Color Matching

January 19, 2021

Posted by D. A. Burns

Color Matching

Questions of the month:

  • Will the edge binding match the color of my rug?
  • What can we do if the caulk color isn’t an exact match for my stone/tile grout?

Finding an exact match is rare, but we carry enough colors that selecting one that looks right is not too difficult.  The rule of thumb is to go a shade darker, but customers sometimes prefer a lighter color or even a complimentary contrasting color.

We’ll go on at length to illustrate why a perfect match is a stroke of luck.

#1   Available Materials and Colors

The biggest reason for “close” color choices is the limited availability of finishing materials compared to the huge spectrum of color available in carpet, stone and tile products. 

Manufacturers of finishing products make their color choices based on the expected demand for those colors.  Making and storing a larger array of colors doesn’t make sense when those unsold tubes of caulk dry up on the shelf or edge trims deteriorate with age, so that striking 1960’s chartreuse tile won’t have a corresponding grout or caulk available.

The colors offered will change with design trends as well, so when avocado or mauve (or chartreuse) go out of style, manufacturers stop making products in those colors. 

#2   Dye Lot Differences

A dye lot is simply color mixed at one time in one batch, and any yarn/fabric/carpet/caulk dyed from one batch of color will be referenced to ‘as of the same dye lot.’  Every dye lot will be a little different, so a sample chart may show an ideal match for your project, but the actual product doesn’t match the chart.  We’ve seen the color of materials vary from the sample chart before getting back to being more accurate.

A close to home example of these differences is paint.  If you need more than a gallon mixed the store staff will recommend you stir them together prior to your project.  Even when paint is mixed using a set formula and computerized equipment, you can open three cans of paint and see that each one is slightly different.

This is true even in modern textile mills where colors are measured to the drop by expensive equipment.  Long-term color consistency in fabrics is only achieved by blending the finished fiber of multiple dye lots before spinning them into yarn.

#3   Environmental Changes

Exposure to light, ozone, engine exhaust, and more will alter colors in different ways.  Fading or yellowing from light exposure is common, and plastics and yarns can also fade from contact with ozone produced by heating systems or the byproducts of cooking.

In the Oriental rug world, yarns are dyed in small lots, and while each lot may look the same there are small changes in how well the dye sets (bonds with the fiber).  Abrash is the term used for the varied colors that appear in a once solid color over time and is considered to be a kind of beauty mark that highlights a rug’s craft-level origin.  The abrash look can also be seen in factory made rugs that emulate hand-knotted rugs, but in those cases it’s done on purpose.

Even manufactured tile will vary.  Installers know to open all of their stone or tile boxes and mix them so that one box of a slightly different shade isn’t used all in one place. Grout colors may change enough that a later repair, even made using the original grout, will not match.

A painter repairing a wall and using the original paint will still recommend repainting the entire wall.  The change in light reflectance at the wall corners will help disguise any difference.

Can I Get Custom Colors?


There are dye houses that will custom dye small amounts of fabric and companies that will make a tube of caulk for you … if you’re OK with the extra cost and waiting time.  Just remember that even though they use computerized color scanners and have master colorists, their best color match will still be “pretty close.” 

Note:  If ordering caulk for use in a shower, the caulk will need to be the right product.  Many caulks are not rated for use in wet areas.  Custom dyed fabrics, chosen for area rug trim, need to be tough enough for floorcovering use.

So … a pretty close match is what to expect – and typically, pretty close looks pretty good.

Evaluating Colors

Can You Trust Your Eyesight?

When it comes to color, it is often hard to get consensus.

Why can’t we just all agree?

Well, there are a few factors at play.

The Chameleon Effect

Which set of red squares appear darker in the image below?

And which set of green squares appear darker?


They are actually the same color.  

Our eyes can deceive us when backgrounds change.

Simultaneous Contrast

Is each circle the same color?


The answer is yes.

A light color placed next to a darker color will appear lighter by contrast with its surroundings.


Assimilation is the reverse of the simultaneous contrast effect.

Which yellow background appears darker and warmer?


The yellow under the red stripes appears warmer than the same yellow under the blue stripes.

Successive Contrast

The above effects have been instantaneous.

Other effects are based on the cones in your eyes becoming fatigued.

This is why the world is rosy when you take off green sunglasses.


Metamerism occurs when two samples appear to match under daylight viewing conditions,

but do not match under other lighting conditions, such as fluorescent, incandescent or LED.

Keep in mind …

  • Visual color evaluation is subjective.

  • Observers have differing color vision and, therefore, color opinions.

  • Color differences are difficult to quantify and communicate.

  • Many variables need to be controlled including light intensity,

angle of view, surround color and light source quality.

What does this mean to you?

It means humans performing color evaluation will have significant limitations.

Source:  Datacolor, maker of color measuring and calibration equipment.

Examples of our color selection for carpet and rug finishing materials.





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