How Light Affects Paint Colors

Have you ever been in someone’s home and decided you absolutely had to have their wall color in your own home?  But when you painted your own room, the color looked quite different?  What’s up with that?  Metamerism.

  

 

Yes, metamerism.  That simply means:  colors seem to change under different light conditions.   That’s why it’s never good to choose a color while standing in a paint store! 

 

You really need to look at color swatches in the actual space you are going to paint.  It’s also good to look at it in the daytime and the nighttime, and with lamps on and off.  I’ve had clients say to me:  “But this color looks different at night!”  Of course it does.  It’s impossible for a paint color to look the same in all lighting conditions. 

 

Choosing paint colors in natural sunlight is ideal.  Natural sunlight provides the neutral balance between warm and cool ends of the light spectrum (yellow and blue, respectively).  Northern light is the coolest, while southern exposure is the most intense.  If you paint two rooms – one with a northern exposure and one with a southern exposure – the wall color will look different in each room. 

 

Even natural sunlight isn’t consistent.  It changes throughout the day and varies if it’s cloudy or clear.  The shadows created by an overcast day impacts how the wall color looks, as well.

 

What about overhead lighting and lamp light?  Incandescent and halogen lights enhance reds and yellows and mute blues and greens.  Fluorescent lights enhance blues and greens and mute reds and yellows.  To further complicate things, wall color lit from above is going to look a bit different than wall color lit from floor and table lamps.

 

Some colors are more metameristic than others.  Grays, taupes, gray-blue, gray-greens, lavenders, and mauves are particularly affected by lighting conditions.  That’s one of the reasons I like those colors so much – they are chameleon colors, which make them more interesting.  You are less likely to tire of them quickly, as long as you have the right undertones.

 

If you need a color intervention, contact The Decorologist to schedule a consultation.  Because you really don’t want to have to paint twice (or more).

Photo Credits:  Sunset, House Beautiful.

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Lee
Guest

so with that in mind – what do you think about those machines at Home Depot, et al, that allow you to bring an object and “match” the color in a paint? I’m guessing fabric alters color perception too?

Heather
Guest

Love this post!! I tell my clients about this alllllll the time. Its why I always make samples first and make them tape them up all around the room and look at them (posterboard size) in different lighting conditions. Cool. I Learned a new vocab word. Now I can wave that around on appointments.

Dianne Tant
Guest
Dianne Tant

such a good post….and so true…good advice for everyone painting a new color.

ehalvey
Guest

This is such a cool post, and a great vocab word. Maybe that’s why I like grays so much-they’re never the same.

Does this hold true when you start changing the texture of the paint? Like would a flat paint change as much as a glossy?

Kelly, The Brave New Home
Guest
Kelly, The Brave New Home

great post, Kristie! this is such an important color “issue” and you’ve explained it in a very clear, easy-to-understand way. lucky readers and clients, you have!!!

Naturally Carol
Guest

Thanks for becoming a follower on Naturally Carol, I am only too pleased to reciprocate, you have a beautiful blog. I can tell I am going to spend many pleasant hours here wandering from picture to post, scattering comments as I go!

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[…] It’s not as easy as it sounds to pick the right paint color for your walls.   There’s lots of things to consider including how lighting conditions affect color, like I blogged about here. […]

Juli Roland
Guest

Spot-on advice. I might add, I always encourage my customers to put up BIG patches of the color, 2-3′ square. And place samples on more than one wall – sometimes in a room, there is that one tricky corner where the color looks different from anywhere else. You don’t want to accidentally make your decision based on that one corner.

Just found your website and love it. Keep up the good work!

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[…] and “live” with them for several days or weeks. The light at different times of day can dramatically change a color. Select 2 or 3 “finalists” from your chips and paint small areas of the room (or foam […]

DA
Guest
DA

Actually the phenomenon you are describing is inconstancy, not metamerism. The former describes the apparent change in a single color as light changes, while the latter describes the change of one color compared to another under different lighting (like selecting a chip that matches a fabric in in the store only to find that the chip no longer matches under tungsten light in your home). Inconstancy is driven by the nature of the color itself while metamerism is driven by differences in the mix of pigments or dyes that were used to make the two colors – it’s why so… Read more »

jackie
Guest
jackie

I just painted my walls in my livingroom and hallways a peach tone called coral dune from BEHR paint. The paint sample looks peach but the walls that get eastern and western light look really pink to me. Can I fix this?

jackie
Guest
jackie

I was wondering if the peach tones do this? I painted my walls with eastern and western lighting a meduim peach tone BEHR coral dune and some walls look peach and others look pink. How can I fix this? Darker lighter new color? HELP!

