Tips for "fixing" the color of a gallon of paint?
November 3, 2007 6:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm asking this on behalf of a friend, who's just bought a relatively pricey gallon of interior paint only to discover it's not coming out the color she'd wanted. What would be the best (i.e., most reliable and least expensive) way of fixing this? Can she simply buy a different color and mix her own?

The paint in question is latex and was supposed to be orange (a bright orange - think "nectarine") but instead is drying as a goldenrod-yellow. Sites like this give hope that mixing to adjust the color -is- possible, but unfortunately we're having little luck coming up with specific tips, do's, and don'ts (for instance, some sites suggest you can alter paint with Kool-Aid, while others state that that's a Very Bad Idea). Can anybody who's had experience with this help? Are there tints she could buy to change the color - and if so, where should she look to find such things? Would it be best to simply buy more paint and mix the two? If so, any suggestions as to the color/type of paint she should find to mix in - I'd assume a red would work but is that correct?

I realize that some amount of experimentation will be necessary but given the cost of the initial gallon, my friend is reluctant to go out and buy -more- until she's got confirmation that it could work.

Gosh, isn't moving -fun-?
posted by zeph to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of places will let you return it. In another life, I used to mix paint at a box store as a summer job, and I can tell you, there are formulas for adding the tint to the base for each color, and you its really difficult to tweak those formulas, especially if you end up needing a second gallon and you want the two to match
posted by 4ster at 6:40 PM on November 3, 2007

Has she put on at least two coats of the paint? I've had some saturated hues not match the chip until three coats went on (from a very pricey brand).

If she bought this at a paint store, she can also try taking it back. Big box hardware stores generally do not take custom mixed colors back but speciality paint stores (especially those associated with premium brands) will, if the color isn't coming out as advertised.

Finally, yeah, she can buy tube tint however, the outcome will be a crapshoot and unlikely to be an exact match to what she originally wanted.
posted by jamaro at 6:45 PM on November 3, 2007

She can take it back.

Sidebar---major box stores, lowe's, home depot etc., will always let you return any paint of any brand they carry, and will recolor it as many times as you'd like.
posted by TomMelee at 6:46 PM on November 3, 2007

In the future, when she gets paint mixed they should put a dab of it on the lid and dry it with a hairdryer so she can see how the color looks at the store.
posted by yohko at 6:52 PM on November 3, 2007

Also make sure it's good and dry before giving up hope. Sometimes it can take as much as 24 hours before you really know what you've got color wise. As a side note, the best way to see what a color is going to look like is to look at the sample chip in the room you plan on painting. Picking a color in the store will not turn out the way you might hope.
posted by nola at 6:53 PM on November 3, 2007

Is the color matching the blob they put on the lid of the can when the paint was mixed? I have a couple of suggestions-- was the paint used within a couple of days of it being mixed? If not, you have to stir it really well because the pigment can settle to the bottom. That would suck anyway because as you go along painting, it won't be consistent. Also--every color is effected by the colors around it. A gray can look purple or dusty blue depending on what is next to it. I second the suggestion to coat 2-3 times to see the true color.

Those little swatches they give you in the store are very misleading. I got a color that was supposed to be light celery and looked light celery on the swatch, but on the house it looks yellow. It is the color I picked-- it just looked different in the flourescent light of the store than it did in natural light. Some paint store have little mood lights to look at your paint swatch under different types of lighting conditions and you can see the color shifts, but that isn't really helpful because you still have all that background industrial lighting from the store. Don't use Kool-aid to tint a can of latex! It's only food coloring in Kool-aid, it's not a permanent or strong color at all. Go back to the paint store and see if they can add another color shot to the paint if you feel it is too weak or it was mixed incorrectly, but if the lid is matching your swatch, then it is indeed the color you picked.
posted by 45moore45 at 6:57 PM on November 3, 2007

You know, the guy at the paint store didn't even put a blob of paint on the can lid - he'd just told her that the color would work (i.e., that that "Slightly Less Pricey But Still Expensive" gallon that she ended up buying would look like the "Slightly More Pricey" gallon that -was- the color she'd really wanted). It's a smallish store, though, not a Lowes or Home Depot or anything, so she's not sure he'll replace or remix the paint even if she does go back to him. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask, though (and to get him to -put- a blob of paint on the lid this time around if he -does- try to fix it)!
posted by zeph at 7:15 PM on November 3, 2007

Yeah, I did a bunch of 6' by 8' art pieces, latex paint. I changed the colour by mixing latex paint with latex paint; I don't know about Kool-aid, but considering how divisive opinion seems to be, I'd say stay away.

