• 2016


One of the toughest tasks involved with repairing collision damage is matching the paint color when re-painting a repaired section of a vehicle. That’s because, these days, cars aren’t just red, green and blue. And every vehicle manufacturer seems to have a unique shade of every basic color.

Because of the wide range of shades within a basic color group, getting an exact match on a vehicle (especially one that has been exposed to the elements, for what could be many years) can be difficult. Add in the fact that many colors use metal flake, or other particles, to enhance the color, plus many other variables, and the task becomes even more difficult.

Color matching is not easy. But, it’s critical to get the match right because that’s what your customer expects. No one wants to see a top flight collision damage repair ruined by poor color matching. It’s the last, and probably the most important, step in finishing the repair job. So, here are the variables that can affect getting the job done right and some helpful tips to help make sure the color of the car is never an issue with your customer.


Age of the Paint Over time, the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun erode the quality of the paint. The same paint color on a new vehicle compared to one six years old never looks the same. The goal is to make the paint being sprayed on the repaired section look just like the existing paint on the vehicle, regardless of age.

Light The light under which the paint is seen, whether it’s the light in your body shop, the paint booth, or sunlight when the car is outdoors must be taken into consideration. Each source of light has its own temperature, which makes every color look different when it is viewed under a different source of light.

How the Color is Seen Each person sees the color differently.

Spraying Technique The manner in which the paint is applied is as important as the color matching. All is for naught if the paint is not properly applied.


If all light sources were the same, the light used to evaluate a repair paint job wouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, all light sources are not created equal. Natural sunlight shows all possible colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (Figure 1). Not all artificial light sources, however, show all these colors.

Fluorescent light has more violets and reds than other colors, while the incandescent light has more yellows, oranges and reds. The blue panel (Figure 2) might not look as blue when seen in context with these other light sources.

And since the vehicle being repaired will be seen the vast majority of time outdoors, then sunlight, or an acceptable substitute, is the ideal source to use for comparing colors. Viewing a color under sunlight will give you the truest version of that color.



Your eyes can also be a variable when determining color. Roughly 1 in 8 men have some type of color blindness, but rarely is colorblindness total. In other words, the person does not see a black and white world; rather, the person has trouble distinguishing between shades of red and green, or shades of blue and yellow.

In a male dominated industry, if you have a painter who has great technique, but has problems matching colors, the problem could be his eyes. This inability can be detected using Ishihara plates.

Since color blindness cannot be corrected, use a person who is not color blind to do your paint matching. Or, use a woman to verify color matches. Women are rarely affected by any type of color blindness (about 1 in 230), and have a better memory for color. They are a natural solution for judging and evaluating color.


Many techniques, and some modern technology, can also help you match color. Paint manufacturers continue to develop new and better ways to get the job done. As paint technology continues to improve, the number of colors also increases, making it even more difficult to match color. Three-stage paints, such as pearlcoats, while beautiful, are the hardest colors to match due to the rainbow, or pearl, effect in the paint.

Naturally, paint looks different when it is wet compared to when it is dry. Likewise, paint on a color chip or a stir stick looks different than what’s in the can. The most accurate manual method of matching a solid or metallic color is to use a color test panel.

Tape the panel to a piece of masking paper, then paint it using the same techniques that you use to paint a vehicle. After the paint has fully cured and dried, compare it to the OEM finish. Adjust your mixture or tint, as required.

A recent innovation in the business is color match film. This is where the test panel is actually an adhesive film that can be adhered to the body panel like a large piece of tape, allowing the painter to check the match at different views and contours. Most of the major paint manufacturers also offer paint matching card decks, some providing more than 3,000 colors. Ask your local paint distributor about these card decks.

Technology is also affecting color matching, virtually eliminating human subjectivity and the issues that arise from color blindness. All major paint manufacturers use a device called a spectrophotometer. The latest versions of these tools come with proprietary software that “…allows body shops to precisely measure and match the existing color on any area of the vehicle.”


Color matching is not truly accurate until the paint is sprayed on to the vehicle. Regardless of the best technology, if the paint is not applied properly, it won’t match.

Techniques can always be corrected and refined. Remember, the closer you spray to the surface, the wetter the paint will appear. This also happens when you slow down your speed. This wetter look will make the paint look darker than if it were painted dryer (faster and/or farther away).

Using these techniques is fine as long as that is the desired look. As a general rule, it’s better to paint dryer and apply a couple of coats, rather than spray one wet coat. You can always make a finish look darker by applying more paint, but you cannot remove darkness.

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