PAINT TESTER POT; FRIEND OR FOE
My heart always goes out to people when I see them standing paralyzed in front of that wall of tiny colour samples at various paint stores. I can see a state of confusion overtaking them. They either don’t know where to begin or grab so many samples that they’re bound to be just as confused when they get home. It’s difficult to make an intelligent decision based on samples that’s are so small. Enter the paint tester pot, or sample pot. The idea seems like a good one, a few ounces of paint that you can purchase to try at home before you commit to a gallon or two. Paint retailers actively promote these testers as a great way to lessen the anxiety that goes along with choosing colours. Available in the full colour palette from most paint manufacturers, a test pot will cover approximately two square feet and costs around eight dollars, depending upon the paint company.
I can’t argue that having a large painted sample isn’t far superior to a tiny one printed in ink. I have no doubt the tester pot has helped many people and has proven to be just what was needed to solve a colour crisis. I also know from experience that they can be a costly and frustrating experiment, one that leaves people feeling even more confused than when they began.
I’ve walked into the houses of new clients and been faced with the chaos of eight or ten colour patches painted at random around a room. Their initial eight dollar purchase has mushroomed into something closer to eighty or ninety dollars and they’re on the verge of a meltdown.
Nothing looks the way they thought it would and they’re not happy with any of them. Having larger samples seems to increase the level of frustration people experience at their inability to make the right choice. The toll this takes is much more than financial. There’s also been serious damage done to their belief in their decision making process. It also reinforces the idea that painting is nothing but a big pain in the neck that should be avoided at all costs. The tester pot isn’t a bad idea but it has its limitations. It’s something that must be used at the right time and in the right way, and frankly it’s not for everyone.
Let me put it this way. If someone gives you a book in a foreign language that you can’t read, it’s not going to help if they give you another copy with a larger typeface.
If you don’t have a clear idea of the changes that will occur when a sample goes from two square feet to all four walls then you’re no further along.
Here are some things to keep in mind regarding tester pots.
They come in only one sheen level. Sheen makes a difference to colour, so make sure you know what sheen level the tester pot comes in and whether your final product will have greater or lesser sheen.
Try not to use tester pots to make a decision between three or four entirely different colours.
Use it when you have things narrowed down to a couple of variations on one colour. Colour has a tendency to change as it covers more surface area, so tester pots are good indicators of the different directions two seemingly similar colours may take.
Paint your sample onto a piece of poster paper. Poster paper is heavy weight and made for ink or paint applications. Tape the paper down and do two coats. Let me repeat that, do two coats. I’ve spent close to three decades working with colour and as far as I’m concerned there’s no such thing as one coat of paint. Leave the paper taped down until dry, this will prevent large ripples from occurring. Afterwards, write the colour name and number on the back. If you do get into the situation of purchasing several different samples, it will become important to know which is which. Some people recommend leaving a white border around the edge to interrupt one colour from the other. While this method has its merits I think it’s better to take your colour to the edge. You can always tape your sample onto a blank sheet if need be.
Try to view the colour in isolation, such as the edge of a wall.
It’s best to try to look directly into the colour and not compare it with what’s already there. One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is that they like the colour on one wall but not another. When they move it around it doesn’t look the same. This is to be expected because of the way lighting changes throughout a room. When the painting is complete the colour will fill in and even out. However you must keep in mind that when all is said and done a colour will still vary slightly from wall to wall, which is as it should be. Tape your sample up in a place that gets a good amount of natural light and leave it there, live with it for awhile. Colours are like people, you have to get to know them and you should never make quick judgments about them. Don’t ask too many questions, that’s a direct route to second guessing yourself. Second guessing comes from over analyzing and is the left side of the brain at its worst. Colour is an emotional experience. It’s not like deciding what shoes to wear or what to order from a menu.
Choosing a colour is a process. It’s your process, which is why you must choose colours that please you - not your painter, or your friends or that person you work with who is really into design.
If you like it and it seems to work with your furniture, then go for it. If you can’t figure it out after two or three tester pots then please consider hiring a professional.
It’s important to remember that what you’re looking at is just a sample and as such it’s there to give you assistance, not concrete answers. The tester pot doesn’t have any magical qualities to it. It’s not going to make the decision for you, that is something you have to do for yourself. It’s a large sample, which is great, but it will still be affected by whatever colour is already in the room. Even if that colour is white.
We live in a time where people expect to have definitive answers to everything before they partake in it. Colour cannot be pigeon holed in that manner. When it comes to colour there’s only so much that can be predicted beforehand. Painting your walls is an act of creativity. At a certain point any creative act takes on a life of its own. You must be willing to let that happen and venture into the unknown.