How To Choose Paint Colors

It is time to paint that old room in the back of the house. The only issue here is with so many options out there. How do you choose the paint colors that you want?  If you want to make this room pop out in color, then having the correct paint color scheme is important.

How to Choose Paint Colors

  1. Make your paint plan
  2. Choose your tones and accents
  3. Pick a Sheen
  4. Go bold, neutral, or stay soft
  5. Pick the correct volume for your taste
  6. Decide on the ceiling contrast
  7. Make sure the lighting is right
  8. Paint away

Although it is not an exact science, it does help a lot to know how colors react to light and each other. The social aspects of what colors say and how to pick a good tone. Getting everything to flow beautifully into one grand ambiance is more of an art than a science. However, science may be able to help us in this case.  The first step is to always have a plan when choosing paint colors, a Paint plan.

Paint Plan on How To Choose Paint Colors

Making a Paint plan is going to be one of your first steps in choosing your paint colors. Find things that you like and want to say. Different colors have a different feel to them.  You don’t have to be specific here. Your paint plan will probably change as you learn more about picking paint colors.

Like with any good plan, start with brainstorming some quality color ideas. And then some accent colors to go along with your primary colors. This stage is where you would decide on a preliminary theme that you want if any.

Follow your vision, take into consideration all of the variables for the room. The sunlight, the accent furniture, the décor, all of these things go into your personal style. You probably want the following things in your plan:

  1. Budget
  2. Schedule
  3. Who’s helping
  4. Materials Needed
  5. Color scheme

You want to stick to the 60-30-10 rule, and remember the trim and ceiling also. Decide if you are going to have different color schemes in each room, or if you are going to use the same color in each room. This generalized plan is more of a guideline for you.

60-30-10 rule

The 60 30 10 rule simply states that 60% of your room should be your primary color. The remaining 40% breaks down into 30% for accents such as furniture and baseboards. The remaining 10% should come from decorations and changeable décor in the room.

The reason why neutral colors are all the rage is that they can go with anything. If 60% of your room is neutral, you can put any color scheme in the room together with your furniture and décor, and It will still look amazing, as long as the accent colors go with each other.

This is where a color wheel becomes handy, as you are exploring your different color options you should keep in mind what colors go good together, and what colors complement each other.  You want to select the appropriate accents that go with your theme.

Remember to consider what the primary use of the room is when making these selections. Let’s get into how colors are actually colors, and what’s what in the paint world.


The Hue or color spectrum is the family in which your chosen color belongs to. Red, yellow, and blue are the only primary hue colors that exist. All colors belong to one of these three families, and pure white light is a combination of all three of these colors.

Black is the absence of color completely void of hue. Changing the color hue, saturation, and value will make the perfect color for your new project.  This is important as you play around with different hues and color schemes to be able to match the colors together.

Colors that complement each other are those of opposite hues, on the color wheel. All colors are comprised of a combination of these three primary colors.  The primary and secondary colors make up the color wheel or spectrum.

Secondary colors are ones that are created equally by mixing two primary colors together. These are your green, purple, and orange colors.

Color Value

The color value is the dimension of light versus darkness in the color; this goes hand in hand with the color saturation but is not the same thing. Imagine a square grid, with the first color being white and in a vertical line down it goes from white to black.

Now add the saturation, which is going to be the color from left to right, and the very top line all the way to the right is going to be the brightest of the brightest colors.

Setting the color value and saturation is going to help you pick the perfect color for your project. You want to know how your shade reacts to light in your home. The color value is also known as the brightness of the color.


Simply put the saturation is the intensity of the color, the more black that is added to color will make the color more muted or toned down. This is the equivalent of tinting a color, or window, putting the darker film over the color.

The film could be white, grey or black, and the range of intensity can directly affect the ambiance in the room.  The saturation has more to do with the light than it does anything else. If you mute the color too much it is going to be dull. If you lighten the color too much or put to much “ Light” then the color is going to be overly pale.

The Saturation has a lot to do with the intensity of the color, so if you want something bright and bold, you are going to want to look at something with higher saturation, if you want a bright color but a soft undertone, you are going to want a lower saturation.

The Saturation is the amount of hue versus the amount of light in the color that you are picking.

Finish or Sheen

Selecting the proper sheen or finish is important to your project. Too much shine, and it is going to be too bright, to little shine, it will be too dull.  You want to save the flat and matte paints for places that have guests, but your walls are not at risk of getting too dirty.

You want the areas that have a higher risk of getting dirty or stained to have a better finish. But not too reflective. Satin sheen is suitable for kitchens, bathrooms, and high traffic areas. This sheen also works well in children’s rooms as it is easier to clean.

Save your semi-gloss sheen for doors, cabinets, trim and baseboards. This will give your room a nice and clean feel at all times. The semi-gloss sheen is not fully reflective but is more reflective than the satin finish. Putting a nice semi-gloss on your doors will make cleaning the stains off of it easier.

