Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

5 Tips to test paint samples the right way

How to use paint testers the right way, so you can find the best shade for your walls

I always recommend that my customers test the paint colors on their walls before committing to the color.  The colors do look different on the swatches vs the walls (and different than they look in a store).  In fact, the colors may look different room to room (and even wall to wall within the same room) pending on the lighting.  The paint shade will also look different at different times of the day.  And, sometimes when you see the color on a larger area, you may change your mind.

5 tips to properly test paint samples - the right way

Paint testers are inexpensive, usually only cost around $5 to $10 each, and it is so worth this tiny investment before you paint your walls (regardless of whether you are hiring a professional or doing it yourself).  And, do bear in mind that once the paint store gives you the paint, it’s not returnable.


5 tips to test paint samples the right waySo, I thought I’d provide some tips on how to properly test the shades of paint.  This will help you avoid some common mistakes and help you make better choices (and feel more confident in your decisions)

Please note that this article may contain affiliate links.  You can read my full disclosure at the bottom of the page.

Related articles:


Quick tips for selecting the right testers

Importantly, get the samples in the finish you intend to use on the wall (when possible).  The most popular and stylish finish is flat.  Flat looks more up to date and shows imperfections less.  Flat is flattest option, matte is a bit shinier, than eggshell, then satin, then semi-gloss).  The shinier you go, the more dated your room will appear and the more you’ll see the imperfections on the wall.  90-95% of our customers prefer flat finishes.


Generally, I find that choosing 3 shade samples is best.  That way, you see the subtle undertones that can sometimes make a big difference for setting the tone and mood of the room.  By the way, when you test many more, it actually gets much more difficult to choose.


I highly recommend both Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore Paints, and these can be found in many local paint and hardware stores.  I’d recommend that you avoid the Behr paints, or other ones you might find at the Big Box stores.  They tend to be thinner and require an additional coat of paint (and don’t be fooled by some that claim you only need 1 coat…you need 2 coats if you are changing the color).


benjamin moore swatch - testing shades of paint on the wallIf you need a paint swatch fan deck here’s one from Benjamin Moore and here’s one from Sherwin Williams.

Buy it now on Amazon - how to test paint samples correctly



Originally, when I wrote this article, the best way to get paint samples was at the store (and you still can). But, now, there is a faster and easier way…to get real paint samples made with 2 coats of real paint delivered straight to your door. I discuss this in detail at the end of this article, but if you’re in a rush, check out the samples here.


5 Tips to test paint samples the right way

1.  Paint the samples on the Wall (not on boards)

testing shades of paint on the wallI see this mistake all the time.  People (or their painters) will test colors on white boards.  This is not a smart way to test colors because the paint looks different on the boards than it does on the walls.  The main reason for this is that the texture is different…so the paint reads differently.  And, it doesn’t seem to saturate the boards in the same way.  Always test your paint on the walls.


optical illusion - be careful when comparing paint samplesTest at least a 1 foot x 1 foot area.  Also, bear in mind that existing color of the wall will impact how the samples appear.  Colors will appear darker when they are against lighter walls; and, they will appear lighter when they are against dark walls.  You can see this in the picture to the right where the gray on the left looks lighter than the one on the right.  To reduce this optical illusion, it helps if you paint your samples closer together.  It also helps if you do a larger area.   Sometimes is helpful to use a white piece of paper to separate the samples (the white is meant to simulate the color of the base molding.


2.  Test on multiple walls

how to properly test paint samples on the wallsYes, the shades of paint will look different on different walls, pending on the lighting.  I advise customers to test on at least 2 walls – one that is well lit and the another wall that gets less light.  I would also look at the samples at different times of the day, especially the time of day where to you tend to spend the most time in that room.  And, it’s usually better to sleep on it and take your time to make a decision. You may want to look at the samples on a sunny day as well as a rainy day.


By the way, you will may also notice that other colors (e.g. the leaves from the trees or the floor colors or the paint in the room next door may influence the way the color looks on the wall.  (Be sure to check out Tip #5 which is one of the most common mistakes customers make).

decorate on a budget

3.  Always use 2 coats of paint

testing paint testers properly for right shade of paintWhen you change the wall color, you need 2 coats of paint (and do not be mislead by some of the cheaper paints at the Big Box stores which claim that you only need 1 coat of paint).  You will need 2 coats.  Trust me on this (and yes, usually the paint in the Big Box stores is thinner…and you may in fact need 3 coats for those paints to be equivalent to 2 coats of Sherwin Williams or Benjamin more.


When you have 2 coats of paint, you get the proper saturation.  So, be sure to do 2 coats of paint for your testers so that it will be consistent with the final product.


Oh, and if you need a good brush, here’s the one I’d recommend.  You can buy it on Amazon.

