Have you ever had an outfit custom-made for you or arranged for carpet to be installed only to find what you get looks nothing like what you thought it would? Buying clothing, paint, carpet, and other items that use color as a main feature can be frustrating because there are so many factors that influence how the item looks in different environments. It's essential that you see swatches of material so you can compare shades, but that isn't the only reason why you need those. Seeing just the basic color is only one part of the equation when choosing apparel, paint, or other goods.
What You Need
Sometimes swatches are just computer-generated colors on cardstock or other thick, glossy paper. That doesn't help you if you're going to use the color on a textured wall or on a sports uniform, which doesn't usually use the smoothest, silkiest fabrics. If you can, get swatches that are not only of the color you want to see, but that are also on the same fabric or type of surface that you'll be using. If you're looking at colors for uniforms, get fabric swatches that match what fabric you'll use for the uniforms. If getting paint swatches for a typical bedroom, try to find matte samples on pieces of drywall.
Where Will You See the Items?
Don't look at swatches only in-store. Bring them home or to the environments in which you'll be using the actual products. For sports uniforms, for example, bring the swatches to the gym and field at which the team will be playing and practicing. For a formal dress, such as a bridesmaid's dress, bring the swatches to the location where the wedding and reception will be.
Also check the swatches at different times of day, and under different lights. Many stores use fluorescent lights, which emphasizes blue and green tones in a color. Swatches seen at a store will look different compared to how they'd look in sunlight or bright moonlight.
Sample Size Matters
Try to get swatches or swatch cards that are as big as possible. Your perception of a color can change depending on how much of it you see. The color could appear brighter or less imposing on a swatch than it would if you saw the color on all four walls of a room. If you can't get big swatches, try to get multiple copies of the swatch so you can create your own big swatch.
If you want to get swatches that you can take to different places to check out, talk to the store from which you're getting the samples. The staff should be able to provide you with portable swatches, or they may be able to arrange similar light conditions at the store.