Tips for Using Paint Color Fan Decks

Paint color fan decks are the best tools to simplify picking the perfect shades for your house painting, furniture, and decor. Color fans organize all paint color options from a specific brand, taking the hassle and angst out of selecting colors and enabling you to remain inspired and compare all colors from one place. 

Purchasing larger paper samples will help in testing the final paint colors. However, colors in manufacturer-specific fan decks are more accurate and provide the best means for eliminating unnecessary color options. When there are hundreds of color options, a color fan will expedite the process, allowing you to compare and contrast different shades to see if they complement or clash. 

What is a Paint Color Fan Deck?

A paint fan deck, or “color swatches,” is a collection of paint colors arranged in a fan-like format, separating and organizing colors. The colors are sorted by hue, starting with the lightest versions. Individual pages are attached, allowing them to be easily fanned out for comparison. Each color is labeled with a unique name and code, making it easy to reference and communicate specific colors.

Color fans are available in a range of compact handheld versions. A paint color fan deck provides a convenient and comprehensive palette of colors to aid in color selection.


Benefits of a Color Fan

Using a color fan offers several advantages over other methods of color selection. Here are a few key benefits:

  • All Colors in One Place: Instead of having a bunch of loose paper samples to keep track of, a fan deck neatly stores all colors, allowing you to explore various shades while remaining organized. 
  • Side By Side Comparison: Color fans are the easiest way to compare colors. The ability to open up like a fan provides a visual comparison that lets you see how the colors interact. 
  • Color Accuracy: Paper samples will always differ slightly from a painted surface. We will not cover the reasons here but know that dedicated color fans offer the best example of a color on paper.
  • Portability: Paint fan decks are compact and portable, making them convenient to carry around and improving the efficiency of comparing colors under several circumstances. Being transportable indoors or outdoors allows you to conveniently see how light or dark spaces influence every color. 
  • Evoke Creativity: Depending on your personality, having every color at your disposal can lead to indecisiveness. However, more color options will inspire creativity and the discovery of new color variations if used with direction and intent.

Tip: Paint fan decks help select interior and exterior paint colors and stay up-to-date with the latest color trends. Many paint brands release new colors annually, showcasing popular and fresh colors expected to dominate. A fan deck could help you explore color trends to see how they might fit your vision. 

Using A Color Fan Step-by-Step

Using a color fan deck is straightforward and intuitive. Most paint-color fans cost between $10 and $40. Here is our detailed guide on how to use one.

  1. Paint Brand: Choose your preferred paint brand and use their fan deck. Choosing a brand-specific color fan will ensure color accuracy and streamline the process. 
  2. Get Familiar: We recommend familiarizing yourself with the colors within a fan deck. Flip through the pages and get a sense of the available color range. Being able to locate colors will help you narrow down your options quickly. 
  3. Pick Your Main Color First: Choose the color that covers most of the area. Then, choose accent colors or colors for the joining rooms.
  4. Understand the Data: Once you have found a color, it is crucial to identify the color density, base, and LVR to determine how much light the color will reflect and the requirements for painting it. Some colors are for interior use or require primer basecoats.
  5. Consider Lighting: When using the color fan deck, view the colors under the same lighting conditions as your intended area to paint. Consider natural, artificial, and other lighting sources that may influence the color’s appearance.
  6. Comparing Subtle Variations: Compare subtle variations against similar colors or within the same family, shade, or hue. Fan decks allow you to compare slight color undertone variations quickly.
  7. Compare Complimenting Colors:  Choosing colors at opposite ends of a single page on the color wheel creates a seamless contrast because they are in the same family. The colors contrast in intensity but complement one another, sharing the same undertone. 
  8. Accent Colors: The easiest way to choose an accent color is to go bold or choose a lighter or darker version at least two shades apart.
  9. Narrow Down Your Choices: Start narrowing down your choices by eliminating colors you feel are unsuitable. Evaluating a few color selections is more manageable.
  10. 2-3 Final Options: Limit your final options to 2-3 colors.
  11. Large Wall Samples: Purchase larger paper samples to place in multiple areas under different lighting. Consider placing the samples in north, south, and west-facing areas; the color will be affected by the direction it faces. 
  12. Be Thorough: Taking your time and making sure of the color will save you the expense of unneeded paint samples or having to repaint.
  13. Paint Samples: Printed ink paper will always appear different from a painted wall. The final step is to purchase 1-2 paint samples and place them beside each paper sample.

