Paint Chips – Are You Stealing?


I’ve featured quite a few paint chip projects here on Craft Gossip. Some creative ideas have been to make coasters or wall art, create monograms and colorful garlands, or even fun note pads, and that’s just to name a few. There are hundreds more out there in blogland, including my own paint chip clock. It seems as of late though, there’s a bit of an uproar over whether or not it’s ethical to take paint chips for crafting instead of for their intended purpose. So does that mean there are a bunch of sneaky crafters out there looking over their shoulders as they grab stacks and stacks of paint chips to make projects from? Or is it a completely innocent act where no ill will is intended?

This question has come up several times across the blogosphere. I personally think that it’s an acceptable practice, kept within moderation. What that means is I think it’s okay to grab a few here and there, but going in and cleaning out Home Depot is not cool. Another thing I don’t think is acceptable (again, my own opinion) is to take paint chips to make projects in quantity that you will benefit monetarily from. So selling the finished pieces made from paint chips is a no-no in my book. By making a profit from these, I believe there’s some ethics in question, but if you are making projects for your home or as a gift, I can’t imagine that you are emptying the paint chip racks faster than the Home Depot guy can fill them.

There are plenty of differing opinions out there. Some say it’s totally wrong, others say it’s fine in moderation, and others don’t seem to think quantity matters at all.

But is it really important what we think? What about the paint manufacturers? After all, it’s stacks of their paint chips that we are consuming, so what do they think about the whole controversy?

Certainly you’ve seen the colorful paint chip commercials from Sherwin Williams. There are several, like this one here and then there’s the bee one here. While there are no indications that they are suggesting you use paint chips in your craft projects, they certainly do offer some creative inspiration in these spots, wouldn’t you agree?

I’ve actually been meaning to address this concern for quite some time. I’ve even received comments here on Craft Gossip on paint chip projects where people object to their use as an art/craft supply. So I set out to contact the paint manufacturers and get the answers, once and for all. After doing a a little research on this topic, I found that Andrea from Hand MAKE My Day wrote a post on this very topic after her Paint Chip Address Cards sparked a controversial commentary from her readers. She actually contacted the folks at BEHR who responded in a positive manner and agreed that using paint chips in crafts is acceptable, provided that the projects were not being sold for profit. You can see Andrea’s opinion post here –>  Using Paint Chips for craft projects? Is it ethical? ( Paint Chip Gate ).

I contacted several paint manufacturers to get their opinions. I reached out to Behr, Glidden, Sherwin Williams, and Martha Stewart. Here are their responses…

Eric Stasiowski, Director of Communications at Akzo Nobel Paints LLC, AKA Glidden, says “Paint chips are an important element of the overall color and paint selection process. They can be expensive to produce, yet a critical tool, especially for nationally distributed brands like Glidden. You and your readers may be interested to know that a special printing process is utilized to produce them in order to ensure a perfect color match when mixed with paint. So, although we respect the creativity and talents of those who use color chips for purposes other than painting, it can compromise our programs at retail. Of course, if they inspire those who use them to paint a room, then it’s all worth it!”

A public relations representative for Sherwin Williams provided this response from the company: “One thing for crafters to consider is to talk with paint retail outlets directly as stores may have out-of-date paint chips that they’d be happy to provide. Another option might be for crafters to ask a retailer if they will order and sell them bulk quantities of paint chips.  In short, if crafters explain the project and their need for paint chips, and work directly with the staff of a store that sells paint, they may find a solution to get the supplies they need.”

The folks at BEHR provided the following response: “We’ve been tickled pink to see all the creative ways BEHR fans use leftover paint chips!  From our mobile application to our new blog all about color, we offer innovative and interactive tools that help consumers build confidence in their color choices.  Certainly the in-store experience at The Home Depot is essential to that.  Our comprehensive color palette lets customers find a way to bring beautiful color into their home –  once they’ve tackled a painting project, we encourage do-it-yourselfers to use and recycle paint chips in interesting ways.  Mostly, we hope the paint chips inspire our customers – whether in a 8 oz. sample or gallon size, we love seeing how colors come to life on the wall!” 

