Friday, October 12, 2012

Paint Mixing Basics

Paint Basics.
This is a post that's been waiting in the wings of my scattered brain, but it's finally here!
The world of paint is confusing if you don't know the basics behind all the terms.  When painting a house or a room in your house, it's fairly simple.  You buy wall paint, get it mixed to the color you want, and paint!

But what about those small projects you have around the house?
A dresser.
A sign.
A small wooden box.

Is it really necessary to go to the hardware store and get something mixed?
And what do you do with all those leftover half-cans of paint?

Well, I am here to tell you that mixing your own paint is not quite as scary as it may seem.
This post will go over:

1.  Basic elements of paints
2.  Paint Sheens
3.  How to mix your own custom colors

So put your thinkin' hat on and buckle up!!
3 Elements of Paint

There are three basic components to all kinds of paint:
1.  Pigment.
2.  Binder.
3.  Solvent, or vehicle.

The pigment is essentially the color component.  Think of it as food coloring--it has color, but serves no other purpose.  In paint, the pigment is generally a powder.  When you go to the hardware store and get some paint mixed, it is  pigment mixed with solvent that they add to get you your color.

Binder is essentially the glue that holds paint together...and holds your paint to the wall!  If you rubbed some pigment on your wall without adding a binder, it would simply rub off.  Binder keeps our paint where we put it.  I like binder :)

The Solvent, or vehicle of paint is simply what you put the binder and pigment into.  Binder plus pigment alone would be very pasty and difficult to apply, so paints either use water or oil to dissolve the pigment and binder, forming a nice paint that goes on smoothly.  The solvent then evaporates as the paint dries, leaving you with a nice thin layer of pigment and binder.
Pigment and binder in an oil solvent is an oil-based paint.
Pigment and binder in a water solvent is a water-based paint, also called "acrylic" or "Latex."  This is your basic house paint and what I use for most of my projects.

Now WHY in the world is this helpful?
Because oil and water DO NOT MIX!

If you're mixing your own paint, you MUST use either all water-based products, or all oil-based products.  You'll pretty much know right away if you try to mix oil-based and latex paint...it'll just give you a goopy mess!  If you're unsure if a product you have is oil or water-based, just take a peek at the label and it will tell you.
If it's one of those goofy cans that doesn't really say what the solvent is, check out the "clean up" instructions.  If it says to clean up with soap and water, it's water-based.  If it says to clean up with paint thinner or mineral spirits, it's oil-based.

**PRECAUTION:  Different products require different levels of protection when used.  Oil-based products should be used only with solvent-resistent gloves, good ventilation, and breathing protection.  Most **though not all** water-based paints are low-VOC anymore and can be used without much protection.  Though I still use gloves to keep my hands from drying out.

And you can just follow your nose most of the time--oil-based products are stinky :)

Paint Sheen
The sheen of a paint affects two things:
1.  The appearance of the paint
2.  The hardness of the paint.

The basic sheen levels are:
Flat/Matte
Eggshell
Satin
Semi-Gloss
Gloss/High Gloss

Flat or Matte paint has no gloss to it at all.  It does not shine, no matter how much light you throw at it.  The other end of the spectrum is Gloss (sometimes called High Gloss), which might blind you if too much light is shining off of it!

The important thing to keep in mind when deciding the sheen you want is the wear and tear of what you're painting.  If you're painting a sign for the wall, it doesn't really matter what you use because it's never going to be touched.  In that case, choose whatever you want.  If you're painting a table top that gets a lot of wear, a semi-gloss or gloss is going to hold up much better.

When Joe and I bought our house, it had flat white paint on every wall.  Nice to paint over, but it's almost impossible to wash.  The paint does not have any protective sheen to it, so when it gets nicked or dirty...it stays nicked or dirty.  

When mixing paint, it's important to understand sheen so that you can mix a paint that will hold up for you long-term.  Sheen is created by a very simple process, which you can think of this way:

All paint begins as high-gloss.
That means that when light hits it, it reflects straight back at our eyes.  Our eyes read this as "shine."
To knock down the sheen, the paint manufacturer adds tiny shards of a solid material into the paint.
These shards deflect the light in many different directions, so our eyes don't receive as much direct light back.  Our eyes read this as "less shiny" than when the shards were not there.
The more shards added, the lower the sheen and the weaker the finish.
That means that high-gloss paint has no shards, and flat paint has many shards added.  

