Crafts that Use Paint Chips? Choose Something Else!

Crafts for Paint Chips? Think Again!

Paint chip crafts are SO cute that it’s hard to remember that crafting with paint chips is not actually “upcycling.”

I know that paint chips are free. I know most hardware stores don’t even care if you take them (I once asked a paint dude at Lowe’s if they gave away or sold discontinued paint chips. He told me that companies rarely discontinue paint colors, and was all, “Just take the ones out here. They’re free.”). I know that when you craft with them, you’re making them into something else, which is a major part of what makes upcycling as great as it is.

However, upcycling also implies that you’re giving a useless, unwanted object new life. You’re removing it from the waste stream. And, unfortunately, paint chips aren’t useless–people use them to help them select paint colors. They don’t need a new life–their old one has purpose. And even though the people who use them are, yes, probably going to toss them in the trash afterwards, not make them into awesome bookmarks and scrapbook embellishments and garlands, if you take the paint chips before those people get to them, then the paint company is just going to have to manufacture more to restock the supply.

Sucks, I know. And I have zero room to cast stones about this. My kids’ regular “treat” when we go to the hardware store is getting to pick out a paint chip, and they have a ridiculous, beloved collection by now. I also once totally took a bunch of paint samples in order to make them Montessori-style color tablets like these when they were little, and it was SUCH a fun project–those candy colors! That glossy paper!

Unfortunately, there isn’t an exact substitute for paint chips, nothing that gives you that perfect combination of deeply saturated color with a glossy face on sturdy paper. Here, however, are some ideas for decent substitutes:

1. wallpaper samples. Wallpaper goes out of style more often than paint, so you’re more likely to be able to buy a discontinued wallpaper sample book from the hardware store. I do a lot of decoupage with wallpaper samples.

2. upholstery samples. Discontinued upholstery sample books are harder to come by, but they are gorgeous, and since I’ve never (yet) found a way to separate the fabric from its paper backing, the upholstery samples are best used as substitutes for paper crafts.

3. scrapbook paper. You can buy eco-friendly scrapbook paper! Play with backing it with cardboard and/or painting the top with a glossy clear coat to get a look that’s similar to a paint chip.

4. paint. Make your own paint chips with cardstock, paint, and clear sealant.

5. fabric. Sew or glue fabric to cardboard for a result that will also be pleasingly tactile.

6. eco-friendly paint chips. Source manufacturers that use recycled paper for their paint chips.

If you’ve got some ideas about how to collect paint chips ethically, or know of other good paint chip substitutions, I’d love to hear about it in the Comments below!

[Paint chips image via Shutterstock]

10 thoughts on “Crafts that Use Paint Chips? Choose Something Else!”

  1. Becky Striepe

    THANK YOU for this! Especially for explaining what upcycling is. I think that calling crafting with brand new paint chips “upcycling” undermines such a worthy concept.

  2. I’ve always felt that way too… not really upcycling. Almost theft, really. I did, however, get an entire box of paint chips from a hardware store going out of business. They were destined for the trash. Those finds are rare but keep your eyes open for them.

  3. I totally agree, and this has been a pet peeve of mine with a lot of “upcycling.” However, unless we know the full story of where the materials came from, we need to reserve judgement. I came across 2 full fans of paint chips at a thrift shop, obviously donated by a designer or contractor who no longer wanted them. I made a lot of mini notebooks with them, which I sold on Etsy, but declined to write the full story of where my supplies came from in my listings. Maybe I need to be more transparent as well.

  4. maryannshouse

    I agree–I cannot bring myself to take a stack of paint chips for the sole purpose of crafting. I have however, used some we had at home for crafts. Those were picked up when we were planning painting projects and once we decided on the colors, I used the rest for crafting.

  5. Great point Julie! And I agree with Laura, it’s important to know the whole story on a projects supplies. I was given some of those paint chip fans YEARS ago from someone who knew someone who knew someone who use to be an interior decorator and didn’t need them anymore.

    Makes me wonder what other items are out there that people tend to think they are upcycling with but really are not.

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  7. I lucked upon a mom-and-pop hardware store the weekend before they closed their doors for good, so I worked up my nerve to ask what they were going to do with all their paint chips. They were planning to toss them, so I snagged a nice little stack of greens to make Christmas tree gift tags. I still felt almost guilty, on one hand, for taking all those green paint chips…on the other, for not rescuing the rest of them! I spent at least 15 minutes wandering the aisles, trying to justify asking them for the other hundreds of chips.

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  10. Paint store employee checking in. Believe it or not, paint chips are NOT free. Actually, they’re very expensive to produce. The store DOES have to pay for the chips. The thing is, that the cost is offset by PAINT SALES. It’s part of the reason paint prices have sky-rocketed in the past ten years. If you’re not planning on buying paint, do not take them! It’s really a waste.

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