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The Difficulty of Matching Paint Colours

"What's Latin for "I haven't got a clue what you're talking about?"

An infinite number of colours in the spectrum

We are talking about immensity to the extent of limitlessness, infiniteness and this is precisely how many different colours there are in the spectrum. Did you know that there are more different colours in the spectrum than there are cars in a Jakarta traffic jam, even more than there are real estate agents in Bali.

In fact there are so many different colours than we can possibly imagine. Bearing this in mind we have to wonder just how easy it is to match paint colours. Matching paint colours is, in fact, impossible. Every single batch of paint manufactured is a different colour.

Until fairly recently we were limited to using the ready mixed colours of canned paint made available by the paint companies who, rather like the ceramic tile manufacturers had a tendency to change their range more often than they cut their toenails. It was an ever repeating story. You would find a wonderful colour for your living room but then just when you had finished three quarters of the job and needed an extra can to finish it off you found that that particular colour was "kosong" never to be seen again.

There was also a strange industry culture of secrecy regarding colours. This strange phenomenon is not just limited to paint manufacturers. The Commonwealth bank has a particular colour of yellow as part of its corporate identity and is trademarked. I can see some smart corporate designer getting an idea as he was changing his baby's nappy that made him a fortune. The details of paint colours used on Vespa scooters also appear to be very well guarded secrets.

Times are changing for the better.

Mixing paint to order

Paint is, of course, coloured by mixing colour tints into the paint. These days the better paint manufacturers, most notably Dulux, are offering services that mix paint to order. They have extensive colour sample cards (the Dulux colour fanbook has over 2,000 colours in it) and tinting equipment that, theoretically speaking, can produce any colour you want as long as you know the tinting recipe indicating the proportion of each colour tint to be added. This means that even colours that are not in their present standard range can be made up as long as you know the formula.

But hold on a moment, before you start dribbling with excitement just remember that trying to match the existing paint on walls is more difficult than getting a straight answer out of a politician's dead cat.

The tints themselves will vary slightly, the consistency of the paint will vary, slight differences such as temperature and humidity will all play their part resulting in variations in the paint colour to say nothing of the absorption of the surface we are painting. Also, as many people have found out, you might find that a small sample may look like the original but when you get it onto a large wall the slightest variation will stand out like Barbra Streisand's nasal appendage in a Javanese football crowd.

But then as soon as we apply paint it starts to change. It may fade with exposure to sunlight, it may get dirty or the paint tints may change with age.

I could go on but I won't, the dead cat's not listening.

So we find a paint colour that we really like and we think we would like to keep that colour for a while, we might want to use it in that new extension or we know that when that troublesome nephew comes to stay he?ll get himself totally plastered and end up emptying his stomach down your brand new bedroom wall.

How to avoid paint matching problems in the future?

The first thing we can do is keep some tins of paint aside, make sure it is from the original batch you used. Put it in the roofspace or some other out of the way place from which it can be retrieved later but where the gardener isn't going to find it when looking for something to spruce up the garage.

Keep the details of the manufacturers and colours of the paint that you use in your home. You need to take care because local painters who may have learned their extensive painting skills selling nodding dogs at the traffic lights have a tendency to mix water into paint (it makes the paint go further you see) or to substitute cheaper brands or at least mix some cheaper paint in with the expensive stuff. In these cases the paint colours will not match.

Patch painting

Finally and most importantly do not attempt to "patch paint". You should paint a whole wall or ceiling at a time. You might be able to paint some walls in a room and not others. While the colour of the existing paint on one wall is right up against new paint applied to another wall you will often find that light will fall differently on the two walls so if you paint into a corner with a very similar colour of paint you can often get away with it. It is often better to not try and match the paint and use a different but complementary colour on different walls.

Which reminds me of that famous saying of government employees around the world "Ut quid facile quando difficile possit facere" (why make things easy when you can make them difficult).

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2014
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