I don't know if you'll be able to get the perfect nectarine, just because you might not have the perfect red, the perfect yellow, or the perfect combination thereof. Lots of variables, there. Very difficult. It's not just a matter of red/yellow -- it's how much blue is in that red, how much green or white is in your original yellow. I used our acrylic 'primary colours' paint, made for artists, painted very, very even swatches of it, and took those in to be scanned and made into paint. It worked well, for me, given that I put a lot of effort into making sure the colours were appropriate for mixing (even matching them with some of colour wheels). It probably won't work so well for your friend, if she's at all picky about matching that colour perfectly.

Additionally, like I said, my pieces were all 6' by 8' -- any larger than that, and you might have to mix entire cans in one go, or else risk colour variation. It's simply not practical to do entire walls with self-mixed paint, unless you have buckets that are the perfect size (i.e. minimum air in there with the paint) for mixing huge quantities of latex paint together. In all likelihood, it'll look cruddy and uneven. Heck, even I had problems re-mixing the same colour, and I always did swatches of every colour as I painted it.

Unless, of course, you can find a larger store than the one she bought with, preferably one that has one of those colour scanners that I discussed above. Either:

a. take the original swatch colour you wanted (maybe going back to the store to pick it up, or digging through the Home Depot's large store of them) and have them scan it, or

b. the riskier way, self-mix some latex paint with latex paint (can get very expensive, very quickly) until you get the right colour (and you might never get it yourself, because the scanner/mixer combo are far more precise than 'add a bit more red'), and put a blob of it somewhere to take to the store with the scanner.

Your best bet is to pray for a return. I also agree with the other posters -- make sure it's dry, and well-coated, before freaking out. Our dark purple, for the walls, came out pinky after the first coat. It is now as purple as Barney.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:04 PM on November 3, 2007

I forgot to mention: obviously, situation a) is preferable, because there's less in the way of 'absolutely crazy variables.'
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:05 PM on November 3, 2007

As indicated above, your friend's first bet is to do a few coats, then let the paint dry for at least 24h. In my experience, that can make a HUGE difference. (I painted a wall a coral red, but it looked orange for the first 3 coats and until it cured.)
posted by ms.v. at 11:45 PM on November 3, 2007

Mixing a new colour certainly can work, we did it recently for some offices at work. Just get a small pot of a colour heavily leaning towards what you want (say, bright orange) and experiment.

The major drawback to this is that if you ever need to match that exact shade again and you're out of the original paint, it's going to be nigh impossible.

The only additive I would use would be more paint made with the same solvent, I don't know a lot about paint but I have read that if you throw sugar into cement it never sets properly. If you use the wrong additive in paint, who knows, you might end up with paint that never stops being sticky or similar horrors.
posted by tomble at 3:31 AM on November 4, 2007

Mixing latex paint colors is a really normal thing in my job (I'm a scenic artist for theatre and opera). It's not mystical or something that takes a lot of luck, it's just a skill.

A bunch of information, then, in the hopes that it'll help the OP's friend, and in case anyone's interested. I never get to explain any of this, and it took me a long time to learn.

Paint is made of three things: a pigment, which is the color itself; a binder, which holds the pigment to whatever you've painted; and a vehicle, which is the substance that makes it runny and then evaporates. With latex paint, the binder is the latex and the vehicle is water, which makes it very simple to thin paint or clean the brushes, as the whole business is made to be water-soluble.

So you can go to the hardware store and buy something like a "neutral base" or a "medium base" and add your own tints to it. The bases include the vehicle and the binder, with some degree of white colorant. The trick is that you can't simply buy a can of white and do your thing, unless you want to be forever stuck in the Land of Pastels. The bases they mix colors into with those machines all have a varying degree of titanium white tint, with "extra white" having the most and neutral base or sometimes "accent base" having the least (some manufacturers have their own names for bases). When you open up a can of neutral base, it looks like it's already been used, since they have to leave a lot of room in the can for tint - not as much of it is taken up by suspended little titanium white bits.

The colorants are also all different prices. Medium yellow can cost four or five times as much as lamp black. We found at one summer stock theatre that it was cheaper for us to have the local hardware chain mix gallons of the brightest yellow they had, since mixed paints were all the same price and yellow was so pricey on its own. They dumped so much tint into those cans that it felt almost naughty to do it that way, like we were watching them bleed yellow all over the floor.

