Create the PERFECT Paint Colour: Lighten and Darken
Are you having trouble finding the perfect colour? Just can’t seem to settle on ‘the one’? Well, maybe you have FOUND the perfect colour, you just haven’t found the right depth.
- That gray that seems too dark might be perfect once it’s lightened
- That beige that seems just a bit too light might be bang-on once it’s darkened
What is this magic I speak of? I call it ‘tweaking’, not to be confused with ‘twerking’, which no matter HOW HARD I try, I can’t seem to do (and yes, I’ve tried…a lot).
Every paint colour has what I call a ‘recipe’. And trust me, these are the only kind of recipes I follow. These colour recipes tell you what is in a colour and how much of it there is.
- More simple colours are made of up 2-3 colours mixed together in varying amounts
- More complex colours can have 7-8 mixed colours that are mixed together (BM Colour Stories for example). The more complex a colour is, the more challenging it can be to colour match
- And you don’t need to worry about ANY of that jazz, the paint supplier has it ALL covered
When you are lightening or darkening a paint colour, you are removing (or adding) the same amount (eg: 25%) from each colour in the recipe. This changes the recipe, which in turn changes how the paint colour will turn out. Makes sense, right?
Apparently not! I’ve had painters say to me ‘I don’t lighten colours by 25% – it doesn’t make a difference’. To which I say, ‘Okay, so if you were to make a cookie recipe and wanted to make less, you would reduce each ingredient in the recipe by 25% and you’re telling me it wouldn’t make a difference?’ OF COURSE IT WOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE, YOU WOULD HAVE LESS COOKIES! That is my computer generated angst.
So, let’s get back to the main idea here in simple terms…
‘You can keep the taste of the cookies, while tweaking the recipe to suit your needs’
Step 1 Pick the colour(s)
Decide on the paint colour(s) that you’d like to play around with. Now BM and SW have larger sample pots that cost more money (upwards of $9.99). I can appreciate big jugs, but am of the firm belief that you don’t need a JUG of paint to find the right colour – you need a ‘sample pot’.
- Behr sample pots are 222 ml / approx $3.99
- Benjamin Moore sample pots are 465.5 ml / approx $8.99
- Sherwin Williams sample jugs come in at a whopping 916 ml / approx $9.99.
The best and most affordable way to do this is to take your paint chips to H.Depot (Behr and CIL sample pots). Their colour matching system is approx 97% accurate, which for the sake of what we’re doing works like a hot damn and is approx $3.99 per sample pot. It’s also much more environmentally friendly. Why?
- After doing your sample board, you will be left with only a small amount of paint – not 3/4 of a quart
- Even if you decide to do that colour on your wall, it’s not a paint you would ‘paint’ with as suppliers generally use a lower quality paint for their sample pots – not the nice stuff
Step 2 Ask the paint store to lighten/darken a sample pot for you
If you would like to lighten your paint colour, here’s what you say…
‘Hi, could you please colour match this and make me 2 sample pots? I’d like 1 pot ‘as-is’ and I’d like one pot lightened by 25%.’
If you would like to darken your paint colour, here’s what you say…
‘Hi, I’m being directed by a maniacal ginger to darken my paint colour. Could you please colour match this and make me 2 sample pots? I’d like 1 pot ‘as-is’ and 1 pot darkened by 25%.’
Not sure how much of a difference 25% will make, think it needs to be darker? Keep on reading!
Step 3 Paint sample boards
Benjamin Moore Gray Owl
Paint up large samples of your colours on their own boards. Here’s the steps I follow…
- Buy some poster board, cut it in 1/2
- Give each paint sample its own board (label it on the back as if you do A LOT of samples, it’s easy to get them mixed up)
- Use a small roller – always do 2 coats
- Paint up to the edge on 1 side and leave a 2″ white border on the other 3 sides. Why?
The 2″ white border. This will let you choose a colour on its own merits, without it being directly compared to another.
Painting right to the edge. When
twerking tweaking colours and comparing them directly, the best way to do this is to put the colours directly next to each other, without the white border separating them.
By having both options you can look at a colour without interference from another (middle photo) and compare 2 colours directly to see how much they differ (right photo).
Capiche? And yes, I am a bossy lil’ thang.
Here are 2 sample boards with a white border between them…
And here are the same 2 sample boards without anything between them…
While you should be able to see the subtle shift on BOTH examples, it is easier to see it in the 2nd example.
And just because I like to screw with you, that’s not even lightening and darkening – that’s 2 different colours entirely! This just shows you how example 1 doesn’t really give you the whole story. (Left – Agreeable Gray / Right – Repose Gray)
If you are inclined to be supa dupa anal (WAHOO, JOIN THE ANAL CLUB! Wait, that doesn’t sound so good, does it?), then paint both samples on 1 piece of poster board with no separation between the 2 (refer to the Revere Pewter sample near the beginning).
And that is how you do it! Now you can see your original colour and see how it has shifted and decide which one you like the best.
How Light / Dark Do You Need to Go?
I used 25% in many of my examples but there are several ways you can tweak paint colours…
25% and 50%
I usually lighten by either 25% or 40%. 25% is subtle, it’s for those of us who are a bit more sensitive to colour than the average bear. If you just want a weee nugget of change, then 25% might just do the trick. However, if you’re looking for a slightly more obvious shift, you may want to consider 40%-50%. You will notice the difference clearly with 40%, whereas in some lights, 25% is barely noticeable.
‘You will notice the difference clearly with 40%, whereas in some lights, 25% is barely noticeable’
Visually, 40% will take you approx 1/2 way between your original colour and the next colour down on the strip.
Important detail: Notice how much more gray Revere Pewter looks on a white background compared to a cream background – that’s why I recommend leaving some white space around your paint samples!
With regard to LRV, hopefully you’ve read my blog post re: LRV and how it can help you choose the best paint colour (if not, jump on it!). Now this is so OBVIOUSLY not scientific, but in my experience (which is pretty damned vast), expect a 25% tweak to change the LRV by approx 3-4 points. A 40% tweak might be closer to 5-8. So if the previous LRV was 48, lightening it by 25% could bring it up around 51 or so. 40% would take it to approx 54.
If 50% isn’t enough, maybe you need to look at a different colour. It can be as simple as moving along to the next colour above or below your original and then tweaking IT to suit your preferences.
However, 50 or 75%+ can be a great way to create a tone-on-tone palette with either your trim and/or ceiling. For example, if you would like your ceiling to be quite a bit lighter than your walls, but with the same undertones, you could lighten your wall colour by 75% – or even more, depending on how light you want your ceiling to be. Remember, with shadows, ceilings usually look significantly more shadowed than the walls, even if they are all the same colour.
*There are some colours that can’t handle more depth, simply because the paint can won’t have room for that much additional paint – but with most you’ll be just fine.
Less than 25%
If 25% is too much of a change, then I want you to sit back and take a better look at your original colour. Look at it on all wall spaces and at different times of the day. Know that depending on its LRV, it may look slightly lighter or slightly darker once its on a larger scale. Maybe the colour you HAVE is the best one!
Well, that was somewhat of an epic novel, but the info should be pretty darned straightforward. Pick a colour, lighten or darken it, paint a board – get ‘er done.
Not sure which colours are best for your room? Check out my affordable Online Decorating, Design and Colour Consulting Services – Starting at $30!
Here's some other ideas for you!