Paint at half-strength - What does this mean?

lucycakesJanuary 20, 2010

I have seen mentioned here the idea of using paint at half-strength (I hope I have the term right) and am wondering what does that mean exactly?

We have just painted much of our downstairs in BM Pittsfield Buff and I like it, but it looks too intense in the stairwell which goes up to a skylight. Would the same color at half-strength work?

And what do I ask for at my local Ace Hardware? Will they know what this means?

Or if you have suggestions for a neutral that will work with Pitt Buff, that would be good to hear too.

Many thanks for any help you can provide. I've been up to my elbows in paint this week.

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Lori A. Sawaya

You can ask for the amount of colorant added to the base can of paints to be reduced with the intent of lessening the chromaticity or colorfulness of the color. You can also go the other way and have the amount of colorant increased so the color is strengthened or more saturated.

Messing with stock formulas is a slippery slope. Adjusting formulas works for those who are not super particular about the color they want -- they have relaxed expectaions and a flexible color tolerance when it comes to how a paint color is going to look in their space and change the atmosphere. Adjusting formulas is not the most productive path that people with a heightened sense of color acuity should pursue -- because it will never be right for them. The adjusting and tweaking to get it to that "perfect color" can go on freakin' forever. It can get out of control until someone says it's time to stop and focus on the all the right reasons for choosing a paint color instead of continuing to chase an idea of a "perfect color".

As a general practice, I don't do it. It can be far more efficient to just keep looking for the *right* color.

This biggest pitfall is you don't know what it's going to look like until you do it. If you ask for a decrease/increase in colorant, you will own the can of paint whether you like it or not.

Sampling, or testing, paint colors first is standard operating procedure for all paint colors but it is especially important in the case of altering the formula.

If you want to try it, then try it. Just don't get too wrapped around the individual colorants or trying to understand what all the letters and numbers mean on the label. From a homeowner perspective none of that matters -- stay focused on what the end result of combining those colorants looks like. How does the resulting paint color behave in your space is all you really need to know because that's all you can control -- as in does it work or not and WHY.

If it doesn't work, then you need to articulate "WHY" it doesn't work. If you can articulate why it doesn't work, then the color mixer person at the paint store who works with colorants and paint every day can figure out what needs to happen with the formula. That's their job, not yours.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 12:09PM
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Thanks Funcolors - you've supplied good advice. It was along the lines of what I was afraid of - I'm not sure what I would be asking for at the paint store and I don't think that this particular store is well-versed in paint colors.

Hm, so where does this leave me? I could try a sample size with half the colorant or search for another color that would work. The stairwell gets a fair amount of light and I want a small amount of color to contrast with the skirt boards but not be overwhelming and still go with the adjoining Pitt Buff.

Anyone with ideas?

Thanks a bunch.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 12:59PM
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How about going with the next lightest color on the paint strip?

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 1:25PM
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Funcolors gave you the professional knowledge-based answer.
Here is my DIY-er response.
I tried mixing a stock color (SW 7621 Silvermist) at 25% for use on a ceiling just last week. It was the first time I've tried such a thing, and I'll never do it again. What I ended up with can only be described as "IT'S A BOY" blue-
fortunately I'm only out a quart of paint and it wasn't a big job.
I think that certain color pallettes, BM Historic and SW Concepts in Color among them, are harder to work with than pallettes with the traditional "6 to a strip" colors. I've always had great success with using colors within a strip for adjacent rooms or wall/ceiling combos, and in the future that's what I'll stick to.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 1:31PM
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Lori A. Sawaya

Well, gotta try it at least once to know if it's for you or not.

Some colors reduce/increase more gracefully than others. That's advice the professional paint store staff should be providing as well -- they should be able to tell you if cutting a formula is a good idea or not. Finding the right expertise and paint store is really important -- and it's not always easy to find paint people who are color competent too.

I know many people like to take the wall color and 'cut it' for the ceiling. One version of the "right way" to do that is 10 parts white to 1 part wall color. Of course, which "white" matters. Ben Moore's "White" or "Super White" are two good contenders for this job.

You can do 10 parts to 1 part in a small quantity first to see what it looks like. You already have the wall color so you can buy a sample pot or a quart of white to mix a tester of custom ceiling color -- this is an inexpensive way to try your hand at cutting color if you're itchin' to give it a go.

If you like the color you get, you can do the math and mix the total quantity you will need for the whole ceiling. Don't forget to mix extra to save for touch-ups.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 2:07PM
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I don't mix my own colors, but I usually buy paint at a smaller paint store, and the guys there (Par Paints in LA), have always done a good job for me--I've had F & B London Stone mixed at 1/2 in a Ben Moore base, and I was pleased. But I wouldn't trust a big box store to do this right, which may be my own prejudice.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 3:35PM
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I had read someone here say they painted their ceiling at 1/4 the strength and I wanted to try that in my bedroom. I asked the guy at the paint store and he looked at me real funny and said he needed something to color match. After an awkward conversation about it, finally we decided to have him put the quart recipe into a gallon can. Anyway, it worked out perfect. When I started painting it looked terribly green against the unpainted white, but by the time I was done it looked like white and was a nice transition from the walls.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 3:40PM
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rdquilter - I like that idea. Makes me think that maybe I could have them put two quart recipes in a gallon to get to half-strength for the stairwell.

I don't really want to try mixing on my own. I'd be worried about getting the color consistent from one gallon to the next.

Thanks to all for the good advice.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2010 at 4:25PM
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