Try This: Mixing Paint Colors at Home

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Susan Wasinger
The tools and materials you will need for color-it-yourself paints.

Who doesn’t have a shelf groaning with cans of half-used, unwanted paint? It’s a space crisis at home and an environmental crisis at the landfill. The trouble is, paint stores won’t mix anything smaller than a quart, so if you don’t need it all, or the color doesn’t work once you get it home, you’re stuck with the unused portion.

Here’s an easy way to use liquid pigments to mix your own paint colors, in whatever quantity you need, to keep paint waste to a minimum. It’s also a great way to choose a color for your room by mixing up a range of options and painting swatches on the wall. In addition, consider “tweaking” colors you already have on your shelf by mixing in a few drops of pigment to color them more to your liking.

Tools and Materials

Paint: 1 gallon of white, low-VOC interior latex

Paper cups or recycled yogurt containers: These will be used for mixing your small paint samples. Choose containers that are large enough to comfortably hold 2 ounces of paint and accommodate a small paintbrush.

Measuring devices: To make paint samples, 2 ounces of paint is perfect; use a 1/4 -cup measuring cup to scoop up paint. Use one- or two-cup measures for pints and quarts. Dipping paint from the can is tidier than pouring.

3-by-5-inch index cards: These will be your custom paint swatches. Brush on a sample of paint and then write the color formula for future reference (e.g., 1 part red, 3 parts yellow).

Recycled jars or plastic containers: Once you’ve arrived at the perfect color, you’ll want to make enough of it for your project. For mixing and storing paint, find old storage containers in pint or quart sizes (a quart will cover an area about 50 square feet).

Liquid pigments: Universal pigments or tints will color any medium from latex and enamel paints to oil stains and plasters. We used Mixol pigments (available at paint, hardware and art stores, or online). Start with a small palette of the basics–red, yellow, blue, black and umber–then add colors that you gravitate toward, such as olive green, terracotta, orange or violet.

Mixing stick and small paint brush

Mixing Paint Colors How-To

1. Measure paint.
2. Stir in pigment.
3. Record the pigment-to-paint  formula on an index card and paint the card with the designated tint.

Tinting Tips

• The best way to create paint colors is to mix a small sample, see how you like it, then mix a larger amount for the paint job.

• Mixing your own paint is perfect for lighter colors. If you have your heart set on ox-blood red or midnight blue, have it mixed in the store as these saturated colors require a darker base paint and a lot of pigment.

• Test your mixed color often. What seems too subtle or light in the cup might be just right on the wall.

Thanks to Eileen Schnorr, brand manager for Olympic Paints, for her ideas and technical advice.