Matching Pantone Colors to House Paint Colors – Is a Color Match as Good as Buying the Real Thing?

When color consulting clients look at paint color samples the most common question I get from them (after they choose their colors) is this: Do I have to buy “this” brand of paint to get the color I want, or can I buy something cheaper? The answer isn’t simple. Sometimes the answer is  yes, other times no.

Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore and Pittsburgh Paints are the top 3 National paint brands. There are also excellant specialty and regional paint brands available. Buy the best quality paint you can afford for the best results. High quality paint has more solids, consistent pigmenting and better wearability.
Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore and Pittsburgh Paints are the top 3 National paint brands. There are also excellant specialty and regional paint brands available. Buy the best quality paint you can afford for the best results. High quality paint has more solids, consistent pigmenting and better wearability.

Here’s why. There are at least 3 parts to how a latex house paint color looks: Base tint, pigment and sheen. House paint isn’t just white paint with colors added. Depending upon the color, the paint store selling the brand uses a particular (there can be several choices) tinted base color to which  they then add measured amounts of their color pigments. Each company has their own group of pigments. And some companies such as Benjamin Moore, Pantone or Divine Paints use very particular pigments.

What this means to the homeowner trying to match a paint color from one brand to another (usually cheaper) brand of paint is that there will be differences between brands.  Sometimes you can’t tell the difference, and you’ll be happy with the result. Other times, differences may include subtle things like sheen changes, and sometimes (especially when using Divine Paints) the difference between the actual brand and the cheaper copy results in radical shifts in how the color actually looks on the wall. Depending upon the skill of the paint store professional who matches the color, the differences between the color specified and how that color looks on the wall can range quite a bit.

So what should you do if you want certain colors but want to save money? The first thing I suggest to clients is that they buy a cheaper product from the line of colors they like. That way, color consistency will be the same across the product line with some exceptions. Benjamin Moore for example, won’t sell their Affinity colors in their lower priced product lines because they can’t deliver the exact match and paint qualities.

If purchasing the color sample paint brand isn’t going to work because of availability issues or some sort of arrangement with a painting contractor, then ask to see large samples (dried) of the colors so that you can be sure the color match is acceptable between brands.

Recently a painting contractor asked me about matching Pantone Colors from the Pantone Matching System (PMS). He said that the professional paint stores he worked with were hesitant to match the colors. When this happens, it’s likely because the paint store personnel does not have a clear sense of the base tint that will yield the best result.

The bottom line is that if you’re not willing to buy the brand of paint consistent with your color sample, you take a risk that you won’t get exactly what you want. Buy the best quality paint you can afford from a professional paint store, and  it’s often not a problem. If you’re trying to save money on house paint it’s important to  make an informed decision that works for both your sense of aesthetics and your wallet.


  1. Andy says:

    Interesting article. From a tradesman’s point of view, it annoys me when the cost of a paint becomes an issue. If the colour you want is a bit spendy go for it. Compared to labour costs, materials are relatively insignificant.

    I use Farrow and Ball, which comes under the category of the more expensive brands of paints, and tradesmen perennially bang on about not using it, because it is crazy money compared to the norm. Honestly, for trim especially, the quantities are so small, if a cheap paint with not quite the right colour is £10 a litre and the expensive one with just the colour and sheen you want is £15, so what.

  2. Dane says:

    Hi Christina,

    I enjoy your blog!

    I am completely confused with Pantone. Until just this year, Pantone was not available as paint it was just a ‘color matching system’.

    Pantone doesn’t have a ‘base’ because they are not a paint.

    However, Fine Paints of Europe was so good at ‘color matching’ that Pantone partnered up with them. Well, FPE costs more than double F&B in Canada!

    As a decorator I need a color matching system that my clients can take the name or number to a retail paint store and have duplicated just as a printer can for a magazine with the Pantone color.

    Is this too much to ask for? Pantone is such a great tool for finding the colors I want for my clients it saddens me Pantone is making it so difficult to have B&M or other retailer color match. They don’t do it to textile manufacturers…so why homeowners & designers?

    My guess: ca-ching$

    Frustrated in Canada!


    • Cristina says:

      Thanks Dane for your comment — Glad you’re enjoying my blog.

      I think you’re right, ca-ching$ is the reason.

      It is frustrating because the Pantone system is such a good one on it’s own.

      Locally I rely on getting to know the best color match people at the local paint store — but that doesn’t work beyond a certain geographic radius and there can be unpleasant surprises.

      I understand your frustration.


  3. Alton says:

    Your article is very interesting. I think reading your article may just about save my sanity. I am trying to colormatch my wall paint and I am doing so with just a swatch from the wall. It makes so more sense to talk to the builder and try to determine what the original brand and color was to at lease try color matching with the same paints. My first two color match tries were not bad. They looked like matches on the swatch, but on the wall the touch ups were very noticeably off. I hate to have to repaint the house. But if I do, at least I have an understanding about how to choose another paint and have a chance at getting a match somewhere down the line when I need it.

    • Cristina says:

      There is also a big difference between brands regarding sheen levels. One company’s particular sheen (like eggshell, matte, semi-gloss) may have much more – or less – sheen than another company’s product. Good luck with your color matching efforts.
      Best wishes with your project,

  4. Cal Phillips says:

    Very informative article Christina. I find PMS more exact when matching deep base colors, as each paint manufacture has subtle differences with their products. Sherwin-Williams, Kwal-Howell, and Benjamin Moore are the most experience in our are when it comes to color matching, using PMS.

  5. Joyce says:

    Michigan State University has recently changed it’s official athletic color to Pantone PMS 567. I want to buy paint in the exact color and don’t understand the Pantone system. Do they actually have paint? What is the best way to match the color? Do they have formulas I can get? I know why they call it a PMS color, I feel
    like I am in the middle of that time of the month trying to figure this out!

  6. Greg says:

    Hay great article a really interesting read. As a professional painter and decorator in the UK I will tend to use Dulux trade and colour match. I must say the results are normally pretty good. But I agree with some of your other commentors if the quality is right, go for the one that you like the most. Its your home, splash out lol

Comments are closed.