How Do You Match Paint Color Already on the Wall?

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated July 2, 2021
view of large living room with blue walls and light blue furniture, wood floor, and white bookshelves
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Patching a wall can be a terrific solution to many household problems: it can fill the hole where an old family photo used to live, fix a spot where your handyman cut into the wall to repair some old wiring, or mend other similar blemishes on your wall. After patching, however, it’s likely you’ll be left with a mark that does not match the original paint color you chose for your house. Here are several surefire methods to turn a patch from unsightly to imperceptible.

1. See if you still have your original paint, and check to make sure it’s still good.

If it's unopened, you’re in luck: without exposure to air, most latex and water-based paints can last up to 10 years. Alkyd and oil-based varieties can even last 15 years. If you’re in the safe window, open the paint and test it to be sure it hasn’t spoiled: if, after stirring, it feels lumpy or grainy, it may be time to toss it and buy more. If your paint has been opened, hope may not be lost. You’ll still want to check for any lumps or graininess after giving it a good stir, and also see if it’s giving off an unappealing odor. If none of those apply, pour it through a paint strainer to remove any paint that has hardened and gotten mixed in, and paint a piece of cardboard to confirm it applies smoothly. Even if your paint has spoiled, you may still use the can as a reference to create a match at your local hardware store.

2. Use the existing wall.

Suppose you don’t have your old paint can. In that case, you can cut a small piece of drywall from a low-visibility area (behind the couch, say, or next to an outlet) using a utility blade and bring it into your hardware store to match. They will use a color-matching scanner called a spectrophotometer (say that five times fast). Note that most paint shops need at least a one-inch square to work with.

3. Determine the finish.

Note what kind of finish your wall has: is it flat, eggshell, semi-gloss, or gloss? Your mixer will need to know this as well.

4. Temporarily remove a fixture.

Another way to match the color is to remove an outlet cover or vent painted the same shade as the wall and bring that in. 

5. Match using an app.

Many of the major paint companies offer apps that will help you match the right color for your wall. It’s much easier than going back and forth to the store to pick up and return paint chip samples, but note that the color might appear different in-person, depending on your screen’s resolution, brightness, and other factors.

6. Get a color sensor.

There are many sensors on the market these days, and most use Bluetooth and your smartphone to match a photo you upload with paint colors from several brands. Since the sensor “reads” the color with its own light source, they can be more reliable than using a photo taken with your phone, and many sell for as little as $50.

side shot of man painting white wall with white paint, holding roller brush and paint can with blue ladder in background
JGI/Tom Grill via Getty Images

7. Dig through your closet.

If none of the options above are available, look for a favorite t-shirt, sweater, or towel—or something else in the house that is the same shade as the wall—to bring into the store for them to match using the spectrophotometer. 

8. Figure out how much paint you’ll need.

If you’re just looking to cover a small hole, you probably won’t need much. Still, many experts say that re-painting an entire wall will make the patch less noticeable—and it might be an excellent excuse to give the whole room a facelift with an alluring, bright color.

9. Use the right tools for the size of the job.

You should choose a paint roller cover with a nap (the length of the roller cover fibers) appropriate for the smoothness of the wall. For completely smooth walls, you’ll want a three-eighths or half-inch nap roller cover. If the wall is textured, use a three-quarter-inch nap.

10. Nail your technique.

Prime the patch first, then apply your paint using the roller. You’ll want to apply two or three thin coats about a foot in each direction from the patch, and feather out from the center area, lifting away from the wall as you go. You should only use a brush when you’re cutting in corners.

11. Wait.

You won’t know how well the freshly painted area has blended in until it dries, so take a break, go on a walk, and come back later to make your final evaluation of how your hard work turned out.

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