Many scene shops keep a full supply of tints and bases on hand and mix quantities of whatever they need as they go. There is definitely a trick to developing an eye for a color and figuring out the fewest colors you could use to mix it. It's a skill that takes a while to learn in itself, and I'm definitely not calling myself the Awesomest Ever. You develop a familiarity over time and can recognize that a particular brown, say, can be made with neutral base and raw sienna and burnt umber with a little bit of black. And then you adjust it slowly until you get there. You also learn tricks along the way - for most pigments we work with, your kindergarten teacher lied about blue + red. Blue + red often equals a mucky puce, but blue + magenta is a delicious purple.

The full assortment of colors kept on hand is one reason it's harder to mix colors at home. You don't want to have to buy a whole quart of tint just to add that splash of color to edit something. It's like cooking Indian food, from what I've been told. The components are easy to come by, but to have a whole selection of the spices you'll use would have a pretty big initial set-up cost.

Make sure if you're going to mix your own paint, especially if it has to match something, that you let the new color fully dry on a test swatch before you compare it to the old. The wet variety is usually deceptive.

Also important is the idea that all of the tints and the components of the base are chemicals interacting with one another. Latex paint isn't the most harmful substance in the world, but many painters I know wear gloves when working with the tints and some wear them all the time while painting.

All of the tips above about layering numbers of coats and letting the color cure are right on. We also found, in a living room past, that the color we'd just added would slip right off the wall with the slightest contact, after it seemed dry. It cured over a couple of days to a reliable and tough finish.

The dangers to mixing paint: you overshoot and put in too much colorant, you spend too much money trying to get it right, you drink it, you can't get the neon pink you'd had your heart set on.

The benefits: you can edit colors you don't really like, if people ask about the color, you can nonchalantly say, "Oh, that? Yeah, I mixed that myself."

If your friend wants to be sure she gets the right color with a minimum of expense, she should just take that one back. If she wants to experiment a little, she should get a cheap quart can of a bright red color to use to mix into the paint.

As long as the hardware dude was free-styling the color in the first place, you could maybe have him free-style a little red into the mix, but I find that there's a huge variety of knowledge levels in paint counter workers. At many stores, the only knowledge you need is the ability to find the right can and follow the recipe printed out in a binder. Other places have mad chemists who can tell you for certain what materials work best on what surfaces and why something you mixed got suddenly clumpy. My dad once took a too-red wood stain to the store and had a mystified employee plop a hint of green into it to get the warm brown he was looking for. The adjustment was free and worked just like he'd hoped.

The moral of the story is: if you want to mix your own colors, no paint police will come yell at you, and if you're mixing universal colorants into latex paint, the worst you'll get is a sad grayed-out brown. Have at it!
posted by lauranesson at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2007

I've found that interior paint has undergone a strange change in the last several years. It seems that, increasingly, it really does take two coats to get adequate coverage and the correct color (even on white, primered walls) Additionally, the viscosity of the paints are such that they tend to not take kindly to spreading. That is, it seems you had best keep it blobbed right where you put it. Spreading it tends to "tear" it, resulting in some very uneven coverage. And we're talking $30+/gallon paints of varying brands.

It's very strange and frustrating. I sense it may have to do with whatever underlying chemistry is being incorporated for increased durability and washability, along with the more sophisticated finishes.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:59 AM on November 4, 2007

the viscosity of the paints are such that they tend to not take kindly to spreading. That is, it seems you had best keep it blobbed right where you put it.

Yeah, I think this has a lot to do with formulators developing faster drying formulas. I think there's also been a shift away from stinky and/or harmful solvents in water-based interior paint.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:52 AM on November 4, 2007

Thanks, everyone, for your very informative help! I've not talked to my friend yet this morning but I believe she was going to try adding a third coat based on your suggestions, and then take the stuff back to the store if that didn't help. I know she's concerned about not spending any more money than she has to to fix this problem, so that certainly sounds like a better course of action than trying to fix the color herself - although should the paint store be unwilling to help it's also great to have advice on how she -might- do it herself if need be.

Either way, the advice here has certainly been far more helpful than anything we could find ourselves, so thanks again on behalf of my friend (and on behalf of my conscience, which has happily been spared the repercussions of my original impulse to urge her that, hey, that Kool-Aid thing sounds pretty neat, maybe she oughta give THAT a try first ...)
posted by zeph at 11:57 AM on November 4, 2007

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