Painting Interiors

How Lighting Affects Paint Color and Why it Matters
Paint Color

How Lighting Affects Paint Color and Why it Matters

Painting your walls is a great way to recharge your home’s atmosphere, but choosing the right color can be tricky.

Understanding how lighting affects paint color can help ensure a happy end result. One of the variables you should manage for when choosing your new color is how the look of the paint will change as the light in the room changes.

Let’s break it down a bit more simply. Have you ever put on a pair of socks only to discover later—under different lighting—that your socks are actually two different colors? The technical term is “illuminant metamerism.” The simple definition for this phenomenon is that colors may take on different tones when viewed under different light. This is an important consideration because, for example, the cool, new shade that you love at the paint store might not look as great as expected on your dining room walls. Or maybe it looks fantastic in your dining room but has a little too much “pop” in the family room. Tricky, right?

Illuminant metamerism may not matter so much when it comes to your socks, but when it comes to painting wall in your home, it can matter a lot!

Color tones may also vary throughout the day as light conditions change from morning through afternoon and on to night. Knowing how light can affect paint color before you purchase gallons of paint can assist in making better choices in your color palette.

How Sunlight Affects Paint Colors

Natural light that streaming through your windows displays the truest representation of color — for better or worse. That’s why colors often appear different on your walls than they did under the store’s fluorescent bulbs.

When choosing your colors, consider the size and number of windows in the room, as well as their directional they face:

Southern-facing windows typically provide the most intense natural light, which can be harsh on sunny afternoons. Pale colors and whites might seem to become faded or dull, while darker colors may appear brighter.

Rooms with north-facing windows provide indirect natural light, infusing the space with a warm, soft tone that remains more consistent throughout the day. Dark colors often appear darker and light colors may be slightly muted. (Note: If you live in the southern hemisphere, the reverse is true: north windows provide more intense light, while south windows provide indirect natural lighting.)

Windows that face east may flood your room with lots of natural light in the mornings but are typically darker later in the day. Dark colors will appear intense in the bright, morning light, but typically become more muted and less vibrant as the morning light fades.

West-facing rooms, while darker in the morning, are bathed in rich yellow or golden tones of the late afternoon. Red or yellow colors may become overwhelming on bright, sunny days.

Every home has its own unique lighting patterns that will affect interior colors. Other factors to consider include the climate you live in and light fluctuations by season. Ideally, colors should be appealing to you under a variety of different lighting conditions. Another tip to consider is your geographical location. The further north you go, the bluer the light becomes, with longer wavelengths. Some paint consultants feel this can really affect the way a color will appear. They say that light appears redder in the south, with shorter wavelengths. Some of the off whites, like Bayshore Beige (Benjamin Moore 1079) really pick up on this. They can even reflect light from the green on the trees or the red from the stain on your deck, changing it, like a chameleon!

How Lighting Affects Paint Color and Why it Matters

How Artificial Lighting Affects Paint Colors

To understand how artificial lighting affects paint colors when it comes from a bulb instead of the sun, it helps to know some basic light bulb terminology. Color temperature, which is measured in Kelvins, rates color tones. Typically, household bulbs are rated from 2,700K to 5,000K. Lower temperatures (2,700K to 3,000K) indicate warmer tones, like those of typical incandescent bulbs. Higher temperatures bulbs emit cool tones. A 5,000K bulb is comparable to natural daylight.

The CRI (color rendering index) is another means of rating bulbs. Bulbs typically rate from 50 to 100 on the index. A higher rating indicates that the bulb produces a more accurate representation of color when compared to natural light.

Check the color temperature and CRI of your household bulbs to help determine how room lighting may affect your paint colors. (Learn more about choosing light bulbs from our colleagues at Mr. Electric®.) Typically, under bulbs with higher color temperatures, dark colors will look brighter and light colors may seem to appear washed out. Paint colors will be closer to their true representation under bulbs with the highest CRI ratings.

Preview Before Painting!

What’s the best way to see whether a color is really the perfect fit for your walls? There are two good options …

Paint swatches in a few places on each wall before making a final decision. (These can easily be painted over once you choose your colors.)

An even better option it to paint a small square (3′ x 3′) of drywall, which you can place throughout the room to see how the paint color changes in different areas.

Choose a time when you can spend at least one full day at home to view the swatches in varying lighting conditions. Ideally, pick a day when the sun will be shining so you can see how it affects the color.

Another good idea: paint your swatches the night before so they’ll be fully dry first thing in the morning on observation day.

Think about the time of day when a room typically gets the most use and pay special attention to how colors appear during those times. If you really like a color, but there are certain times of the day when it’s a little off, think about ways to change the lighting. With natural light from windows, you may be able to adjust the flow of light with curtains or blinds. If the problem lies with indoor lighting, experiment with different types of bulbs to see how they change the hue.

Get Help from an Expert

Have you been thinking about giving your walls a makeover, but not sure you have the time or the expertise to do the job right? Rewynd Projects is ready to help! From helping you choose the right colors to professional application; we’ve got you covered. Leave the painting—and the cleanup—to us! Contact us today to request a free estimate.

Reclaim, Refresh, Rewynd Today!


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