The Art of Color Matching

Dec. 1, 2016
A color expert shares how shop owners can stay on top of advancements and trends in color matching

Color matching has come a long way since the days of painters referencing their color chip books. Over the years, a number of new tools and techniques have revolutionized the way that vehicle colors are matched. Phil Matisak, manager of automotive color marketing at Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, has been around to see those changes. Matisak started as a painter in the 80s and now specializes in color tools and color formation. Matisak shared with FenderBender how shop owners can stay on top of these trends and the essentials every painter should have in his or her arsenal. 

Since you started in the collision repair industry, what changes have you seen when it comes to color-matching technology? 

The way that color labs do work has changed. Paint technicians use tools differently because the technology available has changed. When it comes to the technician's side of the business, things have changed drastically. In the 80s, the tools that were available were simple and crude. We used color chip books as reference material to get a visual indication of the color code. This was how it was determined whether a vehicle was blue metallic or blue solid. There was very little when it came to what we know now as “alternate” or “variant decks.” Those were introduced in the early 90s. This allowed painters to see color variation. In the middle of the 90s, color electronic tools emerged. I remember having a conversation in the 90s saying that every shop would have a spectrophotometer. It’s been 20 years and it’s become more mainstream, but plenty of shops still don’t use it. The technology has come a long way in the past 3–5 years. 

Why do you think it has taken so much longer for some of those tools and technology to catch on? 

We’re getting better with technology, which is providing us information that we can actually use to create things quicker and create more understandable technology. 

Are there any new color trends or paint techniques that shop owners should be on the lookout for in the next few years?

The trends have actually already started. What we’ve seen in the last two model years is that the OEs are highlighting certain colors to really differentiate their products. There’s been an introduction of really bright, clean pigmentation. We’re seeing multi-layered finishes. Those new colors may involve a new process, which painters need to be aware of.

How can shop owners make sure they are staying on top of these trends? 

Make sure you’re having conversations with your paint suppliers. Stay on top of trends by reading industry publications. Make sure that your technicians are properly trained and have the proper equipment. If a vehicle with a unique color arrives at your shop, make sure you know the right application techniques and have the right equipment. Paint companies can supply shops with listings of what is needed for different vehicles and colors. This information is essential. Not only for the painter to do the job right, but for the estimator. The information is needed so that the estimate can be written correctly. Painters need the information so that they can know if they need to order anything different or if they need to learn a new process. 

What advice would you give to a painter that is having a difficult time with color matching? 

We talk a lot with painters and a lot of their challenges can quickly be taken care of by talking them through the process and reminding them of the proper technique and process. A lot of their challenges arise when painters are not following the set processes that they should be. When a painter faces a challenge with a difficult color, I would advise them to go back to the fundamentals.

Are there any tricks to guessing what color trends will be popular in the future? 

We’ve seen in the past that a new set of colors might correlate with the fashion or the home industry. You may see a trend with a few vehicles, but the vast majority of the vehicles that will come through a collision repair shop will correlate with vehicle sales. What I mean by that is that the popular vehicle colors—black, white, silver and charcoal—will remain popular. Neutrals will always come through a shop. 

What tools should every painter have at their disposal?   

A lot of the equipment is basic. It’s important to have a simulated daylight source to check color. This could be as simple as a Sun Gun or going outside with the vehicle to check it under daylight. Painters need to have the proper guns. Beyond that, they need to have the proper techniques down. Something I see painters do wrong all the time is checking the color in the wrong place. Color can vary greatly based on the location on the car. Painters need to check the color right next to the repair area. Make sure your painters have time to check the color near the repair area and that the area that is being checked is dry and free of scratches. 

What’s the one thing a shop owner should invest in if he or she wants to improve the paint department? 

Using electronic tools saves a tremendous amount of time. Using the old way of matching colors with chips, mixing and creating a sprayout card can take a lot of time. Using a spectrophotometer can reduce that time drastically. Instead of taking 7–10 minutes, using the spectrophotometer can cut that job down to four minutes.

What can shop owners be on the lookout for when it comes to advances in color technology? 

Electronic tools are moving to a mobile format. Paint technicians can be out on the lot looking up colors and bypass the hassle of having to go to a computer and look up the code.