So there you have it. Clear as mud. Right? The responses range from direct to subtle and leads me to believe that there are just as many differing opinions in the manufacturing realm as there are among us DIYers. To illustrate that point, I reached out to the crafting and DIY community as well.

Carissa from Carissa’s Creativity Space : “I think there are definitely better ways to do it than others. If you check in with the store owner or manager, you can ask if they have extras or what they do with discontinued colors / end of season stock so that you can come rescue it. Or if you had a legitimate paint project you needed chips for and then repurpose them… even better! I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a paint store to take chips solely for a craft project unless I had permission or a legitimate second use for them (like, you know, painting).”

Jennifer from Always in Wonder : “I paint a lot, and am always running into Home Depot to get paint or look at paint chips for colors. I usually bring home the paint cards and samples every time I go in. Sometimes I save my sample cards, sometimes I toss them. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable grabbing a stack of the paint cards to specifically do a project with them though. That might feel like taking advantage.”

Alexa of the blog The Swell Life : “I personally don’t see anything wrong with it if you take a few for a small project, but if you are doing a large canvas or wall installation and stealing samples, that’s another thing. I can’t imagine that people taking them for ‘testing’ with their wall keep them after they finish their project, they probably get thrown away. And honestly, I wouldn’t feel as guilty taking them from Lowes or Home Depot as I would a local franchise. It would be much more of an expense for a little guy to purchase and re-order.”

Shannon from Madigan Made : “I’ve only made one small project from a couple of paint chip samples I had. But I’ve mimicked the look of paint chips on other projects by just using different shades of scrapbook paper. Using paper seems like a decent solution if you want to do a large project but are hesitant to take a bunch of samples from the paint store.”

Donna from Funky Junk Interiors : “Taking them for the sole reason of creating with them I’d regard as theft unless one specifically asks and offers advertising on where they got the chips from. I mean, why would a paint store offer such a thing otherwise? Reusing the ones you’d just throw out is a whole other matter but does entice others to create with them as well… and here we go again. Is it wise? This applies to pallets and paint stir sticks too! One needs to ask at all costs! For anything unless you find a stash of something at a thrift or the curb. And that’s still iffy because others don’t know that’s where you got your stuff from. Definitely a grey area here.”

Alexa raised an interesting topic as well. Who bears the cost of those paint chips? The manufacturer or the retail outlet? Turns out both. Some manufacturers sell the paint samples to the retail outlets, it really just depends on each store and paint company. Other manufacturers provide the paint sample cards to the retail outlet for free to help promote their color choices. Store employees know they were free and may not see any harm in allowing you to take as much as you please.  That sounds to me like it’s up to YOU to be the ethical one.

I did glean some good tid bits from all of this, let’s see if you caught them too:

1) Sherwin Williams suggested that you ask the retail outlet if they have any paint chips for discontinued colors. Ask what they do with them. Do they toss them or recycle them? You can ask them to put your name and phone number on a sticky note where employees will see it with a note to call you when they pull out the discontinued colors.

2) Sherwin Williams also suggested that if you want large quantities to see if the retailer will order some in bulk for you. This would solve the ethics question, especially when selling your paint chip creations.

3) Granted, even if you ask, some employees won’t care and will just allow you to take what you want. So I guess it’s up to the manufacturers to decide how they want to educate the retailers in these situations, and up to you to do what you think is right.

So what’s the solution? Well, I don’t know if I have a solution, but I can provide a suggestion. Andrea from Hand MAKE My Day mentioned this in her post and I think it’s brilliant and a fair return. If you plan to make a paint chip project and blog about, be kind to that manufacturer and give them a shout out in your post. The paint manufacturer will receive free advertising and exposure in exchange for that handful of free paint chips you grabbed (not for their intended purpose). If you grabbed BEHR chips, then take a picture and show your readers which colors your chose, and say thanks. Thanks to BEHR, or Sherwin Williams, or Glidden. Say thanks for providing you with beautiful colors with which to be creative and express your crafty talent. What goes around, comes around. So share the love and as always, give credit where credit is due… even when it comes to paint chips. :)

Special thanks to Glidden, Sherwin Williams and BEHR for quickly answering my questions about their great products.


