Choosing Wisely: Tips for Getting the Perfect Paint Color Every Time

published Nov 7, 2012
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Sometimes there is nothing quite so daunting as a big, blank wall, waiting to be painted. With all the time, money and effort that painting entails, you want to be sure that you’re actually going to like the finished product. Read on for some tips on how to choose color wisely.

Consider your light.
First of all, you should be realistic about your space and the colors that will work within it, and light plays a big role here. White and pale colours look great in light-flooded rooms, but can look dingy and sad in a basement apartment or a North-facing home. It might seem contrary, but a warmer, darker shade can actually improve a room which doesn’t get much light. The good news is that with such a huge spectrum to choose from, whatever color you’re after, you can probably find a version of it to suit your home.

Neutrals aren’t really.
Beiges, taupes and greys might seem safe, but these so-called “neutrals” can be a color minefield. You’ll want to pay close attention to the undertones of your floors, furniture and any large elements in the room, and try to stay consistent with your new wall color. Got a pinky-beige carpet in your rental that you can’t tear out? That cool grey might not work so well, and you might be better off with a warmer, pink-based taupe.

Gather as many swatches as you can.
Let’s assume that now you know the general color you want for your room: a dark blue, a light grey, a vibrant orange or whatever. Your first step is to go to the paint/hardware store and grab as many swatches as you can. Swatches that are lighter than what you think you want, swatches that are darker, swatches that are warmer or cooler or anywhere in the general color family you’re after. They’ll all look a little different when you get them home, so don’t be too quick to dismiss in-store.

Don’t pay too much attention to brand, either; you can always have a base paint tinted to a color you like on another company’s swatch card. The best swatches are as large as possible and printed full-bleed. The white lines in between and around colors only serve to confuse the eyes, so if you have swatches with those, cut them up!

Compare, compare, compare.
It’s next to impossible to judge a color on its own, so get those swatches into the room you want to paint. Hold them vertically against the wall everywhere: by the floorboards, next to the window, behind your artwork and next to the sofa. Do this in the morning, afternoon and evening. Gradually, you’ll dismiss the ones which won’t work and (hopefully) be left with 2–3 top contenders.

Do a (thorough) swatch test.
Once you’ve chosen the colors most likely to work, go buy a small sample tin of each. Paint largish swatches (at least 10″ square) of each color on the walls in several parts of the room. Then wait for at least a couple of days, observing the colors at different times of the day, in different lighting conditions. At this point, one of them should jump out at you screaming “Pick me, pick me!” (If it doesn’t, go back to the last step).

Do you have any other tips for choosing color? Chime in below!