Interior Painting Tip: Paint Color Chips and Strips Can Deceive You

by | Feb 8, 2021 | Blogs | 0 comments

Have you ever looked at a small paint chip or color strip to choose a color for an interior painting project? Tough, isn’t it! And if you made your color decision from one of these small samples, it’s no surprise that the color you wound up with didn’t turn out to be the color you wanted, or the color you thought you’d chosen.

Nobody, including those of us who work with color all the time, can make an informed color decision from a tiny sample. 

Chips and Strips Are Deceiving

Here are some reasons why samples from chips or strips are deceiving:

Color’s Cumulative Effect

Once applied to a wall, dark colors will look darker and bright colors will look even brighter. Not only that, the impression a color makes on one wall will intensify once it’s applied to all the walls.

Two Types of Color Strips

Color Strips: Competition and Distortion

When the color you’re considering is on a strip in a fan deck, you get an even more distorted impression because:

  • Each sample is so small.
  • Adjacent colors affect each other.
  • The white strip between each color makes you think that the color isn’t as bright or intense as it really is.

–No Standardization

There are three types of color strips:

  • a progression of one color from light to dark.
  • different colors from one hue family.
  • unrelated colors.

Pay attention to the organization of the strip you’re looking at. While paint strips can help you make an initial decision and are useful for basic comparisons, these small samples make it impossible to figure out what each color really looks like. However, I do find that when I’m trying to work with a particular hue, the strips with a progression of colors are helpful.

Other Issues


Paint color changes with the orientation in which it’s applied. As a result, your wall color will look different if you apply it to the ceiling. Choosing a ceiling color can be especially challenging because you can’t put a tiny chip or paint strip on the ceiling and tell how it will look. Ceiling color will also be affected by the colors of the walls, flooring, and furniture, among other factors, but you won’t be able to see the effect of this phenomenon working from a small sample.


The lighting at the paint store likely is quite different from the lighting in the space you’re planning to paint, and that means the color will look different there. The color will also be affected by many other factors, including the time of day and whether you’re viewing it in natural or artificial light. Small samples can’t show the true effect of lighting.

The Solution: Larger Color Samples 

 Larger samples are the best way to make a more educated guess about the impression a color will make – before you invest in the paint.

Some people paint samples directly on the wall side by side and try to compare them. This approach doesn’t work well because the existing wall color and the neighboring samples will distort what you see.


A better approach is to create your own oversize samples, using inexpensive, lightweight foam core sample boards. Buy some that are at least 2 x 3 feet in size, and apply at least two coats of paint. Your local paint store will sell you sample pots of the colors you’re considering, with just the right amount of paint. Always cover 100% of the board so that there are no white borders to distort your perception of the color, and use a different board for each color.

Advantages of larger samples

  • The true color impression is more apparent than on a chip.
  • You avoid the color competition and distortion caused by looking at a color on a strip or on the wall next to others you’re considering.
  • You can move the sample around the room and even affix it to the ceiling with removable tape to view it in different orientations.
  • You can move the sample to view it adjacent to large pieces of furniture, window treatments, and accessories.
  • You can easily evaluate how the color works with colors used in adjacent spaces.
  • Sample boards avoid the need to prime or use additional coats of paint to cover test areas on the wall.

When you’re choosing paint colors, large individual samples are best. Study the samples on every wall at different times during the day and at night under natural and artificial lighting.

If You Need Help

As a #Certified Color Strategist, I use my advanced training and the latest in digital color technology to inform and streamline the process of helping you choose paint colors that work. If you’d like to talk about your project and schedule an appointment, call me at 828-692-4355. If you live outside my service area, you can also arrange an online consultation.

Sterling Property Services