Swatches, swatching your craft mediums, a wooden table topped with lots of different colored cards

Craft Smarter: How Swatching Your Crafting Mediums Boosts Creativity

What is Swatching

Do not underestimate the power of swatching your crafting mediums. It’s like the cool, yet practical, pre-gaming of the crafting world. If you are unfamiliar with swatching it is the process of sampling colors and mediums on a test surface it is an invaluable practice for crafters. When done swatching can save time, money, and frustration by helping you pick the perfect colors and materials for your projects. 

One of the most important things when it comes to swatching your craft mediums, is to use the substrate that you will be using while crafting. For example, if you are a paper crafter like me, I would use the paper that I stamp and color on the most, which is Accent Opaque White 80lb 216gsm Heavy Cardstock, which I get from Amazon.

swatching your craft mediums, swatches of watercolors

I know we want to use something that is otherwise inexpensive to save money on our craft supplies, however swatching on something that you are not regularly using, isn’t going to give you an accurate result. So when you go to color an image on your accent cardstock and you’ve used cardstock from say Michaels or Hobby Lobby it will look different. 

The next question is HOW do I swatch my mediums? This is a question that has no right or wrong answer, it depends on you and how your organization works in your crafting space. Some of the big crafters that I follow use a swatch sheet, some cute 2-inch by 2-inch squares and put them in what I can describe as coin collector plastic sheets and keep them in binders, and others make tags and swatch the tags and punch holes and keep them on a binder ring so they are readily available and easy to grab. 

The Perks of Swatching Your Crafting Mediums

Now we know the whys and hows to swatching your crafting mediums. We can discuss the perks.

Accurate Color Representation

Swatching gives you a chance to test the truest idea of how a color or medium will look in your actual craft project. Colors often look different when swatched verses in the bottle.  What looks like a vibrant red in the bottle, may translated to a muted pink on paper. We will touch on what materials. to swatch on later. It will also show any mixing properties and transparency properties or issues with the colors.

Consistency Across Projects

3d Render of stationary with textile color swatch laying on a desk

With your swatches, you can refer back to these swatches when you are designing your next card or craft project. You sort them by color, or by brand. For example, you could put all your Gina K Designs Swatches together, or your Stampin’ Up! ink swatches and sort them by In-Colors, Neurals, etc. 

This helps with not only achieving color consistency across different crafts over time, but they are a quick grab that also allows you to compare different brands side-by-side showing subtle (but important!) differences in shades and performance.

High-Quality Results

The best way to get high-quality results also comes through swatching. You’re taking a small piece of the mediums that you use the most. For example, when I’m swatching my ink pads, I’m using the cardstock that I use the most. I like to use Accent Opaque White 80lb 216gsm Heavy Cardstock which I get from Amazon. I use Waffle Flower Combo Swatch Stamp and Die set.

Being consistent with swatching with the materials that you are regularly using, will give you the most accurate results. I know we want to save and use less expensive materials, however, results will vary between substrates. 

Another example is if you are going to be doing water coloring, you would swatch your watercolor on the watercolor paper that you will be using. I feel it is very important to do that little extra step by not only testing out your mediums but also using the materials that you regularly use. That way your results will be exactly as you intended them to be and you get no surprises! 

Cost and Time Savings

The cost savings when you make swatches, I feel is worth the extra time. I start by purchasing a small amount of samples, if the company has a sample pack or a small amount of materials, and start there. Then, after I’ve tested various cardstocks with my inks and other mediums, I can decide which I prefer and I’m not wasting money on a ton of materials that I will not be using. 

Not only can swatches help with cost savings, but you get to save time later on because you have already tried and tested various mediums and materials, so you now can just grab what you need and start creating!


Beautiful fresh flowers and color palette. Collage

Often, I find that if I’m having a creative block one of the things to help me gain inspiration is swatching materials. I’ll pull out my swatch cards and grab my new set of markers, or new ink pads that just came in (rather I haven’t put away), and I will start swatching. I find that while I enjoy getting to know a new color or medium, I will get inspiration while I’m swatching. As we all know, inspiration can come from anywhere or anything.

