liquid paint testers is that they are easy to store in an airtight container for future use. So if you paint a specific area with a liquid sample and want to move it elsewhere, you can easily do that without wasting any paint. Just do not leave your paint bottle open for long, or its content will eventually harden.
Tips for Using the Paint Samples the Right Way
To select the ideal colors for your home and save time and money, using paint samples correctly is crucial. Follow these essential tips to get the most out of your swatches.
1- Use Foam Brushes for Liquid Versions
While testing paint samples, it isn’t worth breaking out your good expensive brushes. Instead, you can use foam brushes because they are cheap and do the job with little hassle. Be sure you don’t use chip brushes; these can cause streaks through the paint.
2- Get Smaller Size Samples for Interiors
One of the trends among paint companies lately has been to offer larger samples than necessary. This is especially true when you are buying liquid paint tester bottles.
While applying this can help you see more of the sample paint on the wall, you will also have to cover up more paint at the end of the project. Also, any extra paint will need to be disposed of at the end of the project, especially if they aren’t suitable as an actual paint product.
3- Use the Samples for the Exterior and Give Them a Little Time to Work
If you intend to paint a bathroom or bedroom and choose the wrong paint color, you can redo it. Exterior paint jobs are a different story. These are larger paint jobs, so you must get the paint color right first. It is then that such paint samples are convenient.
You can choose a part of the house’s exterior that isn’t too obvious and apply a few paint samples there. Allow them to stay there for a week or two as you decide which one you like best. If possible, test the different colors on multiple walls in different lighting conditions to get a better idea of how the color will look.
After you’re done, you can put a coat or two of exterior primer to help cover up the colors before applying the paint to an entire wall.
Where to Put the Samples to Help Make the Best Decision?
Generally speaking, the best way to see if a paint color will work for you is to place it in as many areas as possible and spend a lot of time evaluating the appearance before committing.
If you don’t want to mess with painting over the sample paint on the wall, you can apply the sample to a white poster board instead. Specifically, a coated poster board works best.
Pin the poster board to the wall and keep it there to get an idea of how it will look and decide if you like it. Applying paint to the poster boards will also let you move them throughout the room to see how it appears in different light settings.
Below are a few other places you can consider placing your paint samples to ensure the color looks best in your space:
- Next to trims and near cabinets, such as in the kitchen
- Against the tile or stone in your home
- Next to furniture and other home decor items
Be sure to keep the samples in different lighting environments, such as natural light by a window or artificial lights at night.
The Bottom Line
Paint swatches are small pieces of colored paper or cardstock that have specific colors coated on them. They are typically found hanging in paint stores, provided for free, and can be extremely useful for selecting the right shades for your home.
You can also find liquid versions of paint samples that can be useful in determining how the paint color will look under specific lighting conditions. Remember that the paint will dry a bit lighter than it appears in the sample, so consider this when making your final choice.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.