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Test Pots - Friend or Foe?

Choosing paint colours you’ll love for years to come can be a daunting experience. Stick with the tried-and-true neutral tones or be daring and opt for your favourite colours? How will they all come together? Stop! Rewind and start with the most important question of all, which colours make you feel good? In creating the home of your dreams, that’s all that really matters. But where to start?

I’ve seen numerous people in an almost trance like state as they stare at that wall of tiny colours in paint shops. I can sense the confusion overtake taking them. They either don’t know where to begin, or grab so many samples they’re bound to be equally as confused when they get home.

It’s difficult to make an educated decision on samples that are so small. Enter the test or sample pot. Paint retailers promote these testers as a great way to lessen the stress that goes with choosing colours; many interior designers and colour consultants go ga-ga over them.

But are they friend or foe?

I have no doubt that tester pots have helped many people and have been just what they have needed to solve their colour dilemma. But I also know from experience they can be a frustrating and costly exercise, one that leaves them more confused than when they started.

I’ve been into the homes of potential clients and been confronted with six to eight colour patches of varying shades on feature walls throughout the home. At about $5 a pop for each sample pot what started as a small investment has ballooned into a relatively expensive one. None of the shades look the way they thought they would and they are not happy with any of them.

Secondly, but equally as importantly from a tradies viewpoint, is that those areas are virtually impossible to hide. In certain lights the shadow of the area where the sample colours were applied will be visible.

So, what’s the solution?

Study the wall of colours or a paint fan deck. Make sure you use a grey scale colour isolator, available free of charge from all major pint retailers, when viewing colour charts. This helps you see the true colour without being distracted by the surrounding colours. Once you’ve narrowed down the possibilities, you need to see more of the colours to get an idea of how they will work. Most major paint retailers have in-store colour libraries with A4 sheets of painted colour – called drawdowns or colour swatches – in thousands of colours. These help you to get an idea of how the colour will look on a bigger scale.

Finally, once you’ve stelled on your colour choices, pick up your test pots and follow these simple steps:

1. Don’t Paint Them On Your Walls!

The best thing you can do is paint your tester on A3 sheets of cardboard leaving a small blank area on the edges and then moving them around the room (or exterior) to see how they look under different light or at different times of day. Take them with you when picking out cushions and other accessories.

2. Study The Colours In Day And Night

Light has a huge impact on how we perceive colour. If you are going to be using your room all day long you need to love the colour in the morning, afternoon and evening. As the natural light shifts during the day your colour will look different, and will also change again under the artificial light of evening time. So, make sure you are spending time considering the colours at the key times of day you will be using the room most.

3. Check The Colour On Different Walls

Colour will appear different on different walls because of the natural light. This is another reason why you should paint your testers onto A3 card and not your walls. A pale blue may look beautiful and intense in your shadowy alcoves but look completely washed out on the wall opposite a large window. So, move your tester around to see how you perceive it on different walls. Make sure you are happy with it all over.

4. Check The Colour Against Your Floor and Furnishings

Another great reason to be able to move your samples around. Prop your painted card against the skirting to see it works well with the colour of the floors or the carpet. Place it behind the sofa to check it works with the fabric. Lay it on the rug to make sure it’s working with those colours. Sit it on your sideboard to make sure it works with the finish of the wood. All these things are impossible to do if you’ve painted a patch of colour in the middle of random walls.

5. Take Them With You

Yes, I know I’m repeating myself but this yet another reason why you don’t want to paint your testers on your walls. If you paint them on an A3 piece of cardboard you can take them with you.

So, when you’re in your favourite furniture or interior shop and you see that awesome cushion, you can whip your sample out and check them out together. This takes the hassle and guess work of having to return that cushion that turned out not to be the one.

6. Don’t Put Them Next To Each Other

It’s natural for us the line up all our testers next to each other to compare them but the reality is this doesn’t really help. You may discount a perfect colour because it looks ‘too cream’ next to the more yellow tester. But once you’ve painted the room you won’t have that random tester next to it, so your colour won’t appear ‘too cream’! So don’t discount a colour because of the way it looks next to another colour. Consider each tester one at a time. Put one tester card up, consider it for a day or two, then put it away and put a different colour up.

Remember when choosing colours that the gloss levels can change how you see a colour; the higher the gloss level the cleaner and brighter the colour will seem, the flatter the finish, the duller and deeper the colour will seem. To make sure you are getting what you want, view the sheen level boards in all good paint shops to see which suits you best.

Now you know how to use tester pots the right way. Yes, I know it may seem tedious but trust me, it’s worth the effort!


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