Trusting other people to know what color they are looking at
It may be tempting to use the question and answer section on a product listing to ask people what it really looked like when it arrived. But think twice before relying on someone else for advice about colors. Some people are pitch-perfect singers, while other people couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. Just like natural singing ability, people have varying degrees of color vision.
In 2015, two social media trends dramatically illustrated just how different our color vision can be. #TheDress polarized viewers who saw white and gold instead of blue and black (a phenomena attributed to strange lighting). #TheShoe functioned as a spontaneous test that lumped viewers into three categories:
Those who cannot tell there are two different colors of nail polish
Those who can tell there are two different colors of nail polish, but can't tell which is a closer match to the shoe
Those who can easily tell there are two different colors of nail polish and which is a closer match to the shoe
There are more extreme variations in color vision, like people who are color-blind, or people with the super-human ability to see ultra-violet, but you're more likely to encounter the person who would tell you something fuchsia is lilac, because they can't see the difference.
Relying on titles or descriptions to tell you what color something will be
Check out the comments section on BuzzFeed's Great Crayola 64 Quiz of Impossibility, or take the quiz yourself, and you'll see that there is no popular consensus on what standard colors should be named. If that's not scientific enough for you, an MIT alum published an analysis of color dictionaries and concluded that even groups who are trying to standardize colors for industrial or commercial use have failed to produce an authoritative system for identifying colors with words. Many have tried, but not one has emerged that is accurate, complete, and accessible. Which is why you could buy a "cornflower blue" product from several different brands and end up receiving 4 different colored products.
Corningware Cornflower Blue
Glidden Paint Cornflower Blue
Pantone Cornflower Blue
David's Bridal Cornflower Blue
So which of these brands gave you an inaccurate product description? None of them. A description like "ocean blue" might evoke very different images for someone who lives on the Pacific coast compared to someone who lives in the Caribbean. Neither would be "wrong". Some brands try to avoid this predicament by identifying colors with numbers instead of names. Or by using names that are so abstract they don't really mean anything to anyone, like "Spirit Whisper" or "In Your Eyes". But in most cases, you can treat a color name or description like a ballpark estimate, it might get you close, but don't expect it to be exact.
Thinking your monitor or mobile device is displaying accurate colors
In the photo above, each computer monitor is displaying the same blue screensaver. They should all look like this . But some of them look like this and some of them look like this . A couple of them even look like this . This is typical whether you're looking at different brands of computer monitors, televisions, or mobile displays. Besides the differences in the ways different brands display color, here are several more factors that could cause the product photos you're looking at online to look different from the actual product:
The age of your monitor or mobile device
The angle of your screen
Using a privacy filter or scratch guard
How warm your monitor is
The resolution of your screen
The resolution of the photo
Ambient light around your monitor or mobile device
Red-green balance settings
Brightness and contrast settings
None of these factors can be controlled by the seller.
Assuming your purchase will look the same in your home under your lights
Lighting conditions that exist in your room can influence the color of your furnishings as well as your mood. Natural daylight is affected by the direction of your windows and the time of day. As the sun sets, west and south facing windows let in light that grows steadily warmer in color throughout the day. "Warm" colors are sunset colors like gold, orange, and red. Because most of us have a biological clock programmed to sleep at night, warm color light has a calming effect on most people. Warm colored light of the setting sun tells our bodies to start slowing down in readiness for sleep. Conversely, white and blue light makes us feel alert. North facing windows, fluorescent bulbs and some LED lights are often sources of cooler light. The color of your walls and carpet can also be reflected on your furnishings. So the way a product looks in your home will likely be different because your ambient light will be different than the lighting in the showroom or photo studio.
Expecting purchases made at different times to come from the same dye lot
Fabrics and yarns are dyed in batches known as "dye lots". Batches do not always turn out the same, even at big industrial mills. The heat, humidity & other conditions on the day the yarn was dyed; drought, freezes & other climate conditions as the natural fibers were growing, and other factors, can cause dye lots to turn out different. Synthetic fibers, synthetic dyes, and modern production standards may lessen dye lot differences to some degree, but buyers are expected to know that different dye lots can not be guaranteed to be the same. A manufacturer can easily sell out of a dye lot in a week, or even overnight if a product gains unexpected popularity.
The solution to all of these problems is the same. Just ask for a swatch and see how it looks in your own home.
Once you've selected the color that looks best in your home, decide how many you will need, planning for extras to replace a few that may get damaged over time, and buy them all at once so they will come from the same dye lot.