All About Tweaking Paint Color Formulas

In this blog post, I share my experience with tweaking paint colors. There’s a 16-minute video for you to watch plus you can read my answer to a question about lightening paint colors by percentages.

A abstract splash Colorful oil paint isolated on white background. Taken in Studio with a 5D mark III.

It won’t take you long to figure out that I strongly advise sticking with stock paint colors. I’m convinced the only reason people put themselves through the pain of trying to add white, cut, double or mix custom paint colors is because they don’t know how to search existing paint color collections to find the color they want.

There is a better way and I can show you how.

So, right about now, you’re probably asking, “Okay, Lori, so how DO you find the perfect color when there are thousands of colors to sort through?”

The short answer is I use color notations.

I go into more detail about that in the video. If you’re interested in learning my secrets to finding the perfect paint color every time, then The Four Pillars of Color training is for you. It’s online and on demand.

The course is open to everyone: color enthusiasts, homeowners, and color pros. Small bits of the content is geared towards color pros, but everyone can benefit from learning how to practically apply extraordinary color strategies.

You’ll learn tactics that are similar to using light reflectance values (LRV) to predict how light or dark a color will look once on the walls — and SO much more.

2-Minute Read

Q. Can someone explain about lightening a paint color by percentages?
A. Adding white is different from cutting the colorant load. It can take A LOT of white paint to significantly affect a color. It depends.

Whenever you cut an existing formula, you’re creating a completely different color. It’s not the same as creating a color string. Color strings are a continuous range.

Often starting with a saturated color moving in regimented steps all the way to a neutral gray. There’s usually a goal to change only one color aspect along the string. E.g. only change saturation but not hue or brightness. Only change brightness but not saturation or hue.

Tangible examples you can check out: Ben Moore’s Color Preview deck the color strips are strings. Ben Moore’s Classic Colors deck the color strips are NOT strings.

Since brightness and saturation are inextricably tied, it is very difficult to create color strings. And it’s highly unlikely to happen at a paint store counter.

When paint color formulas are cut at a paint counter, original colors are not being adjusted. Rather new variations of the color are being created. Due to substance uncertainty of bases and colorants, anything can happen. Won’t know until you mix the color, let it dry and then look at it.

IMO custom mixing color and adjusting architectural paint colors is romanticized to an extreme – especially out there in blogosphere. And the success of mixing and/or adjusting colors is decided before it’s actually done.

In other words, people mistakenly believe that cutting a color by 50% is going to get them a color that’s exactly half as bright and half as saturated so that’s exactly how they see the resulting color.

Because it sounds logical. However, the reality of what happens with paint bases and colorants doesn’t always align with logic.

If you were to measure that same result, either by qualified observer or device, the outcome would very likely NOT be a color that’s half as bright and half as saturated.

Smart paint counter folks know that people will see what they decide they want to see in a color. So, they go along with the cutting formulas meme. Because it’s easier than going into the complex explanation like I just did and then arguing facts vs. perception.

Perceptible color is really just an illusion.

Tweaking Paint Color Formulas. How many of these have you tried:

  1. Adding white to a can of paint
  2. Cutting a paint color formula
  3. Doubling a paint color formula
  4. Made a custom mixed color

Tell me in the comments how it worked out for you? Successful or a tragic waste of time and money?

4 thoughts on “All About Tweaking Paint Color Formulas”

  1. I try to stay away from custom colors if I can, because it’s too time-consuming and it creates too many opportunities for error in future, if the store has to enter the formula by hand. (I did a lot of custom matches when I worked in the paint industry, though. People often needed to touch up an unknown wall color they had inherited from a previous owner; or someone wanted to match a brick or a fabric, and there wasn’t a close enough stock color.)

    I will on occasion alter the percentage of pigment a bit – maybe go up or down 30%. Too great a change in percentage does result, as you said, in a color that has a different personality.

    Item number 1, adding white to a can of paint, is an absolute mistake. If a designer does that, he or she doesn’t really understand coatings and color. Ironically, the lighter the original color, the less adding white will change it. The darker the color you’re trying to alter, the white will lighten it, but will also reduce its chroma (dull it down). I explain it to the customer with a cooking analogy: it’s like pouring milk into a glass of bright green kool-aid – it gets lighter, but it also gets cloudier.

  2. I won four gallons of Modern Masters Pale Gold (latex) at auction ($14 per gallon). The color wasn’t noted in the online description and, as the auction was many miles away, I didn’t preview. So I “assumed” the color was a base or even a white.

    The original plan was to paint the walls in one room to give the room a little sparkle. We thought “sparkly white” would look great!

    In small “batches,” we’ve added a little Pale Gold to various amounts of white latex and painted a primed “board.” Nothing seems to work.

    Any advice is appreciated.

    1. Hi Suzanne,

      That’s a product many decorative finishers would probably know well. I’ve never used it and don’t have any information that would help. I would suggest, however, Googling for a decorative painter’s online forum and post your question there. Here’s one that popped up: Also, you could try the Garden Web Paint Forum on Houzz: Good luck!

      1. Lori! Thank you for your quick reply.

        The faux painting site is either no longer “in business” or closed unless one pays $29.95 a year for “platinum” membership.

        I’ve already received one reply from a Houzzer and will probably get more over the next few days.

        It also occurred to me (duh!) that Modern Masters has a blog ( and readers can leave comments so I’ll try to find a relevant post.

        Again, thank you for responding (and not laughing),


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