Are Paint Color Matches Accurate?

Are paint color matches accurate?  NO!

We never recommend paint color matches from one brand to another – results are rarely good. If you need to use a specific paint company, find their version of the color that you want. Paint companies invest a lot of time and money to create proprietary paint color formulas.  Some of them are complex, and hard to copy.

Below is the photo of a handrail with a Sherwin Williams paint match to Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray.  It’s not even close!

Handrail with bad paint match.
Photo by S. Mefford, Handrail was a bad match for Chelsea Gray.

Use the free Easyrgb.com service to find the closest paint color match from any paint company.  They have sampled real paint colors with a spectrophotometer in a scientific temperature-controlled facility.  They give you the closest match and tell you how different it is from the original color.  There are no guesses!

If you get a color consultation from the Color Concierge, and you change your paint vendor, let us know.  We will give you the right paint colors for free.

Why would you want to match a paint color?

Your paint contractor might not have a contract with that paint company.  For example, in our area, many painters get better prices with Sherwin Williams than with Benjamin Moore.  They almost always promise that they can perfectly match the color.  It’s not that they are being dishonest, they probably don’t know, or haven’t been burned by a bad paint match.

Why is it hard to match a paint color from one company to another?

Manual matches are not consistent and take time and patience.

If someone creates a manual paint match, they may not have the time for the trial and error it takes to make it perfect.  They may not know that you should only mix paint in natural light because artificial light will change the colors.  Anything can skew their results.

Paint colors darken as they dry.

It can take up to 24 hours for some paints to cure, even if they feel dry to the touch.  If a paint matcher is short on time, they might not wait long enough to see if the copied sample is correct.

Spectrophotometers are only accurate 90% of the time to match colors

One tool for matching paint colors is a spectrophotometer, available at many paint stores.  This tool is likely your best bet, but even so is only 90% accurate with training and experience. It can take several iterations to get the color right.

Paint company match databases are not accurate.

Many paint vendors have a database of competitor paint colors they use for a paint match.  These databases are created from manual or spectrophotometer matches.  At best, they have a 90% accuracy, if the operator has been properly trained.

The paint in this photo was paint matched from a database at a big box store.  They were trying to match Benjamin Moore Vapor Trails and got a minty disaster.

Living room with mis-matched paint
Photo by S. Bell. Paint color outcome was an unwelcome mint color after an attempt to match to BM Vapor Trails.

Which paint colors are the hardest to match?

White paint colors are almost impossible to match.  There is very little pigment in whites and a small change can cause a big shift in the color.  Color shifts in white paints are hard to see until they are painted in a room.

Here is a photo of a recent project where the painter promised the homeowner that they could match the identical white paint.  The rooms had a terrible green hue.  The homeowner said it looked like the Incredible Hulk had come to stay, and had to repaint their whole house. Both the painter and the homeowner shared the large expense to repaint.

The painter (with good intentions), tried to match Benjamin Moore Simply White to a Sherwin Williams paint.  We had specified the trim as Benjamin Moore Satin, and it ended up getting painted an eggshell sheen, the same as Sherwin Williams Satin. Now you can see how confusing this gets.

Bad match to Benjamin More Simply White.
Photo by M. Marceny. Poor match to BM Simply White. The walls are green.

Can you copy paint sheens between companies?

The simple answer is NO.

There is no standard in the United States for paint sheens in the residential market.  Sherwin Williams Satin sheen is similar to Benjamin Moore Eggshell.  Benjamin Moore Satin sheen is similar to Sherwin Williams Semi-Gloss. And so on.  You can see a huge opportunity for mix-ups when you tell a Sherwin Williams painter that you want to match a Benjamin Moore Satin sheen for some trim.

Each time sheen changes so does the paint formula because of the shift in reflectiveness.  That adds another element of uncertainty to your “match”.

What if I need to use a different paint company than the color I want?

Find the closest version of the color you need in the company’s ready-made palette.

Consider the Easyrgb.com free service.  You enter the paint color that you want, and they will give you the closest color in the brand you request.  They don’t promise an exact match, but they tell you how close it is so that you can make an informed decision.

Easyrgb.com software converts colors between brands

Laurel Bern, from Laurel Bern interiors, converted Farrow and Ball colors to standard Benjamin Moore paint colors in her Farrow and Ball Colors Update.  Her matches are really good and much better than paint matches at your local paint store.

If you buy a color consultation from The Color Concierge, you can ask for the right colors from a different brand without charge.  The colors may not be identical, but they will be the right ones.

The Verdict

NEVER, EVER use paint matches from a different brand than the one you will use.  Results are poor and there are no standards for the sheens.  Even though your painter may truly believe it can be done, DON’T DO IT.

If you decide to get your paint colors matched, make sure you request that your painter guarantees the match in writing within the contract and that they agree to re-do the project at their cost if the color is wrong.  When you test the color, compare with a LARGE sample (at least 8.5×11) painted on poster board with the original manufacturer’s paint.  Look at the sample in natural light, not in artificial light, which alters the color.

Whether your paint color is matched or true, don’t forget to test your paint colors.  It’s a standard best practice.  Whenever I test my paint colors, they are perfect, and when I don’t test they turn out wrong.

Online Color Consulting

If you still need help with paint colors and choosing alternatives in different brands, check out our Online Color Consulting packages or an In-Person Color Consultation in the Denver Metro area.