  1. says

    I think the ethical thing to do would be to ask a store MANAGER — not an employee — whether you could order some to purchase. If the retail outlet pays for the paint chips (and my bet is that they do) then they most certainly need to pass that cost on to the customer. They do that by increasing the cost of paint.

    If the paint company absorbs the cost of the paint chips, then that cost is already factored into the cost of paint…. but even so, this newfound use of paint chips will change how many they need to make!

    So…ask a manager… offer to buy them… even if you’re not making your items for profit. If you’re making them for gifts or even personal use — if you’re not making them from leftover paintchips from your home dec project — you’re certainly NOT using them because you’re buying paint!

    JMHO — thanks for asking! :)

  2. says

    No doubt about it, there are some fantastic projects using paint chips. Every time I see one though, I wonder just how long it will be before we have to start paying for them because people are taking so many of them.

  3. says

    In my mind there is no gray area here, if you are taking something offered free and in good faith for a purpose other than what it was intended then you are stealing. I know that the paint chip decks that I BUY cost well over $20 each, with some being as much as $40 or more. Would you walk in and sweep that off the counter and into your purse?…

    Just engage your ethics.. most places have boxes of old cards that they keep for help in matching up older paint colors– ask them. This is how I got 3 complete decks of the original MS paint colors- it was easy, simple and ETHICAL…and no mine are for paint work not crafts.. still love those colors!

    In the end this is paint chip art, who really is going to die if you don’t do this project??

  4. says

    Whether the chips are provided to the retailer for free or not, costs are ALWAYS passed along to the consumer in the end. The manufacturer may say the chips are free, but you can bet your bottom dollar that the cost is included in the price of the paint. The retailer, in turn, passes that cost onto the consumer. That’s how capitalism works.

  5. says

    This topic really caught my attention! Just this morning I was reading about a paint chip project in a magazine, and wondering about the ethics of it all. I’ve been tempted to take paint chips for projects, but it felt vaguely inappropriate, so I didn’t. After reading this article, I would not feel comfortable taking paint chips without permission from the store manager. I never thought about asking for outdated samples, which is a great solution! If I used paint chips obtained this way, I would definitely be sure to include that fact if I wrote about the project or shared it online. I’ve seen lots of adorable paint chip creations, and I don’t think the people who made them had any ill intent. I think it’s just one of those things you might not think about until someone else mentions it! Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention Amanda!

  6. says

    Hi – a similar “paint chip” situation is happening in the online auction world with cross stitch patterns. Many, many of the sellers get “free” packing/shippiing materials from the post office and use them inside of a plain package or box to cushion and protect the patterns. Yesterday I got a brown manilla envelope and the pattern on the inside was inside of a home made folder which was a brand new priority mailing envelope. These envelopes and boxes are free to take and the cost of them is incorporated in the final mailing fee. However, if the seller then repackages into a plain box or enevlope, the post office receives nothing for the materials they gave. Is this stealing too? thanks, Karen

    • says

      Hi Karen, I personally think it is. While most people would argue that they are free, while in fact they are, in your example they are not being used for their intended purpose. Good point!

  7. Sacha says

    Hi there, paint chips don’t only go to stores – Architecture and design firms usually get boxes of them for use in their design libraries as well. If you have an art & craft recycling center (like SCRAP here in Portland) a lot of firms will donate old design library materials to them so you may be able to find them there. Or, if you know someone at a firm, they may be able to keep and outdated box for you when the reps come to update the colors.