All that to say two things:
1.  It is very important to stir your paint, because the shards can settle out onto the bottom of your paint can.  If this happens and you paint with it, by the time you get to the bottom of the can you will have a very different sheen of paint from when you started!  No problem, Timmy can live with the Ombre-sheen look on his furniture, right?  Well, maybe Timmy can, but it's no fun when you have end tables that are supposed to match, but one is gloss and the other flat!

2.  When you mix different paints, keep in mind that any non-gloss paint you add will also add shards to deflect light.  If you want to end up with a gloss finish, you must only use gloss products.  If you want to land somewhere around a satin finish, you can use some flat, as long as you counteract it with some gloss or semi-gloss.  

So what do you do if you have the perfect color, but it's the wrong sheen?  That happened to me with this Mid-Century Sideboard.
I didn't want to go buy different paint, because I already had plenty of the correct white on hand.  And I'm cheap.  But it was flat.  And I needed Satin.  What to do?
Well, let's review our three elements of paint:  Pigment, Binder, Solvent.
When I have flat paint but want satin, it means I have paint with the proper pigment, but there are more shards in it than I want.  How do I change the ratio of paint to shards without messing with the pigment?

Did you know that polyurethane is basically binder and solvent, without any pigment?
(I'm simplifying, here.  Paint scientists, don't get your panties in a bind)

So if I am using water-based paint...and mix in some high-gloss water-based polyurethane, will that not beef up my ratio of paint-to-shards?  Yes, it will.
So that's what I did to increase the sheen of my paint.  
You might be saying "Wait, it also gives you a higher ratio of solvent-to-pigment" and you would again be right.  You have to be careful about adding too much, because it will thin out the pigment and give you less coverage.  

I solved that by doing a coat of the flat white paint, then a coat of the polyurethane + paint.  This gave me the sheen I wanted on the top coat (since the top coat is the only one that really effects the sheen), without sacrificing my color.

*Note:  You can also just put a topcoat of straight polyurethane over your flat paint to get the sheen you want. The reason I didn't is because when I put polyurethane over white paint, it tends to yellow the color a bit.  Mixing it in with the white paint solved that issue).

Color Mixing
What do you do when you have the perfect paint chip...but only need about a cup of paint?  
Or when you've already bought 5 samples from the store and none of them are quite right?
Or you have a zillion little jars of paint and just need to mix another color from them?

You mix your own!!

I've mixed a lot of my own paint over the past few years, and in fact until we bought our house I never had a custom color mixed at the store.  It takes some practice, but it can be done and done well.  
And then you save money, because you're using the paint you already have on hand! 
That is a wonderful thing.

In order to successfully mix your own paint, you need to have a few things:

1.  Black paint
2.  White Paint
3.  Red paint
4.  Blue Paint
5.  Yellow Paint.

Hmmm...the second grader in us all is saying to ourselves "wait a second...those are PRIMARY colors!"
And you would be right.  Gold star for the day.

You can mix any color using only primary colors and black and white.  
Yes, you can do a dance.  I am.

The exception to this rule is bright, neon-type colors.  Those you have to buy special.

Let's start with a basic understanding of color and the beloved color wheel.
(how is that second-grader in you holding up?)
Image Via Bloomers Blog
You know how this works.  The primary colors are red, yellow, blue.  When you mix any of those two together, you get a secondary color. 
Red + Yellow = Orange
Red + Blue = Purple (or violet) as they say here.
Yellow + Blue = Green

And the colors in-between are the tertiary colors, which essentially are secondary colors that lean more toward one primary or another ( green-yellow, or blue-purple).

Also, Complimentary Colors are the colors opposite each other on the wheel:
Blue : Orange
Yellow : Purple
Red : Green  (I'm a man, and I can change...)

I am going to go ahead an assume that if I gave you red paint and blue paint, you could mix me up a purple that would blow my mind.  
That said, what if you wanted a lighter purple?  You would mix white in with it!
If you wanted a grey-purple?  Mix in some black!
What if I wanted more of a Mauve?  
Uh....
That's when our second-grade art teachers stopped teaching us.

And then all-of-a-sudden we're in a scary color desert surrounded by mauve and seafoam and burnt orange, without a clue of how to get out!  We mix and mix and end up with ugly grey versions of terrifying browns and dull lifeless colors.  Help!!

But then the color fairy comes and saves us with a few simple tips.  Ahhhh...thank you, color fairy.


Color Fairy Tips:

1.  If you need a color that's just slightly "duller" or "browner" than the regular version (e.g burnt orange or mustard yellow), mix up a color that's close and then  ADD ITS COMPLIMENTARY COLOR.
This will change. your. life.
I used to think that adding a little black would get me everywhere I needed to be.  I was wrong.  Black will only make it more grey.  Point Taken.

