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the problems with colour selection


Architect's memo 12: August 1981

In 1981, the major paint companies offered collectively 32 different colour charts showing more than 1200 different shades of the seven primary colours, plus black and white.

Since colour preference is essentially a question of fashion, charts are updated and reissued with alarming regularity. Manufacturers vie to produce bigger and better colour ranges, and so charts proliferate - and with them the problems of colour selection.

Choosing a precise paint colour from postage-stamp sized printed samples has always been risky and often expensive. Colour charts necessarily carry a disclaimer, while every care is taken, printers ink can never exactly match actual paint colours. Then of course, there is the fact that the paint colour itself will vary according to the base colour or material being painted over, and again, colour charts cannot take this into account.

Subtle differences that may seem unimportant on colour charts are glaringly obvious at wall-magnification. For example, at chart size three blacks may seem interchangeable. Black it would seem, is black. Not so. Black can have as a base tint green, or blue, or yellow. The difference in situ would be noticeable to a client - perhaps disappointingly so - even though he or she may not be able to see why.

Subtle differences in shades are usually described as more or less warm.

The actual colour on the wall would also be affected by the amount of light in the room and its source, other colours present, the size of the room itself and the area being painted. In other words variations are caused by colour absorption, reflection and saturation; by varying characteristics of the paint itself; by variations in surfaces to be painted - and, not least, by the tendency of different individuals to see or interpret colour differently. In other words there's only one sure way to select colour - especially for someone else - and that is by test.

Actually paint some on the wall, and test reactions on the spot. To facilitate this Resene has put their entire colour range in the sample-sized cans called appropriately, testpots.

Each Testpot covers nearly 1 sq. metre. The usual colour charts are still supplied, and the recommended system is to use the charts as a guide for initial selection taking a Testpot as a form of colour insurance for the final decision.

The full range of testpots is available ex-stock in all Resene ColorShops, stockists and online.


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Colours shown on this website are a representation only. Please refer to the actual paint or product sample. Resene colour charts, testpots and samples are available for ordering online.   See measurements/conversions for more details on how electronic colour values are achieved.