Chris
Guest
Chris

I’ having the same problem as Jackie i.e.,we’ve painted our bathroom and dressing room the same color, Behr’s Coronado Dunes. Each room has a skylight, but on opposite walls so the bath gets the morning sun and the dressing area gets the afternoon sun. The bathroom is peachand the dressing room very pink! They clash horribly. We tried deepening the color with more brown pigment, but the differences still occurred. Has anyone found a solution to this light problem?

Keara
Guest
Keara

Jackie, I am having the exact same problem. Haven’t found an answer yet. 🙁

Rose
Guest
Rose

I have the same problem! I just painted my bedroom walls a lillac shade (BM-Pale Iris). In some lights, its very pink, and others its more purple. What I can do to tone down the pink? Definetely did not think it would turn out this pink !!

Thanks

Love your site, btw!

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I just painted my bedroom walls a what I thought was going to be a medium grey lavender. The lights in my room turn the top of my room pink. I was wondering what I should to inorder to prevent it from turning pink. (like what kind of lights to use, exc.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I just painted my bedroom walls what I thought was going to be a medium grey lavender. The lights in my room turn the top of my room pink. I was wondering what I should to inorder to prevent it from turning pink. (like what kind of lights to use, exc.

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Choosing Paints That Enhance Your Lighting

[…] the other side of the palette, rooms without a lot of light should always be painted brighter colors, such as yellows and whites. These colors will help […]

Katy
Guest
Katy

We are building a house with an open floor plan and have a room with both northern and southern exposure! Of all the choices I am making (and there are lots!), choosing paint is making me neurotic- which is how I found this blog. Any suggestions on how to do an open floor plan with northernwest and southeast exposure (both major windows will have porches over them, if that matters)?

angelo
Guest
angelo

I painetd a room a salt white color, (blue tinged). The room felt like an overcast day outside. I felt I made a big mistake. I upped the power of the halogen spots from 20 to 35 watts and the result was that color now became interesting.

Before repainting a room, when you think you made a bad color choice, look at tweaking your lighting.

Bobbi
Guest
Bobbi

Thank you for these tips! It’s the most help i’ve found about how lighting will effect my paint color. I still have a question though. We recently painted our living room and kitchen a very light blue color. I really like the color during the day because it’s very subtle and is more of a white with slight/subtle blue tint. However, when it gets dark the color turns into an obvious baby blue. Such a drastic change! My accents are mostly teal colors, so during the evening, everything is just too blue! I’m wondering if Incandescent and halogen lights (which… Read more »

Eliza
Guest
Eliza

Great post. I am shopping for houses in the Seattle area and am already dreaming about painting one to suit my tastes. I was wondering what advice you might have regarding choosing paints for overcast skies? I love Seattle, and have recently returned after years away from my childhood home, but I hate the constant grayness. I want something that will make the interior seem sunny, even though there is often not much sun outside. I was thinking of upping the gloss factor by going satin. Do you think that would work? Any colors that you might recommend? Thanks so… Read more »

carolyn defrenza
Guest
carolyn defrenza

Hi Kristy,
we are renting a furnished apartment for 2 months while our new house is getting ready. unfortunately the spacious living/dining area is painted pink – is there anyway to use lighting colour to change this effect? thank you , Carolyn in Toronto /Canada.

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[…] Moore’s Breath of Fresh Air.  Always keep in mind that natural and artificial lighting affects how you perceive a color in a given […]

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[…] the light in the room changes from day to night so does the appearance of the wall color. Make a point to look at the test color under various light conditions to make sure you still like […]

Taylor Tracy
Guest
Taylor Tracy

I painted a room with Benjamin Moore’s “Summer’s Blue” and it looks very purple under the overhead fluorescent lighting (it’s my office at work). What kind of fluorescent lightbulb would work best being overhead to make it more blue and less purple? In natural light it looks more blue but I have no clue how to imitate that with artificial lighting as best as possible. Any help would be appreciated!

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

Hi,
I just found this website. I have a question that I hope you can help me with. I just painted my bathroom Lazy gray from Sherwin-Williams. One whole section looks a beautiful light gray which is what I wanted. The other part with a north facing window is definitely purple. Depending on the time of day and the lighting it is either a periwinkle or a lavender, but ALWAYS purple. What can I do???