2.  Know the difference between "Warm" and "Cool" colors.  
The basic rule is that yellow and red are warm colors, whereas blue and green are cool colors.  This is generally true, but it gets confusing when high falutin' designers talk about a "warm grey" and "cool yellow."  Say WHAT?  All they mean to say is that the grey (which is usually a cool color) has some warm color added in.  It may have more yellow or red in it, which gives it a warmer glow than if it had a lot of blue in it.
Knowing whether you're trying to mix a warm or cool color will give you an idea of what you need to add.  Does the yellow you're trying to mix lean more toward orange?  You may need a little red as you mix.  Does it lean more toward green?  You'll need to add a bit of blue.

3.  Start with a small container.
Need a gallon of aquamarine paint?  DO NOT GRAB A GALLON OF WHITE AND START MIXING INTO IT!!  Start with a little container and try mixing a small bit first.  If you can successfully mix a small amount, you'll know how to mix a larger amount.  It can be surprising how much or how little white paint you actually need to make your color.  And you don't want to end up with five gallons of aquamarine paint, do you?

Mixing colors is not a science...well, it's not when you're at home using leftover paint and craft paints.  It is a bit of an art...just start small and add until you have it right.

4.  When you're pretty sure you have the right mixture, make sure to test it and see how it dries :)
Paint will generally dry darker than you think...well, mine does.  So double check its dry color against what you want.

Does all of that make sense?  Feel free to ask questions to clarify.  And sometimes when a color is being stubborn, it makes me want to pull my hair out.  But with the right knowledge, anyone can mix their own paint and get the perfect color off of their paint chip and onto their project...
Image Via Design Seeds

...hopefully without entering the scary color desert.

Congratulations, you finished this post.
You are now a paint master.

Happy mixing :)


~ The Doodle Bug


I'm usually partyin' at these hangouts:

Friday Feature @ Redoux
Feathered Nest Friday @ French Country Cottage
Furniture Feature Friday @ Miss Mustard Seed
Show & Tell Friday @ My Romantic Home
Flaunt it Friday @ Chic on a Shoestring Decorating
Frugal Friday @ The Shabby Nest
Simply Creations Link Party @ Simple Home. Life
It's a Hodgepodge Friday @ It's a Hodgepodge Life
Spotlight Saturday @ Classy Clutter
Trash 2 Treasure Tuesday @ Kammy's Korner




18 comments:

  1. You did a fantastic job explaining this - thank you! You solved my dilemma question of what to do with flat enamel when I need eggshell - add poly..brilliant!

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  2. This was very helpful to be refreshed in the basics, and your writing skills are very good:)

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  3. I just found you via Pinterest, I think. :)
    You put color theory in English and thank you so much for it!
    Could you perhaps think of a follow-up lesson in making colors stand out or recede?
    For example (yes, about me) I have a dusty raspberry Queen Anne settee. I want to dull the pink of it and bring out the grayish-ness. I also have a painting that's all grays and white. But they're blue grays and pure whites. To dull that down...?
    Thanks for your insight!

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    1. Oohhh, a challenge! Thank you, Christine. I will mull it over and try to get a post out...and perhaps send you an email to clarify your question. Be ready :)

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    2. Hi! Checking in. Actually rereading to try to figure out another challenge. I have a solid mahogany door, which I stripped & (unfortunately) sealed with Cabot's Australian Timber Oil. Oil yellows. Wahhh! I'm trying to figure out what stain I could mix to "brown it down" some. I dislike the golden oak color, yet I also dislike the red usually used on mahogany. Too "cherry". Any thoughts! :)

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    3. Okay, I have been thinking and thinking. And thinking. And thinking. And I unfortunately don't have a great answer. But I do have an idea you can try, if you're still on the hunt. If it's too yellow and you're looking for brown, try something in the purple family. Sometimes you can find stains and such for "purpleheart," a very purple-ish wood. As for how to stain over an oil finish, I'm not completely sure. My knowledge of oil as a sealer is very limited. Sorry I'm not much help in that area! Good luck!

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    4. Well, I appreciate the thought! I have decided to swap it out with the other door on the garage. Same door, but that one only has dark brown stain on it. I have stripped the sidelites on the front one, (God bless Citristrip!) and love the antiqued look of them. So I'll strip the other door & put it up. I'll use that door on the garage. I'll probably strip it too, while down, and see what I can make of it.

      I'm stuck on the pink settee. I'm thinking of painting the fabric and getting it out of my sight.

      I stripped 6 cherry cabinets. Discovered if I were to stain the gorgeous wood, brown stain brings out the red in the wood. Oh, NO! So I am trying some fruitwood stain that has green in it, which should negate the dominance of red. Color theory I learned here, thank you very much!