  8. Joan Thilges says

    We owned a paint and decorating center for 28 years. Our paint supplier, Benjamin Moore, did not charge us for the chips. But we were limited with how many we could order and it took over a week for replacement chips to come. So even with permission, never, never take all the chips in the slot of the same color. Always leave several for paying customers. And do NOT, I repeat do Not ask for chips in a store where you don’t shop. That is the height of wrong! Someone has to manually go through the whole rack and order missing chips so you are wasting the stores time and costing them $. And never take paint stir sticks for projects. These are expensive and the store does pay for them. We would have people order them for crafts and pay us at least what we paid. Same goes for paint caps and can openers. The store pays for these things.
    Please be curteous and don’t be upset if the store policy doesn’t allow you to load up on paint chips. They’ve evidently been burned in the past. And FYI, the store pays over $50 for each and every wallpaper book and pays for every carpet, flooring and window treatment sample so don’t be surprised if they are unwilling to give them away when discontinued.

  9. Vivienne @ The V Spot says

    If I took them to do a paint chip project? Stealing.
    If I used ones I already had laying around?
    Being crafty. (but in a good way).

    When in doubt, ask the manager.

  10. Sharon Collins says

    I needed some paint chips for a book I was working my way through. I got what I wanted & went to the manager @ Home Depot in Alexandria, VA & asked how much I could pay for the samples. I explained what I was doing, they were Behr I think with a few glidden. The manager said I owed nothing. He appreciated I had asked & explained what project I was doing. I say ask & then thank. This shows you are considerate of their bottom line & appreciate their time.

  11. marlene says

    I would not take paint chip cards. If I was buying paint only. Otherwise you are stealing for a purpose they were not intended.

  12. Andrea Huber says

    Reading all of the responses from the paint manufacturers led me to believe that they all care about this issue, and that they feel it is dishonest or stealing.

    Joan Thilges’ post was an excellent description of how sales collateral costs manufacturers and retailers a lot of money. They are willing to give them to you for the purpose of choosing colors for your painting projects, NOT your paint chip projects.

  13. says

    Thanks for the great article Amanda!

    I like the suggestion from Sherwin the best – ask for the discontinued ones that are going to be thrown out. I’ve honestly never done a paint chip craft, but that’s probably what I would do (and given what the Sherwin rep said, I would ask specifically for their chips). Other than that, I think people need to worry about themselves and their own ethics. I wouldn’t take a stack of paint chips for a craft project and I would also not leave a comment on a blog entry calling someone a thief or accusing them of stealing. In my opinion, neither are good practices.

  14. Cheryl Balmas says

    I’m sorry but threads like these make me happy I didn’t decide to start a blog after all. Who needs this kind of debate over paint chips. People are taking this way too serious and gee, now, thanks for bringing this to the attention of all the paint manufacturers who will now probably start monitoring how many paint chips we take. If people weren’t so judgemental and hadn’t started finger pointing and getting up on their high horse on what others should and should not be doing this wouldn’t even have been an issue. I wish people would just monitor their own behavior and stop pointing out what others may or may not be doing wrong. If you can’t post something nice just ignore. I’ve actually asked paint stores if they want me to return my unused chips and they said it was not necessary and I’ve been known to take as many as 30-50 at a time. At least the craft projects are RECYCLING the paint chips and not taking up space in land fills. Plus, its free advertising for the paint company! Be happy people, there are more important issues to quibble about in this day and age.

  15. Lou says

    So Cheryl, what you are saying is that it was okay to take paint chips when the paint companies didn’t know you were doing it? Doing something because you think nobody notices is never the right reason. Creating a DIY article using paint chips NOT leftover from a painting project and posting it on the web is suggesting that others do the same. That is how the issue came up.

  16. Rach says

    Great article, I have always wondered what paint companies thought of all of this. In fact, I googled it just now after seeing yet another cringe-worthy paint chip project on pinterest and that is how I ended up here.

    I sincerely appreciate all of the time and dedication it takes for creative bloggers to do what they do to entertain readers like me. So, even though the paint chip thing is a pet peeve of mine and I do unfollow blogs when they do a paint chip project, I see no need to insult or criticize them in their comments.

