Why your touch-up paint looks lighter on your walls, and the expert guide to perfect patching

Matching your touch-up paint to your walls is a near-impossible task. Here's how to get it right (or at least as close as possible)

A living room painted dark blue with an armchair by the window and logs stacked in the fireplace
(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

There really is nothing more frustrating than touching up a chip or scuff mark only for the paint to look a completely different color once it's dried. What was meant to be a simple improvement to a minor imperfection has resulted in your walls looking even worse than they did to start with. So why does it happen, and more importantly, how can we prevent it?

Touch-up jobs seem like the most obvious decision when the mark you're trying to disguise is so small that it doesn't justify repainting the whole wall. In theory, this paint idea should save you time, money, and a lot of effort - but alas, that's not always the case. 'Touch-up painting might sound simple, but sometimes, due to different reasons, you can end up with lighter spots that stick out just as much as the blemishes you are hoping to cover,' explains Sarah Lloyd, paint expert at Valspar. 'Knowing the reasons why a touch-up paint job can look lighter on the walls will help to avoid this annoying outcome.' 

Here, we take a closer look at the reasons why your touch-up paint looks different from the rest of your wall, as well as those all-important remedies to avoid it. 

Lilith headshot for bio
Lilith Hudson

Lilith is an expert at following news and trends across the world of interior design. She regularly shares color stories with readers to help them make the most of their space. For this article, she spoke with interior designers and paint experts to learn more about why your paint touch up paint looks lighter on your walls and how you can fix it

Why is my touch-up paint lighter on the walls?

A kitchen painted in a burnt orange color with orange cabinets

(Image credit: Valspar)

For some reason, touch-up jobs always seem to look lighter on your walls once they've dried. Until now you've gone through life treating it as an inexplicable phenomenon, but thanks to some insight from paint experts we finally have the answer (although it's not completely clear cut). 

'The obvious reason for it to look different is if the paint isn’t exactly the same as originally used,' says Tila Lee, paint expert and founder of Pretty in Paint School. 'This can be as fussy as even making sure it is the same gallon that was used, as each gallon can have tiny inconsistencies in the formula. In fact, most paint suppliers will encourage you to mix up all your paint for a project in one pail before commencing, to prevent such inconsistencies.' 

There's also the fact that the rest of your wall will have inevitably undergone some wear and tear. 'Even indoor paint is susceptible to weathering and has the possibility of fading in sunny areas,' says Tila. 'There is also the possibility that dirt or marks have accumulated just enough around your touchup area that when you add your paint, it will stick out.' 

In almost every case, however, it's external conditions that affect the final appearance of your paint color. Typically, touch-up coats will be lighter if they're applied in cooler temperatures than the initial application. If the reverse is true, the touch-up coat will likely appear darker. Combined with the lack of sanding and priming, this is because the wicking rate (the time for the moisture to be absorbed into the surface) will be different from the original application. 

How to touch-up your walls

The good news is, improving the final appearance of your touch-up paint isn't out of your power completely. While getting an exact match is unlikely, there are some steps you can take to ensure the closest likeness possible.

1. Start by sanding and priming the area 

When it comes to how to paint a room, sanding and priming your wall before your paint is a crucial step. With that in mind, you should do the same to your touch-up areas. 

'Start by taking a sponge or cloth with some soapy water and clean off the area and allow to dry,' advises Matt Kunz, President of Five Star Painting, a Neighborly company. 'Spackle in any holes that are there, and be sure to prime the spot that needs painting. The primer will help improve both adhesion and help the color match.' 

2. Always use the same paint

blue bedroom with books lining the shelves

(Image credit: Jennifer Hughes)

Before you take your brush to the imperfection on your wall, make sure you're using exactly the same shade as you did when you first painted. Contrary to what you may have thought, if you still have the same tin that you originally used hiding somewhere it's best to use that instead of buying a brand new one. 

'If you can’t use exactly the same gallon you used to paint the project, you will need to make sure you have the exact same product and color formula that was used,' says Tila. If you don't remember the specific hue, take a chip into a store with a color matching service. 

3. Replicate the conditions

The question of how long paint takes to dry differs hugely depending on the external conditions. Since they're the most likely factor responsible for altering the appearance of your paint, you should try to replicate them as closely as you can. 

'If you painted your walls in the summertime, make sure to touch up in similar conditions, as the temperature can affect your color,' says Sarah at Valspar. Besides the temperature, humidity, airflow, and even the time of day can impact the way your paint dries. 

3. Apply paint using the same tool 

Pink painted living room with black and white furnishings

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Finally, you'll want to make sure you apply the paint with the same painting tool you first used, be it a brush, roller, or pad. 'This is because any change in the texture or buildup of the paint on the surface can change the way its sheen looks and therefore change the way the color looks,' Tila explains. 

'Whether you are repainting the whole wall or just adding small details, it’s good advice to take your time and be patient,' adds Sarah. 'When applying small touches of color, it’s better to proceed by overlapping several thin coats, allowing each one to dry completely before applying the next. This will help to blend the color and reduce the contrast between the touch-up and the surrounding paint.'

If in doubt, re-paint

A touch-up job might be the easiest solution in some cases, but if a job's worth doing it's worth doing well. In other words, if your imperfection is really bothering you and you think you'll struggle to match your touch-up job to your walls, then it's probably worth painting the room again. 

'It's hard to get touch-ups to ever match perfectly,' says Matt. 'In most cases, I'd recommended painting corner to corner, instead of doing spotty touch-ups.' According to Tila, the time taken trying to make touch-ups look good often takes almost as much time as just painting the whole wall anyway. If you want to save yourself the hassle and have a paint job you can be truly proud of, you now have an excuse to completely redecorate.

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Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.