Have you ever picked out what you thought was the perfect paint color?  Then you paint the whole room and hate it?  Many of us have.  So, if you want to choose the right paint color the first time, there are some things you need to understand before you buy your paint.

how to choose the right paint color


Choosing paint colors can be tricky. Below you will learn a few do’s and don’ts as well as a little lesson in paint color theory and psychology which will help you look at colors in a whole new light.

Lighting and color

Don’t number one. Never choose the paint color at the paint store!

Light plays a huge role in how your color will look.  When you’re looking at paint swatches in the store you are seeing them under the light of the store; typically fluorescent.  Fluorescent lights cast a blue light which will dramatically change how that color swatch looks to you.  If you took that same swatch outside on a sunny day it will look like a completely different color.

This is a big reason why you loved something in the store but not when you got it home!

Always, always, bring the color swatches home and look at them in the room that you are going to paint!  Better yet, live with them on the walls for a few days.  This way you can see how the color will react with different types of light.  A sunny day vs. a rainy day.  Daytime vs. night-time. Even the direction your room faces will cast different colors of light that changes throughout the day.  All of these circumstances will play a role in choosing the right paint color.  You should make sure you still love the color under all of these lighting conditions.

Lighting experiment

Here is an experiment to show you how light effects a color. Notice the gray in the white square looks dark compared to the gray in the black square where it looks lighter.  They are the exact same color Gray.  It’s the surrounding light, or lack of, that changes how the Gray looks.

how to choose the right paint color with color blocks

This is a great example of why people get scared of a color being too dark when trying it on a white wall.  Of course the color is going to look dark next to white!

Here are some of the types of light the sun will cast depending on which direction your room faces.

North-facing rooms: The light in these rooms will feel cool and look bluish. Bolder colors will show up better than muted colors and lighter colors will look subdued.

South-facing rooms: Lots of light from this direction makes cool and warm colors look best. Dark colors will look brighter and lighter colors will feel warmer.

East-facing rooms: Eastern light is warm and yellow in tone in the morning then turns bluer in the afternoon. These are great rooms for reds, oranges and yellows.

West-facing rooms: Evening light in these rooms is yellow and warm, but morning light is scarce and can make colors look dull.

how to choose the right paint color

Here are some colors artificial light will cast in your room

Artificial light also casts different colors, or temperatures of color, into a room.  So when trying to choose your paint color keep the following in mind.  Here are some examples of artificial light and their colors.

Incandescent:  This bulb light casts a warm, yellow glow and will make reds, oranges, and yellows more vivid, while muting blues and greens.

Fluorescent: This bulb light emits a cool light and can make blues and greens more rich while muting warm colors like red and yellow.

Halogen: This bulb resembles natural light and makes all colors look more vivid.

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs): CFLs can produce either a warm white, neutral, or cool bluish-white light depending on which you choose at the store.

  You can buy warmer or cooler LEDs, and even “smart” LED bulbs whose color you can control wirelessly. These can be great if you have an existing color that isn’t working at night.  Just change the temperature of the bulb and your color will change.

If you look for bulbs that say “daylight” bulbs. That bulb will be very close to natural daylight and give your colors a “true” look.

Colors effect other colors

Other colors in the room will change the look of your paint.

When trying to choose the right paint color, one problem is that colors actually change depending on the colors around them.  Well, the color doesn’t change but the way we see it does.

If you have ever looked at a paint fan deck you would see that all the colors in that deck react to each other?  For instance, if you look at a white paint swatch by itself… it looks white.  But if you put it next to a different white swatch they will look completely different.  One may look like a warm, antique white or maybe a cool, blue-white.  But you won’t notice this difference by just looking at one white at a time.  It’s all relative.

Look at this experiment. All of the little pink squares below are identical in size and in color but look different.

how to choose the right paint color using color experiment

The pink color may be the same but our eyes perceive it differently because of the neighboring color. 

Even more interesting, look at the image below.  See how the small squares of color look different with different colors behind them. 

Here is a website that has some interesting facts about color in general.  You may be surprised on just how color effects us.  UCreative.com

So how does all of this effect the paint colors you choose for your home?

My own experience choosing a color

I painted my living/kitchen/dining/entryway yellow with white trim.  I love yellow!  I wanted it to be a yellow that was welcoming and warm.  What I got was a bright, bold, florescent yellow!  I loved the color…just not all over my walls!  Not to mention when the sunlight changed in the room, so did the color.  It went from an orangy/yellow in the morning to a highlighter yellow in the afternoon.  YIKES 

So, I picked another softer yellow and painted it again.  And although it was better than the first color, I still didn’t love it.  But, I liked it enough to live with it for a while. 

So how did I finally choose the right paint color? First of all I gave up on the yellow LOL  All kidding aside I decided to change the wall color all together and decided on a very soft, warm gray.

Now, when trying to chose my new paint color, I knew that I didn’t want to look at this color next to my yellow walls because I knew it would make the gray sample look “cool” next to the “warm” yellow. And I wanted a “warm” gray. 

Or it could have made the gray look purplish next to the yellow which I didn’t want. So I made sure I could see the true color by looking at it in front of my white built-ins instead of on the yellow walls.

Here’s how to pick the perfect paint color for yor room

What “not” to do when choosing a color

This is what not to do…and this is exactly what most people do. Don’t tape that little paint sample up on the wall, next to the existing color!  BAD IDEA!  Yes, it’s good to live with the color like I said before, but don’t put it near, or on, a color you are getting rid of.  Think of the squares in the experiment above.  Your literally doing the same thing!

Here’s a better idea to pick the perfect color. 

Paint a large square on the wall…preferably a white wall. Put your hands up next to your eyes (like horse blinders). Now you can look at the new color without seeing the old color with it.  This will give you a truer sense of how the color will look in your room. 

And don’t forget, if you have a bold color near your new paint color, the new color can absorb some of the old color, which is why it’s best to view the color against white.


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For more “not to do’s” check out my post Decorating 911 – Top 10 decorating mistakes everyone makes.

Decorating 911

To choose the right paint color for your room you have to not only consider the light in the room, but also consider what other colors are in your room as well.   Will the color of other items react to the paint color you choose?  For example, your upholstery fabrics, your artwork, your carpet, or your accessories like pillows and curtains.

You will be able to see how they work together if you put the color swatch, or a painted sample on the wall, with these elements in your view of it. 

Paint a sample area above the sofa.  Lay the curtains, artwork or accessories your going to use on the sofa.  Then use your blinders.  This is how you will get the whole picture and you will know instantly if you have chosen the perfect paint color.

Do you have a specific issue with how to choose the right paint color for your home?  Leave a question or comment in the comment section below.

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