How do you use swatches as part of the buying process?

It depends on the swatches; if they are the type of swatches that seem to be done to fit an aesthetic (or to just look “good”) then I put little trust in them in terms of telling me anything meaningful about pigmentation, finish, application, blendability, and even texture. Whether they’re done with fingertips or brushes, over primer or on bare skin, so long as they look “real” and are trying to show the product as-is vs. make it look “good,” then it often tells me about pigmentation, adhesion to the skin, blendability, and powderiness (if present).

I don’t think that swatches always tell the full story, but I’ve swatched enough to know that I can tell a lot by swatching that usually confirmed by applying it to the intended area. There are some types of formulas that work better “in practice” than just swatched, and then these days, some of the more silicone-heavy formulas look better swatched than they perform in practice. I use them as a baseline–they can be a guide, but I wouldn’t assume that what I see swatched is what I’d get in practice. I think they’re particularly good for getting an idea of color and finish, how they might sit on skin, and things like that.

— Christine
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If I want to compare colors to see if it’s truly unique to my collection, I will look at swatches. However I don’t hold much stock in swatches bc often they are edited and heavily built up. Also they tell little about how they will apply to the eye or how they will wear. There are shadows that swatch amazing but fade very quickly. There are others that need to be built up so they swatch poorly but they turn out to give an amazing look. I particularly hate swatches on the palm of the hand. Yes that shows the intensity of the product but the texture of your palm is very different than your eye!

I agree with you, Christine. Swatches rarely tell the full story. Not to mention, if swatching in a store, you have to take into account that many people have been swatching out of the same palette and those additional oils from multiple fingers can have an effect on the quality of the shadow.

Case in point, I swatched the Tarte in Bloom palette before purchasing. Funny Girl — the golden – white shimmer shade swatched beautifully in the store. I bought it based on how that shade swatched. Found out upon using the one I purchased, that it is easily the worst shade in the palette as it takes some work to get the same payoff on the eyes. Despite that shade, it’s one of my most-loved palettes by far.

I use swatches to judge the actual color hue and potential intensity. Some shades look a certain way in the pan but the color of the swatch could vary.

I totally agree with the additional oils, creams (and other substances) from people fingers can impact even an in store swatch.

But I would also add that drying of product also affects swatches. The products in store are exposed to air more than they are in a regular make-up routine; not to mention eyeshadow palettes lids are not closed, pencils are left without the cap, etc. Creamier products in stores might just unperform due to dryness. I see this more often with eyebrow pencils and pomades, when the formula in stores seems stiff and applying bad, while a new purchased product glides beautifully while having a comfortable grip (not stiffness).
Depending on the pigments used, even color can be impacted by the extra exposure to air and oxidization process.

I use swatches (especially those from this site) to gauge colour, as well as finish, etc. I don’t generally have time to shop in store, so most of my make up shopping is done online. There are only a few sites I trust to get realistic swatches (Temptalia in particular, the other sites are more because those bloggers have a more similar skin tone to myself.)

Swatches are hard — there are so many factors that can alter how it would end up looking at you – your computer screen for one, and then the person swatching and the photos they take (lighting, etc).

It’s helpful when there are swatches on multiple skins – but mostly I look at them to see how smooth they come across on skin, how well they adhere, if they look powdery. Otherwise, swatching in person with natural light is the best way to tackle how a shade will look.

IMO, all online swatches do is give an approximation of how the color looks applied as opposed to how it looks in the pan. That’s about it. In store swatches are marginally better but, as was pointed out by Kellie, many of the pans are contaminated with oils and other products. Years ago (before disposable applicators were the norm and SA’s did not clean brushes after every use) I had a MA friend who frequently had clients complain to him about falling in love with a color they had tried at a counter only to get it home and be disappointed with it. He’d joke, “Yeah, I know that color. It’s called Dirty Brush!” LOL

It depends highly on the type of product, but a swatch would never tell the whole story indeed.
Below I speak from the perspective on swatches done by me, in stores. Online swatches are sometimes useful for shades, I do love resources like temptalia but… and online swatch, in a photo or youtube video is tricky. Our monitor colors affect color (a swatch might look different on my phone screen, compared to my laptop); the skintone of the person doing the swatches does the same; the skin texture can also modify the way the product applies and sits (that’s why I like that you show the product in the pan, swatched on skin, but also applied on the face).

A swatch, eyeshadow or foundation (for example), can tell me about pigmentation, texture and finish, but it can’t tell me how well it wears or how the color will look on me.
With complexion products (foundation, concealer) I use swatches on me to get a glimpse of the shade, blendability (I often apply foundation with fingers) and coverage. But most times the color oxidizes once I put in on my skin, so even shade matching is hard with a swatch.
Thinks like eyeshadow or blushes look so different applied on hand compared to when you do the actual make-up application. But a swatch can show me if a product is pigmented, get me an idea of the shade, etc.

