You’ve been thinking about painting.
I see you there, standing in front of a wall with at least a half-dozen paint samples painted in 12″ squares. Completely confused. This one’s too dark. This one’s too blue. The last batch looked too yellow. You’re wondering how anyone ever picks the right color. Eventually, you pick one, it might even be a paint you never sampled; maybe it’s just the least offensive of the bunch. On a wing and a prayer you paint the room. Hopefully, it looks close to the color you had hoped for, but quite frequently, it doesn’t. It’s too bright or it looks like a completely different color once it’s on all four walls.
One of my client’s calls it the “color crazies”.
Why is the painting process so painful? For so many people, thinking about painting a room or two brings a level of anxiety that induces sheer panic. But it doesn’t have to be that way! If you arm yourself with a little bit of knowledge, selecting paint colors for your next project will be easy!
Step One: Read the chips
The first step in learning how to select paint colors like a pro is understanding how to “read” paint chips.
The most tinted colors are at the top of the paint chip and the most shaded colors are at the bottom. You can add black to any paint color (or hue) to make it a shade darker or white to any color to make it a tint lighter. Paint manufacturers, like Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore already offer you multiple shades and tints of a particular color, that’s why they have about 7 shades or tints for each hue. Typically, the paint you purchase at stores like Home Depot or Lowes, won’t have as many tints and shades for each hue, but you can ask them to add white or black to tint or shade the color to your liking. You can also tone down a bright color by adding gray.
Undertones are the hints of color you can see “under” the color itself. So, gray isn’t just black + white = gray and pink isn’t just red + white = pink. When you compare the various paint chips to each other you will see these undertones appear. This will also be most obvious in the darker colors on the chip. However, don’t be fooled! Those undertones will definitely show up when the color is on the wall, even in the lighter hues. I’ve had clients that are particularly sensitive to blue undertones in colors and if a color has even a hint of blue undertone, they’ll only see blue. If you know you prefer warmer neutrals steer clear of anything with a black, purple, or blue undertones and of you prefer cooler neutrals steer clear of anything with red, yellow, or tan undertones. Consider the undertone when selecting neutral paint colors. Look to the darker colors on the chip to more easily see the undertone.
Step Two: Flip your chip
Aside from the various tints and shades of your chosen hue, the back of the paint chip will also have some useful information. The most important information is the Light Reflective Value (LRV). Light Reflective Value is a scale that tells you how much light will reflect from the surface. The whitest white colors have the highest scores and the darkest black colors have the lowest scores. You will use this number to tell you how light or dark a color is when you compare it to white or any other color. The LRV will also give you a clue how dark or light the color will appear when it is on all four walls. You can use the LRV to help you with the next step.
Step Three: Prime first
You’ll want to put primer on your wall prior to painting samples on it. This helps reduce interference from the original wall color. You don’t need to prime the entire wall, a large section will do. This will eliminate any interference from the color your wall is already painted. For example, if your wall is a deep red color and you are want a light gray with blue undertones, the blue undertones will be exaggerated and the paint will look pale in comparison.
Primer will have an LRV of >/=90. When you put any color on top of the white primer it will look dark. Remember the LRV of the lightest color on the chip is around 75. So, that little patch of LRV 75 will be sitting there absorbing more light, while the primer will be reflecting almost all of the light. So, by comparison, the sample will look dark, but it’s not! An LRV of 60 or more is still quite light and once it is on all 4 walls it will reflect a lot of light. Conversely, if it’s a darker color it will absorb a lot of light and darken your room.
Paint the wall with primer first. Don’t paint the new wall color options directly onto the old color.
The lightest color on the chip is actually pretty light, but not as light as “white” colors.
Be aware of undertones. They may be pronounced when compared to white primer.
Don’t just compare your color to the stark white primer. Use your knowledge of light Reflective Value (LRV) to help you gauge how dark or light the sample will actually look on your wall.
Hopefully, these tip will help you take the pain out of your next painting project! You can download this information in my design guide called “3 Steps to Easier Paint Sampling” here.
Still feel like you need some help with your color selections? Schedule your Design Style Consultation with Paradigm Interiors here.