Perhaps the new color or medium will spark up new ideas! Let yourself get lost in using the materials, and mediums and try different techniques. Look at how multiple times stamping the same color will give you a deeper darker result. That may spark an idea for gradients in color in such images as flowers. Perhaps you are getting into ink blending, grab any blending tool and see how the ink blends out. 

How to Swatch Your Crafting Mediums

We’ve gone through all the perks, now lets get down to the hows of swatching. This is the fun part! 

1. Gather Your Materials

  • Crafting medium(s) – paints, markers, inks, etc.
  • Surface(s) – heavy paper, canvas, wood, ceramic, etc.
  • Tool (s) – paint brushes, blending brushes, applicators, or pen for applying the medium
  • Optionally, a swatching template or ruler

2. Apply the Medium

You’re going to apply a small amount of the medium (ink, paint, etc) to the surface of your choice, this would be cardstock, or watercolor paper depending on what you going to be using, along with your tools and you are going to have fun with it. Make sure that you label your color, brand, etc so that you can easily retrieve the materials you need for your next project. 

3. Dry/Cure Completely

My least favorite part is the dry or curing time some mediums take. It’s good to adhere to the manufacturers’ recommendations when it comes to the dry or cure time as this will show the true look. You can also do additional samples with various drying and curing times for different techniques.

4. Observe and Document

I bet you didn’t realize as an artist, you also get to do fun experiments! You are going to now observe and document (if you wish to document). Look for color accuracy, opacity, finish, etc. It’s good to make some kind of note for future reference. You can say you are building a sort of swatch book. 

5. Repeat

Wash, rinse, and repeat! You will want to repeat the process for all colors and mediums you want to test. It’s best to organize your swatches the best way that fits you. You can use binder rings and hooks or put them in books. The possibilities are endless and remember, whatever works for you is the best way.

Tips for Swatching Different Crafting Mediums

While the basics are the same, swatching varies slightly depending on the medium so below are some times for crafting your various mediums:

Watercolor paint – Swatch on hot press watercolor paper. Let dry fully. Check reactivation with water.

Acrylic paint – Use heavy paper or canvas. Apply thickly. Check opacity when dry.

Sydney, Australia 2020-12-12 Blurred image of alcohol-based Copic sketch markers on display in a shelf at stationery art supplies shop

Alcohol markers – Swatch on marker paper. Test bleeding, blending, ghosting. **Note: If you’ve got Copic Markers, I recommend Sandy Allnock’s Copic Hex Chart. You can find it to purchase here. I purchased it, and I can’t do without it!

Ink pens  – Use fountain pen-friendly paper. Check dry time, bleed through, feathering.

Ink pads – Use the cardstock you are going to be using in your projects, check for smoothing of the ink, and wicking if you are doing water techniques.

Glitter glues – Brush on cardstock. Allow to dry overnight. Note texture and sparkle.

Chalk pastels – Swatch on textured paper or canvas. Blend out with fingers or tortillon (blending tool with tapered ends). Check lifting.

Remember to Update Your Swatches

No matter the medium, take detailed notes on properties that are hard to see from the swatch alone. Things like dry time, reactivation, and blending are important!

As you expand your crafting supplies, remember to periodically update your swatches. Here’s why it’s important:

  • New brands/colors – Swatch new materials as you get them to keep your references up-to-date.
  • Changing formulas – Manufacturers sometimes tweak formulas causing slight color variations over time. Re-swatching helps you catch these changes.
  • Aging mediums – Some materials like inks and watercolors can shift in the bottle over the years. It’s smart to re-swatch for accuracy.
  • Organizing – Keep your swatches neatly organized and labeled for easy access later. Toss old swatches if the colors change.

Swatch for Crafting Success!

As you can see, swatching brings many benefits for crafters of all kinds. By taking the time to properly sample your materials upfront, you ensure color accuracy, consistent results over time, cost savings, and frustration-free crafting. Keep your swatches neat, labeled, and up-to-date. Make swatching a habit, and you’ll be on your way to crafting success!

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