The Ultimate Guide for Choosing the Perfect Paint Color

March 18, 2017 6 Comments

Perception of color is very subjective. People have color preferences, and color psychology attributes this to the ability of colors to affect our mood. Though there is no definite evidence of that, marketology widely uses colors to influence our decisions. For instance, green labels are associated with eco-friendly and peaceful products.

Have you noticed how room colors make you to feel? For example, I always feel uncomfortable in rooms with particular shades of yellow walls, and calm in rooms with grayish-blue walls. Choosing the right paint color for your home is very personal, but there are some basic designer concepts that you might find helpful. No, I am not claiming that I am a designer. But these basic rules are pretty easy, and there is a great tool like this color wheel that you can use to select a color like a pro, even if you are a  non-designer. I love my home, but there are still areas that I am not perfectly happy with, because we jumped into renovations so abruptly, without much research in advance. And in this post I will spill what I have learned (sometimes the hard way) for myself after painting an entire house.

1.  Get Familiar With a Color Wheel

A color wheel is a circle of colored sectors – a visual representation of colors. It consists of 12 color hues.

3 primary  – red, blue, and yellow

3 secondary – purple, orange, and green; the colors that are achieved by mixing primary colors.

3 tertiary – the colors that are achieved by mixing primary and secondary colors.

This is your Ultimate Tool for choosing paint colors, whether you are just a beginner or a seasoned pro. This is a tool all designers use to choose the colors for selected color schemes. I highly recommend you invest in a color wheel. It costs 6-10 bucks but will serve you a good deal when you head to the home improvement store for a new paint color.
I also like this free online interactive color wheel tool – Color Calculator.

Now you know how the color wheel is built, lets get to the most interesting part – color schemes.

2. Understand Color Schemes

A color scheme is an arrangement or combination of colors.
There are many color schemes and even more colors. Thus choosing the right paint may feel intimidating initially, but hopefully not after you read this article.
I want to cover some basic color schemes here first.
Before we jump into the most fun part – color schemes, let’s talk some terminology.

A basic color wheel has 12 divisions, but there are millions of colors around us. That is because there are intermediate colors, and the color can be altered by tinting, shading, or toning. What am I talking about?

For example, let’s look at blue (a primary color on the color wheel). You can adjust it by:

1.    Tinting – adding white to the hue (color)

2.    Shading – adding black to the hue

3.    Toning – adding gray to the hue

In other words, by tinting, shading, or toning you are changing the value of the color.
There are many, many, nearly endless varieties of the same color.
And this gradually bring us to the first color scheme:

Monochromatic (based on harmony)

This color scheme is achieved by choosing just a single color hue and working around its tint, shade, and tone.

You basically alter the color (hue) you choose by playing with tint, tone, or shade similar to the example I provided above.

And if you think that monochromatic interior design is boring, check out these pictures.

Monochromatic doesn’t mean that you stick with everything in the room being the same color. However, this hue is the main and prevailing color in the room.

Analogous (based on harmony)

In an analogous color scheme, you would choose two or three colors in a row on the color wheel.

The main rule for a successful analogous scheme for an interior is to choose one main color for ~60-70% of the room, the next color to support the main color ~25-30%, and then an accent color 5-10%.

An analogous color scheme can be muted and serene:

Or bold and funky:

Complementary (based on contrast)

Any two colors on the color wheel positioned opposite to each other. In this combination, one color is always warm and the other is always cool.

This can add an energetic, serene, or dramatic look depending on the tints, shades and tones you choose.

Usually, one color is a main color and the opposite color works as an accent color.

Split-Complemetary (based on contrast)

This is when you choose your base color and compliment it with two colors on either side of the opposite (complementary) color.

This will not be as bold as a complementary color scheme, but will still add enough interest and life to the room.

Triadic (based on contrast)

This is when you take three colors equally spaced on the color wheel.

These contrasting colors will create an interesting and vivid vibe in your room.

This color scheme is ideal for kid’s rooms, or whenever you need to add some energy to the room.

Square (based on contrast)

Choose four colors equally spaced around the color wheel.

The main rule and a secret to using this color scheme is to choose one dominant color and use the three others as accents. Also, two colors should be bolder and the other two more subtle. In my opinion, this color scheme is the hardest to do well, so you should be very careful, especially if you are not very experienced, otherwise your room may end up looking too busy.

4. Assess what you already own

Before choosing a paint, I look at things I already own first. It is so much easier to find a paint color matching your furniture or wall art than the opposite.
Or if you are still shopping for furniture and other decor items, do it before you choose your paint, and then consult your color wheel to see what color would look good with your items. You can always go with neutrals like white, cream, gray, or tan, but exercise caution, because those colors may have undertones – I cover this more thoroughly in step 7.

5. Imagine your room

Before you head to the home improvement store to pick up a gallon or two of paint, do the following: close your eyes and imagine the room. How do you see it? Is it minimalist, light and airy, formal and timeless, or dramatic and bold?

