Label Paint Cans with the Things They Painted

Craft & Design
Label Paint Cans with the Things They Painted

The amazing and most resourceful Craig Smith shares another smart, simple tip:

If you’re like me, you have a small inventory of wood stains on hand. And if you’re further like me, you have a few nice projects that you’re proud of. But when it comes to touching up a scuff, or making a matching piece years later… “What color did I use?” Recently, I’ve been making sure to flip the cans upside down and label them with the projects they were used on. This after I had to put four different stains on a test piece to determined which one I’d used on the bookcase, in order to make an additional matching shelf years later. From now on, I will label!

The tips and projects of Craig Smith

18 thoughts on “Label Paint Cans with the Things They Painted

  1. Nate says:

    Another great tip for painting (rooms) is to write the information on the back of a light switch cover in the room you painted. This way if you want to go back and touch up and don’t have the paint you have a way of finding out what it was.

  2. Stephen says:

    Don’t label them on the bottom. Only you will know to look for the info there. Mostly relevant to coatings used in your house but still.

    1. Dok says:

      Paint cans should be stored upside down. Air leaks due to the metal lid will cause the paint to become unusable much sooner. Stored upside down, the paint will harden in the gaps, keeping it good for longer.

  3. kurtroedeger says:

    For paint cans I will also tape the sample card I used to pick the paint to the side of it. And I agree, labeling on the side or top can be helpful if it’s left over paint that was there when you bought the house.

  4. Andy Callaway says:

    Would this work for water based paints?
    In my experience, “years later” the paint has deteriorated. Usually rust develops inside the can, changing its color or making it unusable.

    1. craig says:

      Usually rust happens around the edge of the lid. Opening the can releases the rust into the paint. If you have an old can for ‘one last job’, flip it upside down and use a kitchen can opener on the bottom. (wash it immediately, although you’ll likely NOT get paint on the cutting wheel) It keeps rust out of the paint, not to mention you’ll be struggling with prying the lid that is welded on by dried paint & rust. Say what you will about Glidden, but I used 11 year old leftover paint 1/3 full, to touch up a room with minor sheetrock work done, and it color matched the rest perfectly. Other brands 4 years old is seperated & shot. (no I did not let it freeze)

  5. Adam says:

    What I do for my projects is keep a notebook of what colors I used when painting the rooms. This way I can find the info if the old paint had been disposed of. Could do the same for stain, though I don’t stain much. When I moved, my wife and I wanted to use a color from the old house and it was a matter of digging up the notebook to find the color and taking it to the store.

    1. Adam says:

      One more thing – the store didn’t have the old color on display anymore, but thankfully I had the name of the exact color and the store was able to look up the formula and remake the color!

  6. Label Paint Cans With What They Painted | Lifehacker Australia says:

    […] Label Paint Cans with the Things They Painted [Make Magazine] home improvementdiypainting  Discuss  Share  Tweet  Email  More get_count_post('','post-418767'); « Previous post […]

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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