Color concierge offers online color consulting from anywhere in the world.

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Related Posts:

Learn to Test Paint Colors Like a Pro

Designer Tips for the Best Paint Sheen

25 Responses

  1. I only wish I had read this before I had the trim in my family room painted. Painter used Ferrell Calhoun and it’s not even close to the BM cream color we have on the rest of the trim. Going on it looked fine. But when it was done it looked like “dirty” cream. I asked him about it and he convinced me it was because it was up high, different angle and light etc. But it’s not.

    Every single day I look at it and HATE it.

    NEVER AGAIN!

    1. Hi Natalie,
      I’m sorry this happened, but I think it has happened to so many people. We have learned that when paint is wet it looks light, but after it dries and cures it gets darker.
      Michelle

  2. Thanks for the advice. I specifically want BM Aurora exterior paint, and I am leaning towards a version of a duck egg color. Now I will concentrate my search to their samples. I have been looking at all available brands.

  3. This makes sense and might explain why my colors look so different than I expect (and not in a good way!). Then again, it probably indicates that I really need to hire you (which I am doing – YAY!!!) And thanks so much for the EasyRGB site tip.

  4. I worked for a Benjamin moore. When I would match paint I would phsycally add each drop of color until it was perfect. The hardest part of matching between different co.panies paints is. The sheen, your matched color can be perfect but if you look at an angle in the sun you might notice a difference because the shine on the paint.

    1. Thank you so much for your hands-on comment! I know there are people that can do a great job paint matching but as you mention its painstaking work and not everyone has such patience or an eye for that much detail. Thank you again!
      Michelle

  5. This is extremely helpful! I wish I would read this before painting. I purchased a gallon of Behr paint and had Home Depot match BM Simply White. I decided to paint the remaining walls the same color but due to a sale went with Sherwin Williams paint matching BM Simply White. The walls look SO green! Needless to say I’ll be repainting everything with the same brand. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Colleen,
      I’m so sorry you had that problem! Simply White is one of THE MOST IMPOSSIBLE colors to match. Not sure why, but the Simply White matches almost always turn out green. If you want to match Simply White with Sherwin just pick SW Pure White. I don’t know what the Behr color is. The client I talked about in the article had Simply White mis-matched, and it was a $10,000 mistake. I think the painters absorbed it, but we are now running into painters that have been burned and don’t paint match anymore. Its especially difficult with whites because they have so little pigment. Another thing we never do is cut colors up or down 25% or 50%. Those are also custom matches and its a gamble every time.

      Michelle

      1. I just had asked SW to color match BM Decorators White. I also got SW Pure White. The SW salesperson said I did not need the Decorators White as it was exactly the same as SW Pure White. So I went to BM to get Decorators White after I read this article-Not the same.

        1. You are absolutely right! Decorators White is a blue-white with cool blue undertones. SW Pure White is a warm off-white.
          Michelle

      2. Simply white is the worst color ever made by benmoore. Half the time paint out of the exact gallon used doesn’t match itself. It also absolutely will not cover squat.

  6. Just this week I had very good luck matching Restoration Hardware paint colors Ash, Stone & Slate at my local Home Depot. The paint rep seemed especially meticulous. We talked a bit about trying to match paint color and so she was aware of my trepidation. She did a small sample and I was happily surprised.
    That said, this was done from necessity and availability. Companies sheen choices and underlying chemicals/ingredients vary in type, quantity and quality. My preference is to use the paint brand’s colors.
    Thanks for your website.
    Cheers

    1. Hi Marc,
      It can be done, but you need to be very careful and since its a manual process if you do match I recommend comparing to a large swatch, not just a 1″ little tiny sample. There are some people that can do it, but they are few and far between.
      Thanks,
      Michelle

  7. Hi Michelle,

    I need to color match my wall and I have no idea what brand the original color is, as I bought the house and the previous owner painted it and there is no leftover can. When I went to Home Depot for a color match, they asked me how long the paint has been on (I replied I don’t know, but at least 6 years because I bought the house 6 years ago) and he told me that I won’t be able to get a match because UV rays would have affected the paint color, so it would be impossible. Now, I brought a chip of my drywall sample, which if UV rays did affect it, I would think it would be reflected in my drywall sample.

    Is it true that there is no chance of a match because UV rays would’ve altered it? I suspect the paint came from SW, but SW was closed today so I went to HD, but I left empty handed.

    1. Hi Kelly,
      It is true that after that much time the color has most likely changed. We don’t recommend trying to color match in any situation, though. The best course of action is to find a new color for the wall.
      Michelle

  8. Well Sherwin Williams will not sell another gallon of paint again (if everyone follows this advice). They don’t offer samples any more!

    1. Due to the pandemic, ice storms that shut their plant down in Texas for a short time, as well as other supply chain issues, there is a shortage of white base color for samples. They will resume sample sizes again. In the meantime, consider regular quarts of the paint color.

  9. I also once tried to match BM Simply White at Sherwin Williams and it resulted in an awful green colour. I’ve since become an interior designer and am glad to know first hand why colour matching is a terrible idea.

  10. It’s funny you chose Chelsea Grey as an example because we have Chelsea Grey on our house and one side of the house is a slightly different color for exactly this reason.

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Meet Michelle

Driven to help clients fall back in love with their homes with intentional paint color schemes. She started the company based on her passion for color and its ability to make a house a home.

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