Tip: Multiple fan decks can convolute your process unless you need several color samples to accurately match a specific unknown color. 

Finding Inspiration with Paint Colors

Picking an interior paint color focuses mainly on inspiration, color intensity, and mood. Once these things are established, it reverts to a process of elimination based on preference, and a color fan helps with both. 


Don’t make the mistake of heading to the paint store or picking colors online. When you have a fan deck in hand, you have the most accurate representation of the color at your disposal outside of actually painting. A perfect depiction of a paint fan deck is having everything, side by side, accurately in one place.

So, a fan deck is always the best place to start to find inspiration.

Paint Color Consultation Usage

Having a consolidated tool to view paint colors is a critical part of painting a home. Clients we meet have come to terms with recognizing that it’s time to paint their homes but are often not inspired or don’t know which color to paint. Others have an idea but cannot confidently decide which color. So, most homeowners inquire about color consultations. 

When companies like Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore handed out fan decks to contractors free of charge, we would get them and pass them out to customers who needed them most. 

In our experience, once a color fan was provided, customers quickly went from being overwhelmed to pretty confident in what they wanted. Whether you need a color consultation or not, putting a fan deck in your hands will help your color journey immensely. Decorators and designers use them, so if you get your hands on one, you may not need someone else’s input and influence as much as you thought.

Sherwin-Williams Fan Deck

This fan deck features over 1,500 colors arranged in a gradient format, allowing for easy color exploration and comparison. Sherwin-Williams also provides peel-and-stick samples, which enables you to see the color on a larger scale.


A short time ago, Sherwin-Williams only had a small single fan deck that listed all colors in numerical order. We enjoyed these style fan decks. All we had to do was remember the color number, which enabled us to look up the color quickly. Knowing and accessing the color number quickly was an opportunity to show off our expertise. But the numbers held little value to homeowners. 

Since SW colors have increased, the newer layout makes more sense and serves everyone better. SW introduces new inspirational and HGTV colors. So, consolidating all colors in one place forced SW to coordinate by hue instead of numerically. 

There have been various versions of the Sherwin-Williams fan deck since the consolidation. Some versions provide details that include the base required to mix the color, specifying extra white, deep, and ultra-deep bases, while others do not. This data is essential to assessing the best product and how easily the color is used. If your SW fan deck has these details hold on to it because the next one may not provide such information.

Otherwise, the fan deck is excellent. It offers a hard plastic cover and strap to keep pages in place. It provides information such as Interior Usage Only, LVR, and color categories.

Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap®: Sherwin-Williams offers extensive colors. Their ColorSnap® feature allows one to take a picture and apply the color to a specific area.

Benjamin Moore Fan Deck

Benjamin Moore’s colors include a wide range of neutrals, pastels, and bold hues. Their fan decks are organized into color families, making navigating and finding the right shades for your painting project easy.


Benjamin Moore does an outstanding job treading the line between mainstream and designer. Offering more colors than competitors, Benjamin Moore allows viewing colors that are less common and more unique. But BM colors involve more fan decks to purchase and look through. 

Benjamin Moore has two major fan decks and over 3500 colors. Their color selection enables the best chance of matching undisclosed colors and furnishings. Most Sherwin-Williams white paints are less bright than Benjamin Moore’s. A perfect example is Chantilly Lace.

Another benefit of the BM fan deck is that color codes are assigned a dash at the end. The ending color number represents the base needed to mix the colors. If you are considering Benjamin Moore colors, it’s best to know what you are looking for or have patience to compare the color variations.

Pantone® Color Guide

Pantone® is a globally recognized authority on color, and its color fans are widely used in various design industries. The Pantone® Color Guide offers a selection of standardized colors that ensure consistency and accuracy. This color wheel is renowned in graphic design and branding, where precise color matching is essential.


Paint color fans help determine an existing color from a specific manufacturer when you’re having difficulty verifying. They are also an essential tool for initiating color ideas. 

If paint colors are your nemesis and you don’t have a color fan, get one! Despite the cost, head to your local dealer and take one home to look over and share with your family when your mind is free, clear, and inspired by the potentially new look. 

With hundreds, if not thousands, of colors neatly arranged in a fan-like format, why struggle with color choices when you can have a convenient color resource at your fingertips? Grab your color fan deck today and let your creativity shine through in every area of your home or project.

Color selection is only half the battle. Contact us for your next house painting project in Raleigh, NC, or surrounding areas.

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