Learning the Art of Color Matching

Old hands give a newcomer some advice on how to train himself to match finish colors. October 19, 2005

I have a shop in Washington State. My finishing supplier used to come by and get my samples and then mix the stain or the tinted lacquer. He is no longer with the company, so now I have to come up with the stain and lacquer tints, but I have no formal training. Does anyone like a particular finish, or is there a supplier who sells a stain matching system that matches exactly every time?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Did your supplier do the matches himself or does his company have a color matching lab?

Perhaps he'd be open to giving you some lessons?

Alternatively, the Industrial branch distributor of any of the major coating companies should have color matching services.

Learning to color match is not really something you can learn from forum responses, although I'm sure you'll get some excellent advice on how to get started.

From contributor C:
Give this link a try:

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
I don't know if there is any formal training for color matching. I think most finishers learn it over time by trial and error. You should start trying to make your own matches as often as you can so you don't have to depend on your suppliers.

In the mean time, what finish suppliers do you have in your area? Companies like Chemcraft, Becker Acroma, ML Campbell, and Sherwin Williams all usually do custom colors in stains, glazes, toners, and spray paints (e.g., lacquers, conversion varnishes, water-base). Unless you're pretty far out from a city, you might have another supplier in your area that can mix your colors.

An alternative is a stain mix system. Triclad has an intermix system with formulas and color chips for a few hundred colors using 10 stain bases. I think ICA may have a similar system if I remember right. One of these stain systems can save you a lot of trial and error.

From contributor C:
If you want to be a finisher, you need to learn to mix and match colors.

Don't be dependent on suppliers Ė itís a very big part of being a finisher.

Itís not that hard to do. Many wood finishes do not use that many colorants.

Think positive, read the two articles, and begin trying to learn your colorants. It will come to you.

From contributor B:
Take up painting. It is cheaper practice. You can get little bottles of cheap acrylic paint at Walmart, about 50 cents a piece and they've got millions of colors. Get a color wheel or chart, hit the library for books on understanding color, and practice mixing and matching in your spare time. You don't have to paint portraits, just acquaint yourself with how colors behave, by themselves and when combined.

Keep in mind that a color on white paper isn't going to be the same on a piece of walnut. Absorption, dyes, pigments and all sorts of other things factor in when actually coloring wood. You can get a feel for colors this way without wasting more expensive materials. Research all types of materials such as dyes, pigments, oil, alcohol, water, tints, toners, glazes, wiping gel, etc.

From contributor A:
A number of years ago I got defaulted into the position of color matcher at the distributor of a major industrial coatings company. I read every book in the library about color theory, the art books about painting, all the finishing books, took samples of all the tints and mixed them together, memorized the color wheel(do that - very important)and made samples all the time.

It's a matter of training your eye to see the colors.

I agree with contributor C that most colors can be made from a very few tints. I got canned from a color matcher job once because I kept re-matching their stains with 3 or 4 tints instead of the 12 to 14 their formulas called for.