You also want to select the correct primer for your paint. It is always recommended to use a primer when painting interior and exterior walls. The primer allows for better adhesion of the paint coat is applied.

flat matte satin Semi-gloss Hi-gloss
Low traffic area’s Medium traffic Silky finish High traffic, high moisture Trims and Doors


This is the part of selecting the paint that brings all of the other things together. The hue, saturation, and value all combine to make the perfect color. The undertone is the secondary tone used to make the color from the primary color.

The easiest way to determine what the undertone of color is is to put it next to a pure version of that same color. If you are using a red hue base and want to know what the undertone is, just put the paint up next to a paint card that is pure red.

A color wheel is also helpful here as you may wish to create a certain color and need to know what to add or take away.  You can create that perfect tone with this knowledge and adding the correct undertones.  The undertone is what makes the perfect palette of color, a good color. You want to look at the darker colors on the strip to find the undertone. Understanding the undertone to the paint you are selecting will help when choosing the lighting for the room.


Considering the proper lighting in the room is another feat to overcome. Does the sunlight come in dampened in the morning? This would mean that the brightest part of the day is going to be the dullest. Knowing the effects of light on your color choice can make or break your design.

Incandescent lighting will cast a yellowish overtone onto the color. This will bring out the lighter undertones and create a warmer feeling. The fluorescent lighting will cast a blueish overtone onto your color.

Casting the blueish light will bring out the darker, or cooler tones within the paint.  The dawning light is usually the brightest, and the dusk is the dampest your color will get. Knowing how your color choice reacts to light in the space it is in, is an important step is choosing the correct paint. Putting your chosen colors paint card, up on a wall for 24-48 hours, will allow you to see how the color reacts to light.

Color Combinations

Color combinations are separated into four different categories of colors. Here is a quick reference list for color combinations.

  • Complimentary
  • Opposite colors (exact)
  • Monochromatic
  • Three tones of one color, or different saturations, easy to apply conservative look
  • Analogous
  • Three colors that are side by side on the color wheel, you would choose one dominant color here, and use the other two as accents. Like a solid red with pink and orange accents.
  • Triadic
  • Three colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel, such as the three primary hue’s.
  • Tetradic
  • Four colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel, choose one dominant and use the others as accents. This combination is usually not going to be used too often except in complex projects. Like painting a fish on a wall for a child.

Temperature Selection

There are two temperatures to consider when choosing the right paint color. There are warm colors and cool colors. Depending on what you wish to accomplish and the ambiance of the room would determine what you would select.

Take the color wheel and split it right down the middle, and you would get the even split between the two temperatures.  You want to pick temperatures based on the design of your room. You don’t want to mix temperatures that do not complement each other.  Considering the lighting in the room as well and the purpose of the room is essential as well.

The lighting also reflects the temperature when selecting your paint. If you are using brighter incandescent bulbs, you may want to select a warmer temperature to go with the lighting. A Daylight bulb will emit a more natural type of light and is more of neutral temperature.

type cool warm
lighting Fluorescent is best or daylight Incandescent
purpose Relaxing energizing
Feel Rest, rainy days, relaxation, sleep, mental calmness Sunlight, movement, excitement, statements, adventure


These colors go with just about anything. They are Neutral in hue, saturation, luminescence( lighting), value, and temperature. These are your beige, grey, or any color that has a hint of all of the colors in it.

The neutral color scheme is when the two-color tones are virtually the same; the only scale to change is the value on the color scheme. These make the neutral colors complement all of the other colors in the color wheel.

Neutral colors do not show up on a color wheel. The combination to make them only involves the changing of light, or plus/, minus a primary hue. This means that the neutral colors are either warm/cool and light/dark.

When selecting a neutral color, you want to consider what the undertones of the color are, as this can affect the way the color is perceived. If you pick a neutral brown with an orange undertone, your going to wind up with something that looks like a burnt pumpkin pie.

Warm Colors

Warm colors are your colors that bring excitement into your life, the ones that say something. These colors are your reds, oranges, and yellows. They are one the warmer side of the ambient scale. Warm colors tend to have a cozier feel to them and are very welcoming.

Your warmer colors tend to give off feelings of optimism, happiness, and stimulation. The warmer colors give energy and can give the impression of being joyful, adventurous, daring, or even passionate.

Your warm colors are said to be from red to yellow. Since we know that opposites attract, using a complimentary scale, a dark bold red would look perfect together with a nice dark bold teal trim combination. These colors remind us of things like sun, fire, daylight, and relationships with those objects.

These are said to be active colors, and promote energy in a space. Warm colors are good in areas where lots of social activities are taking place. You want light in these areas more than others, as it will bring out the natural shine in the reds and yellows.

Cool Colors

This color temperature is the opposite of the warm temperature and is best used in relaxing environments. The bedroom or guest room is a good place to put some cool colors. They also make some good accent colors to the warmer colors.  Putting cooler colors in bedrooms also helps with the ambient lighting of the room.

Cool colors also make your space seem larger than it is, giving you the feeling of more room inside the area that is painted. We cover this specific method here. Cool and warm colors also complement each other and provide contrast.  Finding the perfect combination is something of an art.

