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 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:
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 :)
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 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).
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?
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: