How To Pick Your Perfect Paint Color
I am super excited about today’s blog post, because I am a total nerd when it comes to talking about paint colors. I LOVE painting. It’s one of the easiest (and probably most inexpensive) ways to completely transform a space. However, I realize that not everyone else feels that way. If you’ve ever walked into a Sherwin Williams or the paint section at your local Home Depot and have been completely overwhelmed at all of the options, you’re in good company. One of the most common questions I get asked as a designer is about paint colors — more specifically, how to choose the perfect one!
Today on the blog, I’m going to share with you my super easy method on how I pick the perfect paint color for each project that I do. Whether you’re searching for the perfect white, gray, or any color in between — this will help you make decisions while cutting down on the blind trial and error.
Shades and Color Families
First things first, before we get into the method I use for picking paint colors, let’s talk about that wall of colors that you’re overwhelmed by at your local paint store / Home Depot. Once you learn how to read the wall, I promise you that it’s not as overwhelming as you think it is. The wall is actually more organized than you think it is – and can help you find your perfect color if you know how to read it!
It’s really as simple as this: As your eye moves from left to right across the wall, think of each column as it’s own color family. Colors in each column are related because they share the same undertone. Meanwhile, as you move down the rows in each color family (column) you will essentially find a darker shade relative to the ones above it. If your paint store has multiple swatches together on the same card / fan, then each card will represent a group of colors in the same color family.
How To Read Paint Swatch Numbers
If you bring a bunch of swatches home (or a fan of swatches), you can still tell whether colors belong to the same color family based on the swatch number.
- Sherwin Williams: On the back of the swatch, you’ll have the SW XXXX number (they use this number to identify the color) as well as another number XXX-XX. For example, when looking at the Agreeable Gray color family swatches, you can see that the Agreeable Gray color family number is 243. Agreeable Gray is the lightest color in the family, and it is listed as 243-C1. As you move down the color family, the number behind C increases, indicating a darker shade. So if you’re wondering if a color is a part of a certain family, you can look to see whether the first numbers match. If so, you can find out which shade it is within the family by looking at the C number.
- Home Depot (Behr): For Behr paint at Home Depot, it’s mainly the same concept except that the letters/numbers are on the front on top in the center. For example, with the whites you’ll have WX-X. WX will represent the color family, and X will represent the shade number within that color family.
How To Pick the Perfect White Paint:
How To Read A Paint Color’s Undertones
Now, in my opinion, this is the fun part. After I show you how I read a paint color’s undertones to help me find the perfect paint color, I can promise that you won’t want to shop for paint ever again without doing this. This method works at reading undertones for any color. But for the sake of keeping it simple (and answering the questions I get over and over), we’re going to look at white paint colors. If you’ve ever been overwhelmed at your local paint store before, it’s because you know that all whites are not created the same.
For this blog post, I went to Home Depot and picked white colors in the same shade number from all of the different white color families on the swatch wall.
Reading a paint color’s undertones is actually really simple. The paint swatch is really going to speak for itself. First things first, you’re going to want to pick up a swatch of the purest white they have as well as a swatch of the purest black they have. At Home Depot, these swatches are often found in opposite corners of the swatch wall. (ie. The purest white is often in the top left, and the purest black is often in the bottom right.) At Sherwin Williams, the purest black can be found at the bottom of one side and the purest white is at the top of the same side. But, it all depends on how any store has them laid out.
Laying the pure white and pure black on a table, I put the white on the left and the black on the right. Next, I’ll take the ‘test’ swatch that I am thinking about and place it on top where it’s semi-overlapping the two. Right away, you’ll see that undertone pop out and reveal itself! What you thought was a great and ‘pure’ white before suddenly looks a lot different. Test multiple swatches at once to see how different color families compare. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean.
- Moonlit Beach: rosy undertone
- Ice Sculpture: blue undertone
- Confident White: cool beige undertone
- White Moderne: cool gray undertone
- Mourning Dove: warm gray undertone
- Ancient Ivory: warm beige undertone
- Warm Marshmallow: warm beige / yellow undertone
- Mannequin Cream: peach undertone
- White Mocha: brown undertone
- Cottage White: honey gold undertone
- Diamonds Therapy: ash gray undertone
So why is it important to read a paint color’s undertone?
It’s super important to read a paint color’s undertone because that undertone will ultimately be reflected and magnified (on a much larger scale!) on your wall at home. Natural light will often pull that undertone out at certain times of the day.
More Paint Picking Tips
1 | Colors will appear slightly lighter than the color on a swatch when painted over a large surface area.
This doesn’t mean that you need to go a shade darker with your paint selection – it’s just something to keep in mind!
2 | Test at Home!
The lighting in your local paint store is not the lighting that’s in your home. Once you’ve used my method to help you narrow down your paint color contenders, bring them home to swatch them on your walls in your home. From natural light to light bulbs, paint colors are going to look different in your space. Make sure you take a look at how lighting in your home throughout the day make your swatches look.
3 | Poster Board Swatches
Instead of painting a million swatches on your walls all around your home, get a large poster board from your local craft store. Paint the paint tester on the large poster board, and move it around the house throughout the day. Not only does it keep your walls free from a bunch of samples and keeps your home looking cleaner, but it also allows you to take your time choosing your perfect paint color. There’s nothing that rushes an OCD person to make a decision than walking by swatches all over the walls each day.
4 | Peel and Stick Paint Samples
Along the same line as the poster board tip, places like Sherwin Williams offer peel and stick paint samples that you can stick directly on your wall!
Well there you have it, friends! I hope this post helped cut out the overwhelm that may come with picking your perfect paint color for your home or upcoming project. If you have any more paint picking questions (or if you have more tips to share!), make sure to leave me a comment below. As Bob Ross would say… Happy Painting!