Light colors like  cream, vanilla, cotton, etc. brighten and expand the space.
Color matching the floor color also expands the room. This is our second-floor hallway and an example of how matching color brightens the narrow space:




When choosing white, keep in mind that it might be cooler or warmer depending on traces of colors added to the batch of white. And this might be the most difficult color to get right. However, following our tips will help you to choose the perfect color.

For a CLEAN and ELEGANT look, choose a neutral palette – beige, greige, gray, soft blue, etc.

To make a STATEMENT, choose bold colors – red, black, lime, etc.
Consider choosing complementary colors. Bold complementary colors require commitment. They are fun and encourage socializing, but can become tiring over time. You can consider painting an accent wall, or other smaller parts of the room using a bold color.

If you are not ready to commit to a particular color or you want a room that can easily be redecorated, you might want to choose neutral colors and decor elements (pillows, throughs, lamp shades) in bolder colors.

If you want to make the room CALM and RELAXING, choose monochromatic or analogous color schemes. They are comfortable to look at and will have a calming effect even when you choose bolder colors.

This color scheme is great for bedrooms in particular, as it provides less information for our brain to process, which helps for faster relaxation and better sleep.
This is why we chose a monochromatic color scheme for our bedroom.

This color scheme can also visually expand the space.

6. Choosing right sheen

It is a really good practice to choose sheen first as different degrees of light reflection will slightly affect the color itself. The sheen will depend on what room or piece of furniture you are painting.

Basic things to remember:
Glossier sheens will show any wall imperfections while satin will hide it. Glossier sheens are easier to clean, so they are perfect for surfaces that easily get dirty – like doors, baseboards, and kitchen cabinets.

I really love this infographic presented by The Navage Patch.
This is a very nice visual guide on how to choose the correct sheen.

7. Choosing paint

Now that you have an idea what vibe you want to create and you have chosen the color scheme, you are ready to head to the home improvement store. Great! But, PLEASE, don’t rush to buy gallons of paint. This is especially important when you are shopping for neutrals and whites. They ALL have undertones. Gray may look green-ish, blue-ish, or pink-ish.

These are all grays on Behr pallette, but one looks more like lavender, another is green-ish, and third blue-ish – this is what I mean by undertones.

Whites may look cream, gray, pink, or peach depending on trace colors they have. And it is nearly impossible to find “pure” white. The purest will have a drop of black to make it not too dull and boring. Even when you pick a ceiling white paint, and think it is “pure” white, it is not. It actually may look gray-ish…

These are all members of the white family. See?

So, do yourself a favor and save time on re-painting a room with this simple task. Choose several paint candidates, get some 12×12 chipboards, apply two coats of paint samples (you can pick up a sample of your color in most home improvement stores for ~$2-3). Put it against the wall you want to paint and look at it in different settings  – daylight, evening light, artificial light. Put it against your furniture, curtains, and other home decor.

Daylight will show the color in the most realistic form, while evening light will make it look warmer than it is. Artificial light will make it look warmer or cooler depending on the type of light bulb you use in the room.

Thus, NEVER pick the paint by just looking at the paint chip in the store. It will look completely different under the store’s artificial lighting.

It may take you days or maybe weeks to see how the color looks in different settings.
I know, you want to get into the painting project as soon as possible, but this simple task will help you to avoid some very common mistakes and save time, money, and effort.

When decorating with neutrals, choose warmer undertones of gray or white if you have warm shades of furniture. Warm colors are red, orange, yellow. That includes brown and tans, as well. So if you have a brown or tan sofa and you want to decorate with neutrals, you want to pay close attention to paint undertones.

An example of a room decorated in warm neutrals:

Cool colors are blue, green, and violet.

Of course, these are all tips and hints to help you to get started. This is your home, and only you know what feels and looks good. So don’t be afraid to experiment. In the worst case scenario, you will have to repaint the room, which doesn’t cost a fortune! 🙂

Hopefully, these tips will be useful to you. And if you are a newbie to room painting but want to paint like a pro, you can check this great post with every detail on how to paint a room like a pro.


  1. Valentin

    March 18, 2017

    Hi, Nadia!
    Very interesting and understandable. I would like to try it in practice.
    Thanks for the info.

  2. Dmitri Karpov

    March 19, 2017

    Valentin, we are happy it was helpful for you! thank you for stopping by! 🙂

  3. Nadia Karpov

    March 19, 2017

    sign up under Dima’s words! ))) thank you for visiting!

  4. Julie Christiansen

    March 23, 2017

    This was a really helpful article. I especially appreciate your photo examples of the various color schemes. Great for visual learners! Thanks for sharing at My Busy Beehives #beeparty this week!

    • Nadia Karpov

      March 28, 2017

      Thank you for stopping by Julie! I will see you at the party next week 😉

  5. Mary-The Boondocks Blog

    March 29, 2017

    Nadia this was such a helpful guide. The examples really show us what you mean and help to clarify everything. I wish I had this years ago when I decided to paint my living room a "sand" color. It now looks more pink than sand. But I didn’t know about all this important stuff back then. But now with your helpful guide I’ll be ready for the next paint job.

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