Another thing that popped into my mind regarding swatches is that I would love more people mentioning details like batch code, manufacturing country, etc. Especially for bigger brands that use multiple labs and manufacturing facilities. I’ve seen it with big brands, like Estee Lauder (including MAC), L’oreal, Maybelline, etc. when both color and performance slightly differs when the products is made in US, Canada, Europe or China. When I visit my family back in Europe, I sometimes swatch products I already own (purchased in US) just for the fun of noticing differences. 😆

I think many controversies about some eyeshadow palettes and swatches (with some people loving them, while others are completely dissatisfied) are also caused by the fact that two manufacturing facilities were used; or because the process or formula slightly changed between batches; or because `raw` materials for two different batches came from different suppliers.

Several months ago, Leesha @xSparkage had a video addressing swatches. I agree with her when it comes to those taped off (or those using stencils), that those are designed to make the product appear “perfect”, and are therefore unreliable to gauge actual performance and true pigmentation. For me? I only give attention to brush or fingertip swatches when looking up swatches when trying to get an idea of how the product in consideration applies.
Now, I will say that if I want to see how something could look on me personally, I will seek out swatches on similar depth of skin color and tone. Like @macaholic (I always forget which letters in her title are uppercase and lowercase, sorry!) on YT, for instance.
Foundation swatches are much too tricky for me to determine, though. I don’t even try! My own skin has differing levels of color depending on their location getting any sunlight during my lifetime or not. Plus, mine isn’t the easiest to get a perfect match for, anyway. So I would never buy those online only.

Swatches tell me a lot about texture and, obviously, color, particularly when I’m swatching myself. I feel like brands have been pumping shimmery shadows full of dimethicone to make them swatch smoother and appear more ‘pigmented’, though, which I don’t love because it makes formulas difficult to apply on the eyes with a brush. So pigmentation in swatches is really no indication of how a shadow will actually wear on me. Don’t even need to get into how fakey brand swatches look these days.

I personally hated the trend of curated artist swatches because there done to look clean and crisp and saturated like the pans. I keep mine “messy” to show feathering in the colour and potential patchiness and shipping. This is what I’m also looking in other swatches. and other peoples skin tones.

Honestly, I don’t really use swatches as a buying guide. I have found that between all of the factors others have listed and the fact that I have to buy most of my makeup on-line, swatches just are not reliable for me to purchase based solely on them. I pretty much rely on Christine’s written explanation of colour, wear, application, etc. Even then, realizing that the shade may pull warmer or cooler on me than Christine, as I am basically white like a sheet. When I do have the opportunity to swatch in store, I find that I am more easily swayed by the colour of the product and don’t really factor in wear time, application, etc. so I have to be careful to look at reviews before putting it in my cart. If it is a product that Christine hasn’t reviewed then I am in trouble but if I love the colour/shade, I will try and find a way to make it work.

I use online swatches to decide if the colour / colour story of a palette, is something that appeals to me, if it are colours that I’ll truly wear.

I concur that they don’t tell the entire story and can be deceiving. That said, I still tend to be persuaded by them initially. But then that’s when reviews help out. I can usually eliminate an eyeshadow if there’s not hardly any pigmentation with a finger swatch. But when the swatch is good on the hand, then I’ll try on the palm under the thumb where it’s smoother to see how it does there. And when I wipe it off, if it wipes too easily, even if the pigmentation seemed good, sometimes is an indication to me that it may not be that good. Also, I’ve learned to judge by what I see texture wise. Is it super powdery (blows away), opaque, cream-to-powder like, etc. In the end though, when I’m in doubt, a review helps me confirm to buy or not (unless as someone said elsewhere, it’s just overwhelmingly a beautiful, unique palette). The latter is much harder to come by these days.

I definitely don’t go by the swatches created by the makeup brand – they look unnatural and way too false, even though varying skintones are used.
The only swatches I really go by are yours Christine, if I can’t swatch myself in shops. And it all varies, depending on the kind of makeup product I am looking at.
For example – lipsticks – I generally prefer to swatch in a shop because many turn ‘pink’ on me and I can tell if they have pink undertones by swatching.
Foundations – definitely have to swatch myself from the testers to get the right shade.
Eyeshadows – mostly I rely on Temptalia.

I welcome swatches to try to find out if is a shade I really like and suits my skin color. They may not be perfect but I can sort of decide whetger the shade goes on thick or almistxsee through fainting half way from a simple swatch. I will swatch on my arm in the store but never ever on face God only knows how many nasty invisible creatures could be hiding there.
Bring on the swatches and is nice for me to see it in three arms shades such as Colourpop shows it.

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