How to Choose Paint Colors

Many people hesitate to paint because they feel they can't choose the right color. Happily, I have yet to discover - once the walls are painted - I've chosen a shade that isn't what I had in mind. I think that's because of my paint color choosing technique. Give it a try next time you want to add some color to your world: 

 1. If you're not sure what basic color to choose, take a look at the accessories in the room. For example, some of my paintings and upholstery have very small amounts of blue in them. If I paint a wall blue, everything will tie together, yet the look will be quite new. If you're still stuck on a basic color scheme, pick up some decorating magazines and look for color combinations you like; pay attention to colorful walls you admire. 

2. Pick up paint chips in the general color you desire. Don't try to match the color in your mind (or your magazine clipping) yet. For example, if I paint my wall blue, I'll pick up all the paint chips in shades of blue, even if I think they are too dark or too light. The main reason for this method is that the awful commercial fluorescent lighting in stores makes paint chips look entirely different than they will look in your home. Oh, and while you're picking up paint chips, be sure to get a roll of painter's tape, too. 

 3. Once you're home, separate any paint chips that have more than one color on them. You will need to only look at one color at a time, so rip or cut those strands of color apart. 

4. Rip off a piece of painter's tape and double it over, so it forms a cylinder. Stick this onto the back of one paint chip, then stick the paint chip on the wall you want to paint. If you'll be painting more than one wall, put the paint chip on the most prominent wall - for example, the one you first see when you walk into the room. 

5. Step back at least five feet and look at the paint chip. If it seems much too dark, bright, or light for your taste, remove it and throw it away. If it could potentially work, remove the chip from the wall, remove the tape from the back, and set it aside for a few minutes. 

6. Repeat step 5 with all the paint chips, discarding any that are obviously not right, but retaining any that might work. 

7. Tape 2 or 3 of the "possibly will work" chips on the wall, using a cylinder of painter's tape. (You don't want to see the tape because it can skew the way your eye sees the color on the paint chip.) Keep the paint chips at least 5 (and optimally 10 or more) inches apart, but all on the same wall. 

 8. Look at the paint chips in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening, using whatever lighting is typical for that room. Remove any paint chips you don't like in any of these lighting situations. 

9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 until you've examined all the "possibly will work" paint chips on the wall throughout the day and night. Now your pile of "possibly will work" chips should be smaller. 

10. At this point, if you have a magazine clipping, you might hold up the paint chips to it, in the light you will mostly use in the room. I've often made my final color decision by choosing the chip that's closest to the photo. 

11. If you're still unsure, tape the chips onto the wall for a few more days, making sure they are on the same wall and that they are a good 10 inches apart. If you'll be painting more than one wall, it's a great idea to tape all the chips onto some other walls in the room to see how they look in the morning, afternoon, and evening light. 

12. At this point, I can always pick a single paint chip. If you're still unsure, you can try buying one of those tester jars of paint to put on the wall. They cost about $3. I'd recommend painting at least a 10 inch square on the most prominent wall you're going to paint, then be sure to view it in morning, afternoon, and evening light. Happy painting!


  1. Good tips. The most important one, in my opinion, is to view the color (chips) during all times of day and types of light. Colors can look completely different at dawn than at dusk or at the front of your house versus the back.

    I've also found it helpful to purchase "sample" paints. Most stores offer 2oz. bottles or even large poster-sized chips. These are more expensive than the free chip strips, but they're still less expensive than having to paint an entire room twice ... or three times. ;)

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