Avoid buying the wrong paint with these color-choosing apps

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A growing list of free websites and smart-phone apps can help you narrow your choices of paint colors, figure out how much paint you'll need—and even "paint" your house before you open a can. When you're ready to buy make sure you get a paint that can weather the elements. Not all do, as Consumer Reports discovered in its exterior paint tests.

Guessing gallons. The Paint Quality Institute has a helpful paint calculator for gauging how much paint or stain to buy. A project planner also offers tips on choosing colors, prepping, timing, safety, cleanup, and more.

Virtual painting. Major brands, from Behr to Valspar, offer tools on their websites that let you upload a photo of your home and try various colors before you commit.

Digital color-matching. Free apps let you photograph a house color you like and digitally match it with a brand's offerings. Valspar also offers color consultations with a professional consultant. The apps typically download via iTunes, though they won't work on every device. Here are some major ones and the devices they work with:

• Behr ColorSmart (iPhone, iPad, Android)
• Benjamin Moore Color Capture (iPhone, Android)
• Glidden on the go (iPhone, iPad)
• Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap Studio (iPhone, iPad, Android)
• Valspar ConnectLive (iPad, with iPhone on the way)

Whichever color you like, try actual samples on your siding, since virtual paint can look different in the real world. Flat and satin finishes are best for siding because they hide flaws by reducing reflections and semi-gloss paints add some sheen to doors and trim. In our exterior paint tests, 14 stood up to our tough weathering tests and made our list of top paint picks including at least one from every brand mentioned above.

—Ed Perratore

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