How to Use Paint Chips to Make Color Choices Easier - Home Decorating & Painting Advice

How to Use Paint Chips to Make Color Choices Easier

DIY Blogger Lindsay Ballard of Makely School for Girls explains the anatomy of a Glidden® Paint Chip to show you just how helpful these little cards can be.


Believe it or not, all of those little rectangle paint chips on a paint store’s wall serve more purpose than to just to make your paint color choices more difficult. Instead of the color chip monster jumping out at you (have you seen that Glidden commercial?), let’s tame the beast and learn more about those little swatches of color.

A color chip generally has two sides with pertinent information to that particular color: the front and the back.

The Front of the Paint Chip
By looking at the front of the paint chip, you can learn several helpful facts about each particular color. Let’s use Glidden paint’s Snow Shadow Blue as an example.


On the right side of the paint chip, you’ll see a letter and number in an oval. The letter itself is the color family classification. On this paint chip, the B identifies this chip as a member of the blue family. Every other paint chip on the wall with a B in the oval is also considered part of the blue family, even if it might look a little different to your eye—like perhaps more green than blue. Glidden paint has identified 8 different color families for its paints: Red (R), Orange (O), Yellow (Y), Green (G), Blue (B), Violet (V), Warm Neutrals (WN) and Cool Neutrals (CN).

Generally, all the colors in the same color family will be housed together on the wall of your local paint store.


The number inside of the oval represents a color’s specific place within that color family. Although it’s not always true, I have noticed that most of the time the sequential numbers are generally steps up or steps down from the next number in the sequence. For example, Pacific Coast Blue, True Turquoise, and Snow Shadow Blue are sequential. As you can see, they are all tropical blue shades, but they vary in color intensity and vibrancy. So, if you find a color that you like and you think you’d like to see close alternatives, just move up or down the color family.

On the left hand side of the chip underneath a color name, you’ll see another series of numbers. Looking at Snow Shadow Blue again, you’ll see that the numbers are: 50BG 76/068.Now in all honesty, these are numbers that you can largely ignore… unless you are a color nerd like me.

But, for my fellow color nerds, I’ll break it down: the 50BG represents the color’s hue. The letters represent where the color lands on a color wheel. So, Snow Shadow Blue is in the Blue Green hue family. The number represents where that color falls within the hue. Snow Shadow Blue's 50 means that it is in the middle of the Blue Green hue. A 00 would mean that the color is closest to the Green hue, and a 99 would mean that it is closest to the Blue hue. The numbers fall between 0 and 99.


The 76 represents the color’s light reflectance value, or LRV. This is essentially the lightness or the darkness of a color, where 0 is pure black and 99 is pure white. You can see that represented in the series of paint chips above, where Pacific Coast Blue (47) is darker than True Turquoise (61), which is darker than Snow Shadow Blue (76).

The 068 represents the color’s chroma. The chroma is the intensity of a color. Less intense colors are closer to a neutral grey, where full chroma colors are brighter, more intense shades. The previous series of paint chips shows that the higher this number, the more intense the color.

The Back of the Chip

Now that I’ve color geeked out with you for a while, let’s flip to the back of the chip to see what we can learn.

There’s obviously a lot of information on the back of the card, but there are two things that I think are the most important.

First, Glidden paint features a picture of a room painted in the paint chip shade, and I think this is critical. This picture shows the color at its very best in beautiful lighting. If you don’t like the color in the picture, you probably won’t like it in real-life conditions in your home.

Second, there is usually a list of paint colors that Glidden has selected as good coordinating colors. Here, Nova White and Aged Stucco Grey have been selected to coordinate with the Hawaiian Teal paint chip. This is obviously just a suggestion and definitely not the only coordinating colors that you can choose. However, the suggestions are great if you feel nervous about making those color decisions yourself.


Hopefully, this detailed look at paint chips makes it a little easier for you to make color choices. Pick your color family and then choose a color within that family based upon its other values. Or just pick a color you like and then move around the color family until you find one perfect for your home.

Open Glidden Color Coach
Glidden Color Coach