Matching the Same Paint Color in a New Brand

The Trick to Identifying Pigment Codes on Art Paint

Different paint colors in cups with art brushes sticking out.


When you're switching from one brand of paint to another, how can you be sure you're getting the same color? It's not always easy, but if you know where to look on the paint tube, you can take a lot of the guesswork out of buying new paint.

Finding a Pigment Match

The key to knowing what is in a tube of paint isn't the generic or common name given to the color. A cadmium red from one brand can be different than the cadmium red from another manufacturer. The difference may be subtle or it may be quite apparent, which is why so many artists are hesitant to switch brands.

When shopping for paint, look instead for the "color index name," or the pigment code and number. Exactly where this is at on a paint tube label varies from brand to brand, but any decent paint will have it.

The color index name starts with one of 10 pigment codes. For instance, you will see PB (Pigment Blue), PR (Pigment Red), or PY (Pigment Yellow). This is followed by a number for a specific pigment. Every different pigment used for paint has a different color index name.

As an example, let's assume you're looking for French ultramarine. Generally, this hue of paint uses the pigment PB 29, or Pigment Blue 29. When you find a tube marked French ultramarine, look to see if it actually contains PB 29. If it does, it should be nearly identical to the color you're familiar with.

You can apply this practice to almost any paint color in your art box. The catch is that you need to have the old tube of paint to know if the new one is a match. Don't throw that empty tube away until you've shopped for its replacement, or at least noted the pigment it uses.

Exceptions to the Rule

In general, the color index name will guide you in selecting a matching paint. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule.

If a paint color seems to be available in two versions and one has the word hue after it, it's likely that they're made from different pigments. The hue version is usually made from cheaper pigments, though sometimes it's modern-day equivalents of old pigments that may not be lightfast or are poisonous.

For this reason, it's not always possible to avoid hue paint because the historical color may have been discontinued. Reputable paint makers do their best to recreate the color, however, so it's not necessarily something you can or have to avoid.

If a paint is a cheaper or student's quality brand, extenders or cheaper pigments may be added to stretch the more expensive pigments. The tube label should tell you if another pigment has been added and this will indicate that it's a mixture of pigments.

You do have to be careful because some cheaper brands of paint don't tell you everything you need to know and may not list all the pigments used. It's one more reason to be wary of being too frugal when it comes to the paints you buy. Always keep in mind that paint is the artist's most important tool, so shop wisely.