LIGHTENING & DARKENING PAINT COLORS
Are you having trouble finding the perfect color? Just can’t seem to settle on ‘the one’? Well, maybe you have FOUND the perfect color, you just haven’t found the right depth.
- that gray that seems too dark might be perfect once it’s lightened
- that beautiful blue-gray 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’. This is 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 color has what I call a ‘recipe’. And trust me, these are the only kind of recipes I follow. These color recipes tell you what is in a color and how much of it there is.
- More simple colors are made of up approx. Three colors mixed together in varying amounts.
- More complex colors can have seven or eight colors that are mixed together (Benjamin Moore Color Stories, for example). The more complex a color is, the more challenging it can be to color 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 color, you are removing (or adding) the same amount (i.e. 25%) from each color in the recipe. This changes the recipe, which in turn changes how the paint color will turn out. That makes sense, right?
Apparently not! I’ve had painters say to me ‘I won’t lighten my client’s colors by 25% – it doesn’t make a difference’. To which I say, ‘…ooookay then, so if you make a cookie recipe and want to make less cookies, you would reduce each ingredient in the recipe by 25%. You’re telling me this won’t make a difference?’ OF COURSE, IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE, YOU’LL HAVE FEWER 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’
WHEN YOU LIGHTEN OR DARKEN A COLOR, IT’S STILL THE SAME COLOR, RIGHT?
Hard no. When you adjust a color either lighter or darker, you are changing it. You will not HAVE the same color. You are working off of the same BASE, but it’s no longer the same ‘color’ – it is a variation of the original in that it’s lighter or darker – you have changed its LRV (read up on LRV here).
However, when you adjust a color, the way it looks can shift slightly and not just in DEPTH, but in ‘color’. That gray with a green undertone might look a weee wink more green – OR you might lose a touch of the green. FRACTIONAL at best, but it’s worth mentioning. You are not going to get any ENTIRELY NEW COLOR that is no relation to the original – it is going to be a new, tweaked version of the original (particularly at 50%).
AND REMEMBER, IT’S SUBTLE, so don’t get your knickers in a knot. The moral of the story is that if you are going to lighten/darken a color, make sure you see a SAMPLE of it lightened/darkened to make sure you still like what you see.
STEP 1 PICK THE COLOR YOU WANT TO SAMPLE
Decide on the paint color(s) that you’d like to play around with.
- 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
If you want to be exact (which is my personal preference), get a QUART of paint mixed in the exact line of paint/finish that I’ll be painting my surface in. This is the most accurate way to sample.
However, if you’re sampling multiple colours, this can get pricey, so I understand the desire to use more affordable sample pots. JUST REMEMBER, paint companies don’t use one of their ‘quality paints’ in the sample pots – you’re getting low-end paint and the result can look slightly different from what you might put on your walls/cabinets.
STEP 2 HOW TO ORDER PAINT COLORS LIGHTER OR DARKER
If you would like to lighten your paint color, here’s what you say…
Hi, could you please make me a sample pot (or a quart of paint) in ‘this colour’, but make it 25% lighter (or darker)?
If the employee says you won’t notice the difference, ask them to make it anyway.
STEP 3 PAINT SAMPLE BOARDS
Paint up large samples of your colors on their own boards. Here are the steps to follow…
- Buy some poster board, and cut it in half.
- 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 two coats
- Paint up to the edge on one side and leave a two-inch white border on the other three sides.
Why the white border?
This white border will visually separate your existing paint color for your new sample. Your old color WILL influence your perception of your new color.
As for the one painted edge, this is for putting colors directly against each other for comparison AND for butting samples up with finishes in your home, i.e. backsplash, trim, etc…
Benjamin Moore Gray Owl
Here are two sample boards with a white border between them…
And here are the same two sample boards without anything between them…
The white border is for separating your OLD color from your sample. The painted edge is for comparing sample colors to each other.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LIGHTEN OR DARKEN A PAINT COLOR?
Regardless of how much you lighten or darken a color, you’re CHANGING it at its roots – you’re creating a new color. This new color might have a similar foundation, but it will be different.
