How to Match Paint to an Exact Shade

November 8, 2021

Custom is king, so it’s no surprise that custom wall colours are a popular interior trend. So, in the quest to create a space that’s one-of-a-kind, I’m often asked, “How do you match paint to an exact shade?” Well, that depends on your definition of “exact.” Here’s my quick Colour Matching 101, if there’s painting to be done in your place.

How does colour matching happen?

People have lots of different reasons for wanting to duplicate an exact colour. Perhaps they’re trying to recreate a piece of furniture, or restore an antique to its former glory. Maybe they’re repairing a wall or moving some artwork, and need an exact shade for touch-ups. Or, they’ve been bitten by an inspiration bug and have to have this specific colour on their walls.

Most paint suppliers have a gadget called a spectrophotometer, which filters light (among other things) to create a colour formula to match any sample – a fabric or wallpaper swatch, a paint chip from a wall, or your favourite shirt. You can soon have said colour in paint form! Just beware that while the spectrophotometer is quick and fairly accurate, it does carry some degree of error. So, the created colour might not be 100% dead-on, but close enough that most people wouldn’t notice a difference.

To up the precision of their colour-matching process, some reputable paint stores will only trust the final call to the eye of an experienced paint pro. This can take some time and is generally done in conjunction with a spectrophotometer for a higher degree of accuracy.

Short of hiring a colour expert or getting yourself colour certified in time for your next renovation, you can do your own colour matching by simply using those tiny free paint swatches found at the hardware store. This may not give you the highest level of accuracy, but if you don’t have your heart set on an exact shade for a specific reason, the “eye-ball” method will suffice. Visit your local retailer and grab some swatches that are lighter and darker than you might expect you’ll need, in a variety of tones. This, in an effort to avoid having to make a second trip to get more swatches. Bring your selections home and view them in the space in natural light. Under these conditions, you should have a pretty clear idea of your ideal hue.

TIP: Don’t rush this. Come back to the swatch at various times in the day to view it in different degrees of daylight.

Sometimes a paint brand’s palette of paint colour leaves something to be desired. Whether you’re trying to ensure that dent in the wall goes unnoticed, or you have grand plans for a particular interior aesthetic, colour matching is a great way to get exactly what you want.


Toronto-based, award-winning Interior Stylist, Red Barrinuevo is an Interior Decorator and Principal of Redesign4more, servicing clients in Toronto and the GTA. The firm’s known for enhancing and creating stylish yet functional spaces through their creative home staging, interior styling services, and design services.

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