Our go-to shop for paint has always been Dick’s Color Center in Portland.  They have an amazing staff of expert color mixers and have worked with us on countless designer color creations.  I recently had a conversation with our main contact, Kevin M Garvey, to get his expert point-of-view on how color matching really works in a boutique store like Dick’s versus a big box store.  What I found out was that the amount of time and knowledge it requires to create an accurate color match is almost always out of the range of abilities of larger stores.  Not that they are incapable of creating a match, but with the sheer volume of customers they receive, they are simply unable to dedicate the time it takes to do this intricate work.
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Below is a statement from Kevin about color matching:
Nearly every paint store has a spectrophotometer. It works by beaming light from an internal lamp onto a sample. Some of the light will be absorbed by the sample, and the rest will pass completely through and strike a detector behind the sample. The detector senses the light being transmitted through the sample and converts this information into a digital display. For paint stores, that means a color formula is produced.
 
Accuracy depends first on the quality of the filters and sensors within the spectrophotomer and on the software that converts the data into an actual color formula. Secondly, the condition of the sample can interfere with color accuracy. Any texture or sheen on the sample can throw off how much light is absorbed or transmitted. Other environmental factors like ambient light and even temperature can affect results. While it may seem obvious that different spectrophotometers will produce different color formulations, people might be surprised to know that even the same machine will often yield different formulas on different readings. Experienced color matchers will take several readings and average them before using the data. Typically, spectrophotometers are 90% accurate. That is hard to visually describe, but essentially some toner in the color is going to be missing or perhaps too present. The resulting color is too red, or too green, or too dark, etc.
 
A color match on a spectrophotometer can be performed quickly, but with some degree of unknown error. Therefore, for the most accurate color match possible, any reputable paint store will match the color by human eye. This generally requires several hours of work. The reading from the spectrophotometer is likely considered one of several references used to produce the final color formula. But ultimately a trained eye determines exactly what combination of pigments match the color sample best. This process gives much more satisfactory results than the spectrophotometer alone. But there is no such thing as absolute perfection when it comes to color matching.
 
Keep in mind that most national paint manufacturers create their own pigments, have different resins and materials in their bases, and that there is no standard for sheen in residential paints. It is impossible for one company to exactly reproduce a competitor’s color when the starting base is different and the pigments to tint the paint are different. The only way to get an exact color, as the manufacture or designer intended, is to avoid the match in the first place and use the exact base paint and exact color formula.
 
Kevin M Garvey
Portland, OR