Buy it now on Amazon - how to test paint samples correctly

4.  For saturated or bright colors, test with a primer

Tips for using paint testers - saturated colors need a primer

primer - for painting over bright colors or wood panelingFor some saturated or super bright colors, you may need a primer before the 2 coats of paint.  Or, if you currently have a very dark or saturated paint (e.g. red, burgundy, navy, bright orange, etc.), you will need to use a primer first. So, be sure to test you paints samples in the same way.  Here’s a top notch primer if you need one.  It’s a water based product so it doesn’t smell.  And, it bonds to paint as well as most other surfaces, including wood (so it’s great for priming wood paneling).


5.  Choose your stain, floor or carpet color first

tips for using paint testers to choose best shadeMost people don’t realize that they should be selecting the color for the floors first. This is for several reasons:  First, there are way more paint colors than there are stain or carpeting options (and if you start with the walls first, you will find that it severely limits you in your flooring, area rug and other decorating options).  Second, it’s better to have the correct flooring in place when you are testing the paint samples as it will influence the color perception on the paint.


And, lastly, it’s most cost and time efficient if you do the floors first and paint after as the base boards will often get scuffed up and get stain on them, so you’ll need to repaint the base molding after the floors.  Everything works out smoother when you do the floors first.  Check out this article from Bill Gassett  Why you should start with the floors first when decorating.


Bonus Tip: If you’re going to change your lighting, do that first, too. That way, you’ll be looking at the paint colors in the correct and updated lighting.


Alternative (and easier way to get) Paint Samples

You can definitely go to your local painting store to buy some samples (and a brush…be sure to paint with 2 coats), but I have a MUCH EASIER way for you.  Check out SAMPLIZE.


testing paint samples from samplize

Samplize offers 12” x 12” peel and stick paint samples that are EASIER, AFFORDABLE and more ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY. This is how to test paint samples without painting the wall.


Here are a few reasons why I recommend Samplize to my clients:

  • Samples come right to YOUR DOORSTEP in 1-3 business days, pending on location
  • At $5.95, they’re more affordable than the samples/brushes/foam boards than traditional samples…and of course easier and way less messy
  • If you keep the samples on the white paper, you can move them from wall to wall and room to room


They are amazingly accurate as they are made with 2 coats of real paint, so they are color correct.


Visit the SAMPLIZE website HERE.

Frequently asked questions about paint testers and paint samples:

How much do paint samples cost?

Most paint testers cost $5-10. The paint stores keep the prices low as they want to encourage home owners to buy the paint.  Usually, they cover around 16 sq ft or so…enough to give a good sense of what the color will look like on the wall, but not enough to paint the whole room (nor a whole wall).

Paint testers - green paint samples and paint brushh

Paint samples are usually available in egg shell finish, so they are in the middle of the sheen spectrum.  Most homeowners prefer to use flat or matte finishes as these sheens are much more stylish.


How to test paint samples without painting the wall?

The best way (and easiest way) to test paint shades is to use peel and stick samples.  Samplize offers a convenient and color correct way to do this. You can avoid the mess and hassle (no paint brush needed) and have them delivered straight to your door.

commodore paint sample - navy

Oh, and these paint swatches cost a bit less than the paint testers you’ll find in the stores.  You can see the wide array of paint shades here. They have 12 x 12 samples from Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, PPG as well as Farrow & Ball.



It’s super important to make sure you test out the paint shades on your own walls in your own lighting.  It will help you make much smarter decisions so that you find the optimal paint shade for your home.


Related articles:

decorate on a budget


Complementary products that will prolong the life of your hardwood floors

how to use paint testers the right way




5 Tips to properly test paint samples | How to use paint testers the right way

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Getting overwhelmed with paint shades?

Grab these FREE paint shade planning sheets to organize your paint colors in each room.

This makes it easy to coordinate shades for walls, accent walls and trim. Print as many as you like.

Get instant access! They’re FREE!

Paint shade planning sheets
Subscriber exclusive offer
The Flooring Girl
This little hack makes it easy to choose the perfect paint color.
Freaking out over Paint Colors? Frustrated?

Freaking out over Paint Colors? Frustrated?

Do you get stuck when selecting paint colors for your home? Have you pinned hundreds of room scenes on Pinterest? Have you hoarded paint chips from the Paint Store?

Have you bought 7 paint testers and created a patchwork quilt on your walls and still confused?

Well, you’re not alone.

What if you could pick out the right color right the 1st time?,

That's exactly what you get with this FREE action guide, CHOOSING PAINT COLORS WITH CONFIDENCE.

Thank you so much for choosing my free guide - Choosing Paint Colors with confidence." You'll get a link to access this for free in your email.

Scroll to Top