Painting Projects? 9 professional tips to test colors!

Are you a homeowner who is overwhelmed by the thousands of color choices available? If so, you’re not alone! In fact, even building professionals, who have been asked a thousand times “how will it look?” can sometimes feel like there are just too many colors out there to sort through to provide clients with something unique yet suitable. Either way, how much time and diligence do you have, to test a lot of color swatches and come up with the very best results?

Whether you are doing this yourself or perhaps even suggesting that your client do it and let you know what they want to use (and some people will actually want to do this), I’d like to share a few tips that you can recommend, or even use yourself if they are new to you. It’s not “rocket science,” we all know that. But as with many things that seem simple and yet become overwhelming, there are proven methods to help.

To keep it simple, I recommend starting with the premise that color looks different in all types of lighting and of course throughout the day—and evening—on different surfaces. Color changes in corners, as it intensifies where two walls of the same color meet, and it changes in other ways depending on the actual lighting and also when two walls or surfaces (ie: walls and ceiling) of differing colors meet. It’s the angle that does it – whether the typical 90 degrees or something else, as in a vaulted ceiling, and the reflection of light causes the colors to affect each other.

Therefore, the following apply:

1. Make the paint test on a moveable and repositionable surface. Something that can be affixed temporarily to any garage door, wall, ceiling, or even floor (when you are painting a floor).

Note: do not use your blue tape on the edges of this! Tape the back side only.

2. Make the colored surfaces in proportion to each other, for example: Trim colors will usually be narrower than the wall or siding color surfaces.

3. Be sure the surface you paint the test on is primed, or at least under-painted with a color similar to what you’re testing. For example, you can of course use poster board, but since it’s paper it must be primed so it does not warp. Personally I like the flat-finish, fast drying low odor oil based products for this (since a water based primer will cause warp on paper products).

Note to professionals: I’ve typically prepared up to 20 or so poster boards with such a primer, to have ready to go in advance—and easy to use at a moment’s notice—when preparing color tests for clients.

4. Roll on 2 coats of your finish (test) color, making the application as close to what you intend to do on the final surface. Use a roller or brush similar to what you plan to use on the job.

5. Use a stable surface with a texture similar to the wall or surface to be painted. If the target surface is textured, it’s worth making a replica since color reacts so differently with the light falling on textured or smooth surfaces.

6. Be sure to do the test with the same finish you’ll be using on the actual surface (Flat? Eggshell? Semi-or-high-gloss?)

7. Label your sample cards.

8. Size: even if you have to create a few boards to make up each test color, try to end up with at least 4 square feet of new color. You can configure them in any way to fit for your house view.

9. Paint an area about 5 x 5 ft. minimum of white, right on the house, so that when you test your new color boards you are not influenced by the existing house color. If this is not possible, hang up a white sheet on the side of the house (Pin, or even staple it to the siding) and put your test color boards on that. BE sure to include your new or existing trim color in this method. Another way is that Instead of painting right on the house, make your white background on a piece of larger, moveable solid surface and just pin or tape your samples to it.

OK, so what about materials? I mentioned using wood, (smooth and primed, of course), poster board and foam core (oil-prime first), and you can use other substrates like gator board, or drywall (these can be latex-based primed).

Interior or exterior, the same process applies. For exterior work you might want to have some siding pieces available that are at least very similar to the house, if not the exact same thing. Doing more than just one “strip” (minimum 4 to 6 strips high, of clapboard style) will give a more accurate view of what the shadows will do at various times of day. Remember to make trim samples also, in the same widths as the actual trim and casings or other details.

Placement is important – try to place your siding strips next to the window or door casings, for the most accurate view of the colors and how they relate to each other.

So, you might ask, why go to all this trouble, anyway? The main reason is: minimize confusion, and make the color choices easy. Stripes and color patches on the walls – and that includes exteriors – look messy and are visually confusing. You can’t see the specified colors next to each other on a large enough surface because there is just too much going on and the existing colors will inform the appearance of the tested colors.

This guest post was written by Barbara Jacobs from Barbara Jacobs Color and Design. They offer color consultation and digital renditions for interiors and exteriors and provide an attention to detail, a concern for high quality design and service, and an ability to listen and address client concerns in a creative way, achieving results that exceed their expectations.

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