Take the Pain out of Painting
Selecting paint is a pain. You swore last time was THE last time… But, you’ve been thinking about painting again, haven’t you?
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 if there are any secrets to selecting paint.
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 selecting paint colors 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!
Tip #1: Read the chips
The first step to selecting 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 shades. I’ve had clients that are particularly sensitive to blue undertones. 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 medium and darker colors on the chip to more easily see the undertone.
Tip #2: Flip your chip
I am going to get super technical here, but it will be worth it. This information is a game changer.
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 (80 or higher) and the darkest black colors have the lowest scores (20 or less). Anything higher than 65 is considered a light color and conversely, anything lower than 35 is considered a dark color. 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. Typically, you will want something higher than 65 for most of the rooms in your house.
Tip #3: Prime and Prioritize
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 and make selecting pain much easier. 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. With primer on first, your color will look truer to what it will look once your room is painted.
And also only put one color at a time on your primed area. Don’t make the mistake the client below did. Painting 2, 3, or 20 different colors together isn’t going to give you more information. It’s just going to confuse you even more.
Prioritize your top 3-4 paint colors and paint them on your wall one at a time! I recommend that you sample each color on at least 2 walls in the room so that you can see how the paint looks in different light. Then you will consider that one color. Maybe even make some notes on what you do and do not like about it. Then, if you’re not sure, move on to your second choice.
This method works! I have gotten feedback from consultation clients that these two steps makes selecting paint colors much less painful and lead them to the right color every time!
- 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.
- Narrow down your choices to your top 3-4, then…
- Paint ONE sample at a time!
Bonus Tip – Save the Bright Colors for Your Accent Pieces
Okay, I said “3 Tips”, but I can’t help myself… This is really the best one. Keep your wall colors light and muted. Especially in the most used areas of your home, like your living room and bedroom.
What do I mean by that? Most people cannot tolerate bright, true color on their walls for a very long period. These are the colors you love for about 5 minutes and immediately begin to regret. I speak from experience. So, do yourself a favor, save those bright colors for your fabrics, accessories, and art. If you still want to add some bright color to your walls, try an accent wall using a bold paint color or wall covering.
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