A good rule of thumb is to go to the opposite side of the color wheel for good contrast,  so if you have an eggshell white with a cobalt blue undertone and a light saturation for your main color. This is very soft. You may want to consider a light brownish-orange for accent rugs or bedding in the room.

Cool colors are also referred to as passive colors or colors that have a calming effect. Cool colors tend to be really good for relaxing and focusing. They are less distracting and often hold lighter shades better. This is a good color pick for a room with low luminescence most times of the day.


Pastels are a type of color family that is described as having a high value, with low saturation. The pale color scheme is generally used to create a soft and elegant pastel. These are lighter colors that we see around easter. Pastels don’t have to be boring or look like the easter bunny threw up all over your room.

The baby blue and light pink are some of the more popular pastel colors. The shade and tint of a pastel color can vary but is considered to have a higher tint than tone. Tint moves the color lighter, and shade moves the color towards the darker side.

Mixing the paints to get any color in the family is usually done by means of either tinting or shading the color, or by adding an undertone in the spectrum. This method can move your complexion to a softer, or bolder shade.  The more white you add to your color, the lighter or softer it becomes.

Pastels can say a lot about who you are, or what kind of mood to embrace. Pastels are always light and fluffy, soft colors. However, Pastels can also be bold, depending on the saturation of the color and the background they are applied to.  Pastels can be challenging to get right, but when they are done right, they look outstanding.

Soft colors

Soft color tones are often lighter in saturation, but can sometimes have a medium saturation and higher value.  These are like the soft colored pastels, and another pale like colors. These colors are often paired really well with some bold accents.

The softer colors make for a good decorating background, and the softer the color, the bolder the accent can be. Think of the light-colored tips on a color card. Hold it up next to a darker bold color of the same color, and it looks amazing.

Monochromatic palate styles here would be a good selection process and decorating plan. Picking a dominate lighter color for your primary, then accenting the trim with a darker shade of the same color. Finish it off with some really bold accents in your furniture mix.

The undertones on softer colors tend to be more on the tint side of the spectrum.  The more white you add, the lighter the color gets. This can be especially useful if you are planning to paint a guest room that you want people to feel comfortable in. Something warm, welcoming, with soft ambient lighting, can make your guest comfortable.

Bold colors

Bold colors are the ones that really stand out. They have a high saturation in hue and can usually stand alone. Bold colors make a statement and provide for a good vibrant color scheme. This type of color hue is usually a primary or secondary color without the need for tint or shade.

Adding tint to a bold color would lower its boldness, and turn it soft, or pastel. Adding shade to a bold color will dampen its saturation, making the color muted. The boldness comes from the colors ability to stand on its own, without tint or shade applied.

The undertones of bold colors will usually match the colors to help keep the boldness. The value is usually high as these colors can be very bright.  Bold colors make a statement in any room or area. They look really good in private high traffic areas, such as a bathroom. The boldness in the color schema will display a little personality to the project.

Where to Use bold colors:

  • Bathroom paint
  • Office space
  • Kids Room
  • Trim
  • Art room
  • Interior accents like throw pillows

Picking a theme

Having all of the knowledge you need to choose a good paint for your project, you want to consider picking a theme. Having this as part of your paint plan is going to help guide you along the way. What type of home do you have, and what would look good where you are.

Certain frames and molds of housing layouts can affect the ambiance in the room.  If your goal is to entertain more often than not, having an excellent warm theme, maybe better. If you are more of a holiday-only type of person, the cooler colors may be a better fit.

You can pick different color schemes and transition from one side of the wheel to the other in different rooms. It is okay to go from a light soft purple in a private room, to a bold red in the living room as long as you follow a sequential pattern.

You don’t want to stray too far from the basics that we covered in this article.


Measuring the area that you want to paint is important. Most gallons of paint will paint about 400 square feet. The area is equal to the height multiplied by the length in this case, because the wall is vertical. For measuring your ceiling, it would be length multiplied by the width.

Measure each wall and add them all up to get the number of square feet you need to paint. Then use the formula of 400 square feet per can to get the correct amount of cans. It might be a good idea to get a smaller, half-gallon as an extra just in case can.

You want to do this for every color you need also. As far as measuring trim, most baseboards are ½-2 inches tall and then the length of the wall or height of the board.  People mostly paint these a consistent color throughout the entire house.

Word of caution when measuring is to measure twice, just in case. It is always better to have extra paint than to not have enough paint, especially if it is a custom mixed color because color matching seldom comes out exact.

Supplies needed

What you choose to use to paint the area is going to depend on what type of paint you chose, the color palette, and the transitions between dark and light.  Depending on what you decided to do, you may need more supplies than listed here, but just to get you started.

Here is a simplistic list of supplies that you may need:

  1. Tape measure
  2. Plastic coverings
  3. Floor coverings
  4. Paint tray
  5. Paint roller
  6. Old clothes
  7. Paintbrushes for the trim
  8. Painters tape (the blue tape)

If you are unsure about any of these options your local hardware store will be able to assist you in finding the right materials you may need. You can always get extra materials that may come in handy.

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