Painting expert Brian Santos says the key to testing paint samples is in the light. See how you can avoid one of the most common mistakes homeowners make when choosing a paint color.

By Brian Santos and Hannah Bruneman
August 26, 2015
Credit: Home of Lee Rhodes and husband Peter Seligman.

Choosing a paint color is hard work. Aside from choosing from an impossibly large range of shades and hues, there are many other factors to consider. One of the biggest mistakes a homeowner can make while choosing paint color is only looking at the paint chip under the fluorescent lights of the warehouse store. Under harsh light conditions, color can look much different than what you’d see in natural or dim lighting. To help you choose your interior paint colors wisely, painting expert Brian Santos is here to share his tips. Below, see how he suggests homeowners should test a paint color in their home before taking the plunge and painting the whole room. You’ll be happy you did when you’re satisfied with the perfect paint choice.

You probably selected the color by looking at it under a different type or intensity of light than what's in your room. Sunlight, daylight, fluorescent light, halogen light, and incandescent light affect colors differently. Once you’ve landed on a color, ask the store for multiple paint sample cards. Bring the sample cards into the room you intend to paint and look at its several times during the day. We recommend taping the cards to different walls. It’s important to hit varying angles in the room, because natural light bounces around a space at different intensities. Certain shadows could make a light gray look darker than intended, and light reflecting off a mirror could have the opposite effect.

Of course, not all rooms are flooded with natural light, and the sun does go down every evening. See how the color looks using different kinds of artificial light before making a final decision. If you’re planning a total room makeover, bring any new light fixtures into the space after sunset. Try to set them up as accurately as you can to your décor plans, and see how the paint sample cards look next to the artificial light. If the light hits the wall too harshly and washes out the color, you may want to consider a drum shade for your lamp, which will distribute the light evenly throughout the room.

To get an even better idea of what the color will look like in your room, purchase a small sample of the paint (we like the PPG selections from The Home Depot) and apply it to a white 24-x-30-inch foam-core board. When it's dry, you can move the board around the room, testing the paint in a variety of light conditions. Hold it vertically on the walls to view it. Most paint stores offer sample-size paint quantities, so you aren’t dipping into your renovation budget if you decide you don’t like the color. This method also lets you see how furniture and accessories in a room look when positioned against or next to a particular color. When you've selected your color, cut an 8-1/2-x-11-inch piece from the foam-core board with your final color choice. Keep this sample with you when you shop to make it easier to match items to the paint.

However, you should only do the foam-core board trick if the wall you’re painting is smooth. Texture can affect the look of a paint color, so if you’re working with shiplap, brick, wood, or another material, we strongly suggest painting the wall. All it takes is a one square foot section of the sample paint you got from the paint store. A foot is just large enough to clearly visualize what the whole wall would look like. If you’re sampling a vibrant color, also be sure to prime your wall sample section just as you would during the real job. Getting the sample to look as close to the final product as possible is important in the long run. This includes painting multiple coats, too. Just like the paint cards or foam-core board, paint wall samples in different spots around the room so you can see how the color reacts to shadows and light.

Once you’ve finally settled on a color and are happy with how it looks during the day or night and at different areas of the room, take note of the kind of lightbulbs used in the room. It may seem like a minute detail, but the kind of lightbulb you use can dramatically change the look of interior paint. Incandescent bulbs may make your reds and yellows more vibrant while dulling blues and greens; fluorescent lightbulbs do the opposite. Keeping track of what wattage and brand of lightbulb you used while testing the paint will help you maintain the look you love over the years.


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