Choosing Colors: What You Should Know About Paint Chips

I was just interviewed for a story about Decor Dont’s over at AOL’s ShelterPop.  Specifically, why you shouldn’t pick a paint color based on how the color chip looks in the store {never a good idea}.


Selecting paint colors can be tricky.  I always talk to my clients about how to choose colors, but I realized that I’ve never really blogged about it.  So, this post will be the first of many “How To” topics when it comes to color selection {I hope you’re cheering}.

In the AOL story, I mention how lighting affects color.  This is huge.  Most stores use ‘cool white’ fluorescent lighting that casts a bluish tint, even though you may not notice it.  Although the store may be well-lit, colors will look more pale than they really are.  On the contrary, most homeowners use incandescent {or a mix of} light bulbs that give colors a warmer appearance.

So, unless the lighting in your house is similar to a gymnasium, don’t assume that the colors will look the same at home as they do in the store.


Let’s face it.  Paint chips are fickle.  They will give you a good idea of how a color will look in your space but it won’t be an exact match.

In addition to being affected by lighting, most paint chips are very small, so it’s sometimes hard to see the color’s true undertones or level of intensity.  As a result, colors may appear stronger or slightly different when painted on a wall versus what you see on the paint chip.  For example, once you paint, you may discover the gold you selected looks more orange than yellow.

Not only that, but many paint chips always have their family members tagging along.  Colors are often grouped into ‘families,’ so that you can compare the different variations — light, mid-tone and dark — by looking at one large color card.  Comparisons are great, but when you’ve made your decision, always cut-out or tear-off the color chip that you like and give it a second look.


Colors are easily affected by other colors, and the one you choose could appear brighter or more muted just because it’s next to a family member.  So, isolate the color {exclude the white ‘divider’ line, also} and you’ll get a better feel for how it looks before you actually test it out.  Uh huh..say YES to the test!


It is always a good idea to test the colors at home.  Nowadays, most paint companies sell inexpensive sample-sizes, so there is no excuse to skip this step.  I know…not everyone does this and things turn out fine, but testing does ensure that there will be no surprises.  At minimum, paint a one-ft. square in the middle of the wall and observe it for a day or two.  This way, you can see how the color looks at different times of the day in various lighting conditions.

I know it’s tempting to paint your test-square behind the door, low to the floor, or in the closet, but don’t do it.  This will not give you a true sense for the how the color will look in your room.  You’ll need to see how the color appears in natural light and in the evening.  I cannot emphasize how important it is to test out in the open!

{innexperience blog}

I know that some of you will still be hesitant to actually paint a test area on your wall.  “I’ll just use poster board,” you say.  I’m begging you not to do this.  Instead, inquire in the store about ordering larger paint chips, or you may be able to order them on-line.  Taping a larger color sheet to the wall will work better than painting on poster board, which absorbs paint much differently than your walls.  This is especially true if you’ll be painting over another color on the wall.


Finally {and most importantly}, be committed to the painting process, and if you’re not having a ‘painting emergency,’ don’t rush.  If you’re on the fence about painting or you’re in a hurry, you won’t be willing or patient enough to do what is necessary in order to find the right color.  Stay tuned for more tips on how to choose colors and paint a room!

4 thoughts on “Choosing Colors: What You Should Know About Paint Chips

  1. Very good advice Kelly! I always paint huge blotches of color on my walls…and they usually end up staying there for at least a month (until we just cant’t stand it anymore!) But that way we really, really get “used to” the color, and how it will look throughout the day and evening. I totally agree that taking your time is key….

  2. Thanks, Rachel. Good advice. Painting over an existing wall color can throw things off a bit, which is why committing to the painting process is so important. You may need the patience to go through a few steps to get to the right paint color.

  3. Hello, fellow Stir columnist!
    great summary on color selection -your point about different lighting is so important.
    I have a post script to add. I would say that you can buy paint-ready sample boards, or use primed wood to test paint colors. The downside to painting directly on the wall is that you must contend with the existing wall color onto which you’ve painted your sample. Context is everything, so if you’ve just painted a brown swatch on a red wall, this will look very different than if the wall were green. Also, your painters will have that much extra work to sand down the edges of sample swatches and prime over them. boards work great if prepared properly.

  4. I’ve been itching and scratching to get a better look at that gorgeous room next to the peacock blue swatch in the second picture, because I MUST have a peacock blue room in my house! It looks exactly right, though the pic is so tiny it’s tantalising. But thank you for it.

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