Color Shift: Why Shift Happens – Samples

Why does shift always seem to happen at the worst possible time? We can avoid many unforeseen issues by simply making samples first.

Do any of these scenarios ring a bell? We have a deadline to meet, the materials came in late or inconsistent, the finisher quit, the customer is demanding that everything be exactly the same color. These are just a few of the things that can derail us into shift happening if we do not use our story board samples.

SAMPLES are a means to an end. No one really likes making samples. Yet without making them how can we get an exact visual of what the customer has in mind to be the final color and what they expect as the appearance of the project. We also need to make the samples so we can plan the design and production schedule to achieve the approved color selection from our client.

One of the common complaints I hear from customers is, “How many samples do you make before charging extra?” Sometimes when we start making the samples, our customers start requesting more samples to help them narrow down the selection from the first few color samples you did. This can get very time consuming and expensive in labor and materials. At what point do we then start charging extra for the samples? Can you charge for the samples? The answer is YES, you must charge for the samples otherwise you could find yourself making samples forever and losing all your profits in the process. Select the number of choices or range of color selections you wish to make as your standard procedure and then let the customer know right up front when you are negotiating the contract how many samples are included and how much each sample will cost after that. If you have a set standard, and a cost for additional samples more times than not the customer chooses from the first selection.

The samples should be made with the same material that used for the job. Substrate color, texture, and grain are all influencers in our color. By making the samples with your project materials versus some wood of the same species that has been lying around your shop will minimize unnecessary color shift that many times is coming from our substrate. Try to make the samples all the same size and have a cover sheet to protect them from natural light. It is also a good idea to have a disclaimer and printed label with the company name on the samples that includes space for a description of the finish and the date.

When making your samples, be sure you are “realistic” with your dry times. Developing a color sample in 15 minutes from beginning to end will NEVER match your project when the dry times and staging are different. DO NOT RUSH See picture #1 

There is value in samples. Use the samples as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. They can be used as a marketing and sales tool, production aid, and insurance policy. ALWAYS make a story board on your samples or have a separate step panel to show how the sample was developed. Your sample is the first physical example of your work that the customer sees. It will be the tool that justifies your price. It allows them to touch, see and feel the quality of your finish which you will be judged on. The samples also help the customer understand the amount of work that goes into the finish.

Why is a step panel important? It always delivers consistency and time savings to your job! Following a story board every step of the process will insure that consistent results occur. I see hundreds of shops, every shop that uses a step panel to follow their color and process makes a profit. They only finish once. The shops that just wing it, assuming that the same “process” will net the same color are the ones that usually end up reworking parts of the job that had a slight color variance in the substrate that was not addressed early —because they did not have a visual story board to check against. Checking your color against the “standard” with each piece; makes it easy to correct slight color shifts BEFORE you move to the next step. Remember you are working with a natural living substrate that is always changing from day to day based on temperatures, humidity, and light. With endless variables that can shift our color, written applications only get us half way to consistency.

Wood will change from the moment it comes from the saw mill to the last coat of finish to several years later and beyond. Color shift never ends. The change that exists in the same species of wood is difficult to achieve consistency. Like many materials, wood changes in sun light, some fade to a grayish hue, others darken. Some woods even undergo chemical changes that chemically change its color. All woods will change color and darken over time with exposure to light. Even a “non-yellowing” finish cannot stop this from happening. The wood will still change color beneath the coating. UV blockers can be added to the coating to slow this process, acting similar to sun tan lotion, but just like suntan lotion will not stop you from getting a tan, it will control how much your skin is affected. See picture #2

In this picture, the far left, #1 has no sun exposure on bare wood. Next to that, #2 did have sun exposure on bare wood. #3 shows the wood coated with a “non-yellowing” coating. #4 shows the wood coated with a non-yellowing coating with UV added.

Color shift can occur when different types of clear coats are applied, the importance of the story board and samples are to see BEFORE the project is complete if the coating chosen will affect the final color and appearance.

Over a very short amount of time, you will have developed a library of color samples that you can reference and use with new clients, so the time spent on making your story boards and samples are never a waste of time but rather an investment in efficiency, consistency, and procedures.
Next blog, we will discuss how many of the common applications and practices we do each day with dyes and stains can cause shift to happen. Until then enjoy the “dog days” of summer.