How to Choose Paint Colors

Employ these expert strategies, and you'll soon be choosing paint colors like a design pro.

1. Hone in on what appeals. Pick paint colors that you love. If a color makes you happy, you'll love how it looks in any room. Unsure of your color preferences? Post inspirational items (magazine, catalog, and calendar pages, picture postcards, panoramic photos, and fabric swatches) that delight your eye on a board. Review the board to find a common color thread. Regard that color as your starting point.

2. Spy on the neighbors. Take your hue cue from a paint color used in an adjacent space. Carry that color into the space you're painting to create pleasing room-to-room flow. Vary the color's intensity, placement, and dominant or supporting role to create a standout design that still blends with the whole. For example, if one room has orange sherbet walls, choose an orange hue two or three shades lighter to use on the ceiling of the room you're working on.

3. Don't overlook elephants in the room. Fireplaces, cabinets, flooring, appliances, and surfaces contribute blocks of color that you'll need to take into account when selecting paint colors. Choose paint colors with undertones that match the golden, red, orange, or gray undertone's in a room's wood finishes. Select paint colors that mirror a marble's veining, enhance stainless-steel appliances, or complement brickwork's colorations.

4. Take a turn around the color wheel. Select colors that fall next to each other to fashion easy-on-the-eye analogous schemes. Choose colors opposite each other on the wheel to shape high-impact complementary palettes. Or, pick one color and layer in varying shades of that paint color to quietly compile a monochromatic design. Determine whether your primary hue reads cool or warm and whether it is active, passive, or neutral; weigh these qualities when you choose accent colors and paint sheens.

Learn more about the color wheel.

5. Flip through fan decks. Use fan decks when you're choosing different paint colors and want them to share a tonal range. Thinking of red walls and cream trim? Pick a red hue and a cream shade that share the same position on their specific color cards; matching hues that fall in the center of the card is a nearly fail-safe option.

6. Make a plan using paint chip strips. Use the lightest, darkest, and center colors on one paint card as your painting palette; place the palest tone on the ceiling and/or trim, the darkest on walls (or on a focal point wall), and the midtone on wainscots and architectural elements you want to emphasize.

More tips for using paint swatches.

7. Go high tech. Utilize paint manufacturer's online color selection tools and color design programs that let you upload a photo of a room or use a supplied image that you can "paint" with different colors until you get a look you love.

Check out our color tool, My Color Finder, to simplify paint color selection. Click here to get started with the free tool.

8. Sample a palette. Once you've narrowed your paint color choices to two or three, bring them into the space via sample boards. Buy sample-size containers of each color. Paint each hue and its accent color on a 1x1-foot piece of poster board. Check the boards against the room's furniture, fabrics, surfaces, and artworks to see which color pair or pairs complement your belongings best.

9. Consider appearance. As you're narrowing down your choices, also buy a paint sample that's a shade or two lighter than your contenders. Paint colors will appear more intense and darker once they've dried. If you see a color that you like, but prefer it in a lighter shade, you can't just add white. Instead, ask store staff to blend the paint using 1/2 or 1/4 of the selected color's formula.

10. Run final tests. Buy a sample of the paint color you like best and paint a 2x2-foot square on the wall. Leave all the furnishings in the room, as other colors, patterns, and textures will affect how the paint color appears. Check how the color looks under natural and artificial light and at varying times of the day over the course of several days. Repeat the testing process until you settle on a paint color that perfectly suits your purposes.

Color by Room

Are you choosing color for a specific room? Check out these room-by-rooms ideas to get started:

Bedrooms

Dining Rooms

Living Rooms

Kitchens

Bathrooms

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