How Lighting Changes Your Paint Color

Photo credit: Farrow & Ball

So much goes into choosing a color for a room, doesn’t it? We agonize for hours and hours over the perfect shade of white, grabbing piles of chips from multiple paint stores and then, inexplicably, when the room is painted, your could swear  that isn’t the white you chose. What happened? Science happened. Here, we break down how lighting changes your paint color.

How Lighting Changes Your Paint Color

Photo credit: House Beautiful

When you mix your paint color and light, you’re combining two paint colors, according to Sherwin Williams. Because light has different color temperatures and hues of its own, when combined with your selected color, it creates a new color that continues to change slightly throughout the day. Scientists measure this through color temperature and the color-rendering index. The science behind color and its nuances can get very technical and overwhelming quickly — it considers factors like the kelvins in a light bulb, where on the color index the color falls as well as the temperature.

How Lighting Changes Your Paint Color

Photo credit: PopSugar

Designers may select color based on how it looks in the light or by starting with the light and considering that first when selecting a color. For example, light in north-facing rooms is cool and has blue undertones. Bolder colors show up better in north-facing rooms. South-facing rooms are like striking the lighting lottery. All the sunlight makes both cool and warm colors pop. Dark colors will look brighter and lighter colors will glow. East-facing rooms are great for reds, oranges and yellows and west-facing rooms produce lovely evening light but colors can look dull in the morning.

If you’ve ever painted a room to discover your color looks totally different on the wall, you may have suspected there was more to picking a paint color than picking a chip. To help navigate these lighting factors, make sure to consider a few things before painting. First, what direction does your room face? What kind of light will it get? Next, if you’re between colors, bring home several options (you can get testers for just a few dollars) and paint a couple strokes on the wall. Look at them at different times of day and especially in the evening with the lamps and light bulbs that will be in the room (light bulbs matter too and can change things!).

If you’re in doubt about color and how it will shift, we’re always available to help answer questions and guide you. We do this for a living and understand color can be a tough choice, even before introducing all the nuances lighting can provide.

Do you have a trick for picking a sure-fire paint color that looks great in your room’s light? Do you have a preference for certain colors in certain rooms because of the light? How do you think different light fixtures and light bulbs can change light, for better or worse? Tell us!


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