Paint Color Selection

The most personal decision involved in any interior or exterior painting project is color choice. You will naturally be drawn to your own favorite colors. It’s important to follow your instincts when selecting paint color. Decorating your home with your favorite hues is what gives your home its unique personality.

But while it is true that there are no hard and fast rules about paint color selection, there are certain color systems that are appealing to the average eye. Understanding them can help you make the best decisions on color choice.

Color Basics

Light or pale colors can make rooms feel larger. They create a sense of openness — an impression that the space is larger than it actually is. This is one reason why whites are so often used on ceilings: They make the ceiling seem higher.

Dark colors — or colors that are deep in tone — can make a room appear smaller, providing an illusion of intimacy or coziness. These kinds of powerful, more intense shades — sometimes called accent colors — create a visual perception that walls and ceilings are closer than they really are. They are ideal for accenting architectural features, such as framing a window. If you have an impressive exterior view, framing the window with a dramatic color will “pull the eye” and help make the view a focal point in the room.

As always, though, there are exceptions to every rule. When dramatic colors are used, contrasting colors can help give definition to a room, especially when the contrasting shades outline molding, window trim, or other architectural elements. White always works in this case, but off-white or a contrasting neutral can fit the bill nicely, too.

Cool or Warm?

Besides light and dark, colors are also classified as being warm or cool:

Cool colors — like the blues, greens and grays found in nature — are restful and calming. It’s a good choice if you seek shades that will set the stage for relaxation. Cool shades, even the deepest ones, tend to make the wall recede, giving the sensation of more space. In addition, these colors can make the room “feel” cooler from a temperature standpoint.

Warm colors — yellows, reds and browns — do just the opposite. They are considered cheerful, sunny colors, making them good picks for rooms when a pleasant upbeat atmosphere is your goal. This is one reason many kitchens have been traditionally painted yellow. Just keep in mind that yellow has a high light reflectance value. Consequently, bright yellows can sometimes be visually irritating.

How Lighting Affects Wall Color

The type of artificial lighting in a room will affect the perception of the wall color, and should be considered when making paint choices. Here is a quick guide to the effects of the most popular lighting sources:

Incandescent lights cast warm yellow or amber tones that can intensify wall colors.

Standard fluorescent fixtures bring out cool tones and green casts. Warm fluorescent lights, while not as rich as incandescent sources, add warm casts.

Halogen and LED lighting is bright and white and distorts color less than any other artificial light source. It does, however, tend to cool colors a bit.

Color Temperature and Spectrum

Keep in mind that the color temperature of the bulbs you buy can affect color. When buying bulbs, keep the following in mind:

To warm up a room’s color look for a bulb with a temperature close to 2,700 Kelvin.

To cool down a room’s color look for a bulb with a temperature close to 4,000 Kelvin.

To most accurately replicate natural daylight midday sunlight is around 5,000 to 6,000 Kelvin, but keep in mind that this is very cool light.

Recommended Paint Selection Tools

Mix, match and visualize colors for your home with these easy-to-use digital color tools for a variety of platforms provided by Sherwin-Williams.


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