  17. mary says

    i personally would go into a store and take three here or there or maybe ten all together of all kinds of colors to use for crafts and i could only say from my expierence that i love crafting … but i had found myself acually going back and getting those colors in paint or the names on them.. for instant better homes and pick up paint for no reason for crafting.. so i think in a way in my expierence i went back and bought myself there paint all because i went and picked up a few of the cards… and i still to this day pick them up and i acually got some for fourth of july colors and now i decided to go back for the paint because i am going too do some rock crafting ..
    sincerly.. a deicated crafter and would never steal and feel that it is better to reuse and recycle then watch them go to waist and not recycled…

  18. Joan Thilges says

    Cheryl, there are a couple good reasons most paint stores don’t want your chips back. The first one is that it takes someone a great deal of time to sort your chips and go through the racks to re-stock your used chips. The second one is that once a chip has been removed from the rack it is no longer crisp and flat. It no longer easily fits into the holders if bent. We would re-stock dozens a day that had been pulled and rejected by customers but only if they hadn’t been bent or written on.
    If they came back well used, we would use them in the wallcovering room for bookmarks. In fact, we had a separate small rack there so people could match paint colors to their paper choice.

  19. says

    My question is what constitutes as bulk? I’m in need of around 50 swatches for a gift that I’m giving to my RA…Do 50 swatches count as bulk? Or would 100+?


  20. Becka says

    Karen – the materials that the Post Office provides for free actually explicitly state on them/on the website/probably on a sign at the post office that they are to be used only for their intended purpose (Priority/Express shipping via the USPS). If you are ordering the supplies in bulk online you have to agree to this. Using them otherwise is actually a federal crime, though I doubt there is a ton of enforcement on it.

  21. Shannon says

    I went to Sherwin Williams today… oh my gosh, all of the beautiful chips! Then came home and researched this topic. So glad to find this article. It’s nice to see that there are honest people out there.
    It seems Glidden and Behr said no in a round about way, and Sherwin Williams would like to be contacted. Personally, I don’t see a difference between taking a few for a project or taking a lot. If every crafter went in and took a few that would turn into a whole lot!
    And Cheryl, it’s not being judgmental. Some things are wrong and stealing is one of them. And besides, we, the customers end up paying for it in the long run.

  22. says

    I am so glad somebody raised the eyebrow to this craft. I have to agree with Barbara Stanbro and Vivienne, and Donna of Funky Junk Interiors. People, Nothing is FREE. Somebody pays, and like everything else, costs gets passed on down the line, to the consumer… who actually buys the paint. No wonder the rise in price of the Glidden I bought recently. I can’t imagine just walking into ANY store and TAKING a handful of anything, without paying for it. I even place my 2-3 paint swatches ON THE COUNTER with other items as I’m paying. I read and re-read the company responses: Glidden: “they can be expensive to produce” = Money; SW “sell in bulk” means PAY; in BEHR’s first sentence “reuse their left over paint chips” then further down “once they’ve tackled their paint projects, recycle”, None of them said ‘go get all you want’… It’s not right to just take them, and that’s my two cents worth.

  23. says

    Call it whatever you want, justify it however you want but taking paint chips with no intention of painting is stealing. I’m sure the paint companies’ message in regards to up cycling was based on people’s leftover chips, not encouraging people to take multiple chips with crafting as the purpose. Even if for some reason they encourage you to take them, it’s pretty inconsiderate for those who are actually shopping for paint colors. I picked out a color at Lowes for shelving, went to purchase the next weekend and had left my chip at home- no worry, I could borrow a sample already at the store- I knew the color name. Guess what? Spot was empty. True story. Employees probably don’t say ‘no’ to people who ask because its probably too difficult to enforce and not wanting to offend real paint shoppers. If you really want chips, contact the company and obtain them the right way.
    Crafting is fun- I do it all the time. But I draw the line when it comes to taking advantage of things or stealing things to upcycle.

  24. kimmie says

    OMG SHUT UP! you all sound like complete idiots whining over paint chips who gives a rats ass?! Its paint chips its not stealing geez louise. YOu all Just sound like little old grannies with nothing better to do but monitor paint chip numbers being taken! These are multi million dollar companies I’m sure they are not rolling over in their beds at night worried about how many paint chips DIY crafters are taking and using. lol stupid people.

