Different Types of Paint Swatches – How to Use Them?

what is a paint swatch

Paint swatches are small paint samples on a card or paper backing.

These paper samples 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 a great way to get an idea of the actual paint color when it’s dried on the surface.

But it’s essential to remember that they’re not always 100% accurate because the paints on the swatch may look different in real life, depending on the lighting and other factors.

So, you should know a bit about them in detail, the various types available, and how to use them ideally.

Types of Paint Swatches

If you have ever tried picking the paint color swatches or samples at stores, you already know that they come in different varieties.

Be it a paper swatch or a liquid form as testers; both can give you an accurate representation of the color you will be picking.

The different types of samples you will commonly find in paint and hardware stores include:

1- Display Chips

(Samples in the form of paper strips)

These are good for DIYers and starters who love to paint quite often. You may find them as free binders or fan decks full of printed paint samples at stores near you.

Display chips are easy; 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.

Display chips can benefit from seeing different color values if you consider going darker or lighter with your color.

Gradations of color usually organize them so you can compare the warm and cool colors side-by-side. Just stack them up and take a look.

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 your color swatches up for a while. In different light sources, compare your color 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, as you can reuse them from wall to wall in different rooms once peeled.

These are generally available in 9″ x 12″ size strips.

Regular paint color strips like these tend to be too small to base the final color decisions upon, but they are good when narrowing down your options.

Choose as many paint colors you like and think would look best with the interior design. Keep the ones that look like they fit in, and throw out those that don’t.

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)

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 board, or directly to your main wall.

Liquid paint samples will let you use disposable foam rollers or brushes to apply the paint to a surface, which can get a good idea of the paint’s texture you will be choosing.

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.

This is because the changes in natural light during the day and artificial light at night can change the appearance of the paint.

For applying paint to one wall, such as an accent wall, you can make a five-foot-by-five-foot square of a testing area to get a good idea.

Keep in mind that since a gallon of paint usually covers 400 square feet, you can use an eight-ounce paint sample to cover as much as 16 square feet with a single coat.

So if you are to apply two coats to test the results, choose the paint sample size appropriately.

Paint Color Swatches

Using Paint Samples – The Right Way

Using paint samples correctly can help you choose the perfect paint color for your home. And more importantly, it can save you time and money.

For getting the most value out of your paint samples, here are some crucial tips that can help…

1- Get Small Size Samples

One of the trends among paint companies lately has been to offer larger paint samples than necessary.

While this can help you see more of the paint on the wall, you will also have to cover up more paint at the end of the project.

Not only this, but 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.

Leaving a paint can open over time will make the paint harden eventually. You can also use an inexpensive paint hardener to harden it up more quickly for tossing out.

2- Use Foam Brushes for Liquid Versions

While testing paint samples, it isn’t worth breaking out your good expensive brushes.

You can, instead, use foam brushes because they get the job done with little hassle and are cheap.

Be sure you don’t use chip brushes; these can cause streaks through the paint.

3- Give it a Little Time to Work

Paint companies recommend waiting before deciding whether the color is a good fit. If you wonder if this is a good idea, test it yourself.

Put a fresh paint sample next to an older sample; you will see that the colors are slightly different shades, so waiting is important.

Also, when using paint samples, always test the color on multiple walls in different lighting conditions. This will give you a better idea of how the color will look in your home.

4- Use Paint Samples for Exteriors

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 to see which ones you like best.

Allow the paint to stay there for a week or two as you decide which one you like best.

After you’re done, you can put a coat or two of exterior primer down to help cover up the colors before painting the new color.

how to use paint color swatches

Where to Put Paint 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 instead apply the paint sample to a white poster board. Specifically, a coated poster board works best.

You can 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 board will let you move the boards throughout the room to see how it appears in different light settings.

Below are a few additional places you can consider placing your paint samples to help you be sure the color looks at home in your space:

  • Next to trim colors and near cabinets, such as in the kitchen
  • Against the tile or stone in your home
  • Next to furniture and other home decor items, you intend to keep to ensure the paint goes with it
  • In different lighting environments, such as natural light by a window or in artificial lights at night

The Bottom Line

Swatches are small pieces of colored paper or cardstock coated with specific paint colors.

They are usually hung up in paint stores, are available for free, and can be incredibly helpful when choosing a new color for your home.

Liquid versions of paint samples are also available and can be helpful when trying to get a sense of how the paint will look in a particular light.

However, it’s important to remember that the paint will dry slightly lighter than it appears in the tester, so consider this when making your final decision.

No matter what you pick, always test the paint in your space before purchasing to ensure you’re happy with the color.

And, when in doubt, ask for help from a professional. They can offer guidance and suggestions to help you get the perfect color for your home.

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