What Is a Paint Base Number?

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No matter what brand of paint you're dealing with, there are bases that are the foundation of any color you choose. How those numbers translate depends on each manufacturer's numbering system. But when you're about to paint your living room with Mesa Sunrise, the base paint recommended by the paint chip is not negotiable if you actually want what goes on the walls to look like the chip.

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Coloring Your World by Numbers

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Picking out a paint seems like it should be an easy thing, but there are so many variations on every tone. Choosing paints that are a fun shade of orange may mean navigating chips with names like Tangerine Delight and Tart Orange before you finally decide that Saffron Style is the shade that speaks to you.

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For the paint store staff, the number on the paint chip tells them everything they need to know. It unlocks a recipe for which they'll use a couple of drops of this, a squirt of that, and a big blob of this, all going into one large container of base paint. When blended together, color magic happens.

When a deep freeze in Texas caused a nationwide shortage of paint, it greatly affected what people could choose for their color palette, not because individual colors were lost but because all the base paint got damaged. Those tangerine, carrot, and saffron paints may all be orange, but they also show different warmth levels and opacities that make your walls feel subdued or vivid or moody. Those vivid, moody, or bright undertones are created by using light, medium, and dark base paints.

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So, What Are Base Paints?

In the simplest terms, each base paint in a manufacturer's line comes with a varying level of white or gray in it. With more white pigment, the resulting paint colors are more luminous and lighter. With less white, paints sport darker, deeper, richer tones.

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It's why you can try to replicate a paint chip with a competing company's line of paint, but you'll probably never succeed at an exact match. (It might be fun to try mixing your own paint, though.) That's because no matter how dead-on the rest of the color combinations may be, companies use different base tones. When the paint shortage happened, people would often be frozen out of entire color groups because they couldn't get the right base color for vivid paints or whatever else they wanted to achieve.

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Companies refer to their base paints in a variety of ways, but a number system is common for most manufacturers. Others, like Valspar, use a letter system, like "Valspar base C." However they choose to classify it, the effect is still the same: Specific base coats are required for every individual paint color on each paint chip, and using the wrong base will always fail to get you the color you're after.

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