After years of buying paint from my local hardware store it was time to thank the store owner for doing such a beautiful job matching colors, turning out a soft dreamy blue for a bedroom and a wheat yellow that changed my living room from dark and uninviting to warm and cozy. So as he added up the cost of new brushes and paint, I finally complimented him and he laughed. “I’m colorblind,” he confessed.
It used to be that you had to depend on the guy at the paint store and his knowledge of color to be able to match the sage green in your fabric swatch. Some would just wing it as they added colorants to the paint while others had advice from paint manufacturers to follow. You’ll still find a few people who pride themselves on matching colors by sight, but most rely on improved software. “The engineers and technicians who develop these tools have worked to improve the color matching systems so that you can get within a percent or two of a color,” says Debbie Zimmer, a spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute. That said, you do have to take into account that paint’s sheen can vary by brand and the sheen affects your perception of the color.
In our latest tests of 67 interior paints we wanted to see if we could match a lovely blue from Farrow & Ball, a paint that’s made and tinted at a factory in England. We sent a secret shopper to three Home Depots with a panel painted with Farrow & Ball Estate Eggshell in Lulworth Blue, $105 a gallon. Our shopper returned with three gallons of the top-scoring Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin, $34 a gallon, in a blue created by a computerized color-matching system. We applied the Behr to panels and compared them with a panel painted with Farrow & Ball. The Behr paints were about 1 percent lighter, according to our colorimeter, a difference that we couldn’t see, and our gloss meter found that the sheens were the same for the two brands.
What was noticeable in our tests was that the Farrow & Ball was the worst at hiding old paint. It took two coats of the eggshell finish to do what the Behr did in one. Farrow & Ball’s Modern Emulsion, in our flat and matte category, and Farrow & Ball Full Gloss, in our semi-gloss group, were also the worst in their categories at hiding old paint. The eggshell and gloss paints also left a rough, grainy finish and lost most of their sheen after cleaning, although both resisted stains well.
If you’re trying to match a color, shop when there are fewer customers and not during the morning rush of contractors. You want a salesperson who isn’t overwhelmed and mixing equipment with clean nozzles. Ask the clerk to put a dab of paint next to your sample and dry the dab with the hair dryer they keep handy. Then take a good look at the color. And to find the best paints that go on easy, hide well, leave a smooth finish, and hold up to cleaning, check out our interior paint Ratings.