    • Carol says

      Anytime you take something that did not already belong to you without permission or without paying for it, you are stealing it. Sure, those paint chip cards are available to take home – TO HELP THE CONSUMER SELECT THE PERFECT PAINT COLOR! Not so that somebody can craft a free item for themselves or to sell or give to others. What’s the big deal with simply asking? Are you afraid they’ll tell you, “no”? Think of it this way, would it be ok to take them if it was a stack of $1.00 bills?

  25. Jina says

    I really appreciate this article and ensuing remarks/discussion. I would be more comfortable purchasing a packet of samples Ify project requiredtiple chips of the same color, but some random samples from time to time? No problemo.
    As for Kimmies post; Seems that she has no ethical issue with taking the paint samples, eh? Thats fine, I suppose, but why the need to state an opinion by attacking everyone else and their opinions? Boggles my mind.

  26. teresa says

    i use the paint chips and the old wall paper books ,, to me its called recycle if there throwing them out … TAKE UM saves them on trash,,,,,, recycle people ,,theres always a few that have a complaint about something ,, guess there not a true crafter ,,, use what you get recycle everything

  27. row says

    I have no remorse whatsoever taking paintchips for projects. Companies overcharge us anyway, like really $40 for ONE gallon of paint which probably costs them less than 5 dollars to make? Corporate businesses are the real thieves in my mind.

  28. Missy says

    I have searches the internet trying to find somewhere to buy some paint swatches but can not find anything. I would gladly pay a few cents a piece for them.

  29. Delaine Stendahl says

    I have BOXES of them from a local hardware store that had new samples coming in now. Be happy to share with people for personal projects not for profit sales.

  30. Shelby says

    The website will send homeowners free paint chips of any color you want 100 at a time.

  31. Scott Minnerd says

    This is the biggest article of self-serving hocus pocus moral relativism that I’ve ever seen.

    But it’s quite simple, even in the context of your own argument: If it’s not OK to take something “unmoderated”, then it’s not OK period.

    Because even if (and that’s a big if) all artists are “moderate” with their taking of color samples, there are still things out of your control:

    – How many artists are taking these paint samples?
    – What does each artist consider to be “moderate”?

    In other words, whether you take one paint sample or 1,000 you are contributing to a larger economic loss for the providers of those samples. Color correct printing is by no means inexpensive, so the loss is probably larger than you’d think. It would have been interesting if in your research you asked about the cost to produce each color sample. If they were $5 each, would you feel comfortable taking 20 of them? What if they were 5 cents each? Where do you draw the monetary line?

    While taking paint samples may not technically be illegal, it’s certainly unethical. It violates a clear social contract: The paint manufacturers are providing those samples to help people choose paint color. By stealing color chips for other uses, you’re effectively driving up the cost of paint for me! (That money has to come from somewhere.) You’re not hurting a giant corporation. As with all shoplifting (and related actions) you’re hurting your fellow consumer and helping yourself.

    Finally, someone suggested that you should ask the manager for permission. That’s absurd. The manager is an uninterested party in all this. They don’t pay for the color samples. Their store doesn’t pay for the color samples. Just because they give you the OK doesn’t mean that it’s not reaching right into the pockets of the paint manufacturer and your fellow consumer.

    Your fellow consumer. That’s me, and everyone else reading this blog. That’s who you’re hurting by proposing that it’s OK for thousands of artists to take a cumulative hundreds of thousands of paint samples per year (just a guess).

    Remember that as a blogger, as a modern day public figure, your words and your actions can be multiplied a thousandfold or more. So next time you reach for a color sample at Home Depot, remember that you’re also reaching for 999 others at that same moment and ask yourself “is that OK?”

  32. says

    I will admit, I took one from EACH colour range to make a collection for design school, but my local hardware said thats okay, and a heap of people use them to make craft projects, even those same workers use them for stuff for their kids and the like.

    I don’t think its wrong to have them for a piece or installation, but use sparingly and think outside the box with them, at least. :)

  33. Paint Chip Problems says

    I think you should just print out pictures of paint chips and cut them out.As long as you don’t need the cardstock-thickness of the paint chip just find a picture and cut it.


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