      I love reading your blog, too. Thanks for all your time!

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    5. Hi Christine,
      Did you get the cabinets where you wanted them with the other stain? I'm curious how it worked for you! And have you dealt with the pink settee? It's been haunting me, though I'm not sure I have any good solutions. While I worked in theatre, if we wanted to "knock down" the contrast or visual texture of something, we would often spatter it with paint. The spatter disrupts the existing texture and causes it to "smooth out" in your brain. I was trying to think of something that would give you a really fine spatter (for your painting or the pink settee) and thought spray paint *might* be able to help you out. But it's one of those risky things that may or may not turn out, but you're stuck with it! You can also flick paint off of a toothbrush by dipping the brush end in paint, then running your finger or thumb across the bristles. I used to do that for set models, and it worked but wasn't quite as fine or as consistent as an aerosol spray paint would be.

      Just a couple of thoughts. Let me know if you figure either the painting or the pink settee out. Oh, and for the painting, I did stumble across this link and thought it was an interesting idea:

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    6. Sorry, the link didn't show up. Let's try again!
      http://www.vintagerevivals.com/2012/03/15-minute-art-from-thrift-store.html

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  4. Your blog is fantastic Becky, thank you. I learned a lot, I’m new at this paint mixing and would like to take it little further; could you recommend a book or website to read? I really want to become professional mixer. (please email me at rsoreni@gmail.com)

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  5. I have a question...I have a very flat looking latex satin (sure, that's SW's story and their sticking to it :) ), that I love for my kitchen cabinets. I bought a sample which is 1 1/2 pints, basically all I need but the sheen is all wrong. Can you tell me the right ratio of high gloss poly to mix with this paint before I put on just the poly to get a nice glossy finish?

    Thank,
    L. Lay

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    1. Hi Loretta!
      Good News! You don't need to change the sheen of your paint at all. The only coat(s) that matter are the last ones you put on. If you put gloss polyurethane over flat paint, it will make the paint look glossy and give it great protection. Because it's cabinetry that you're talking about, make sure that you put at least two, and probably 3-4 coats of gloss poly over top of your paint, and please, PLEASE prime well with a good primer (and maybe a de-glosser if you aren't stripping your cabinets first)! You might want to check your paint color on a test board with the poly over it, because the higher gloss will make your paint seem darker when it's dry. I hope that's a simple, easy solution for you. Have fun!

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  6. Well, it’s a nice one, I have been looking for. Thanks for sharing such informative stuff.
    click here

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  7. What I want to know is, can I mix Flat paint with Satin? If I have a quart of flat and I mix it in with a gallon of satin what will happen?

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    1. Hello Carolee! If the paints are both water-based or both oil-based, it is perfectly fine to mix them. Mixing the two sheens will land you somewhere in the middle. Since you have satin and flat, the mixed paint will be similar to an eggshell sheen-- not as flat as the flat, but not as whiney as the satin. As long as eggshell paint will do what it is you're wanting to do, go for it! I rarely worry about mixing sheens, unless I want something very specific. The last coat of product you put on is the sheen that will be the most prevalentm. So if you use a gloss topcoat over a flat paint, your piece will appear more glossy, and vice versa. Hope that helps, have fun!

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  8. Thank you for speaking my language about color. I do, however, have a question. Many of the paint samples I buy to test on the walls in my home end up reading too purple. I am looking for a gray with brown undertones but instead of brown, the colors often read purplish. If I ask the color mixer to add a bit of yellow, do you suppose that will tune out the purple? Many thanks.

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    1. Hello Joanne! You are already a color genius and you didn't know it! YES, adding yellow will tame the purple monster. I actually had this exact problem a few months ago. I could not get the machine to match my custom mixed sample, and it took three tries to get it right. (After I told the guy which colors to add, of course!). Eventually we got really close, then I had him do two shots of yellow pigment and we finally got it. Stick to your guns, it's a hard color to mix but you can get it done and you'll be so much happier without the purple monster. Oh, and strangely it helped for us to switch the brand of paint You never know what will work. Samples are your friend :). Good luck!

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    2. Thank you so much for your prompt reply. I have quite an assortment of paint samples so what's a few more :-) I have an open plan home with those high, vaulted ceilings. The way the light hits makes a huge difference in how the paint colors read. Over the years I've painted it various colors with no problem, so I was kind of shocked that this grayish brown I'm hooked on is such a problem. I'll persevere. Thanks for your advice and encouragement.

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I love to read your comments and questions!