LIGHTEN OR DARKEN A PAINT COLOR BY 25%
- When you lighten or darken a paint color by 25%, expect to see a SUBTLE shift, although the actual shift can vary depending on the color you’re using (and the amount of black that’s in it). Some people don’t even notice this shift; others see it clearly, although it’s not a HUGE change.
- This shift will be more or less noticeable, depending on the area of your room and the type of light it gets.
- Even though the change is SUBTLE, sometimes that’s all you need to get the perfect color you’re looking for.
- While the undertones can slightly shift, it’s VIRTUALLY unnoticeable. At the heart of it, you’re dealing with the same color, but it has a higher or lower LRV (which technically, makes it a new color, but you know what I mean).
In this next photo, just because YOU might not be able to see that the walls/trim are Benjamin Moore White Dove made 25% lighter, doesn’t mean I can’t tell. Don’t listen to what other people say – take the time to get your perfect shade, even if it’s only you that sees it!
LIGHTEN OR DARKEN A PAINT COLOR BY 50%
- If 25% doesn’t offer enough of a change for you, try 50%. This is a more noticeable shift but is more subtle than it SOUNDS, so don’t expect anything crazy or drastic.
- Picture a strip of colors (like in the fan deck), going from light to dark. Lightening a color by 50% puts your color somewhere between itself and the color above it. Darkening a color puts you somewhere in between the color itself and the one below it. This is approximate, again, because how much a color changes depends on what it’s made with, to begin with.
- Check your ‘new’ color against the original to make sure you’re still seeing the same undertones – lightening or darkening a color can cause undertones to increase/decrease.
LIGHTENING OR DARKENING A PAINT COLOR BY 75%
- I rarely recommend this, but when I do, it’s when I’m coordinating ceiling/wall colors or trying to find the perfect trim/ceiling color for a tricky off-white/beige (as it relates to 75% lighter).
- While you should ALWAYS check colors against their original versions, it’s even more important at 75%, as you could see a more noticeable shift in undertones.
SOME COLORS CAN’T BE LIGHTENED OR DARKENED AS MUCH AS YOU WANT
According to The Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want.
- As it relates to lightening, some colors CAN’T be lightened due to the amount of colorant/tint used in them. There might not be enough of a particular tint to have it go any lighter/less.
- As for darkening, some colours CAN’T be darkened as the quart or gallon of paint can only handle so much tint before it overflows. Darkening some colors also puts them into a different ‘base’, making things more challenging.
This next photo is a GREAT example of Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray made 25% darker – a wee subtle shift is sometimes all it takes to make this Ginger happy!
BTW, Sherwin Williams can adjust colors in almost any increment, (my faves being 25% and 50%). Benjamin Moore can do 10% / 25% / 50% / 75%
You WILL notice the difference with 50%, whereas, in some lights, 25% is hardly noticeable (and that can be a good thing!).
In the previous two images, notice how much more gray Revere Pewter looks on the white background compared to the cream background. This is why I recommend leaving some white space around your paint samples – your old color WILL influence your perception of the new one!
With regard to LRV, hopefully, you’ve read my blog post re: LRV and how it can help you choose the best paint color (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. THREE points. A 50% tweak might be closer to EIGHT. So if the previous LRV was 48, lightening it by 25% could bring it up to around 51 or so. 50% would take it to approx 56. THIS IS NOT A SCIENCE. But you’re not here for science, you’re here for the ‘user-friendly’ end of things (wink wink).
PEOPLE ALSO ASK…
IF YOU WANT TO LIGHTEN A COLOR CAN YOU JUST ADD WHITE?
HECK NO. The BEST way to lighten a paint color is to have the paint store tech do it for you, this way the right adjustments are made to each color/tint that’s gone into MAKING this color.
CAN YOU LIGHTEN A COLOR BY LESS THAN 25%
If 25% is too much of a change, I want you to sit back and take a better look at your original color. Look at it on all wall spaces and at different times of the day. Depending on its LRV, it may look slightly lighter or slightly darker once it’s on a larger scale. Maybe the color you HAVE is the best one!
IF YOU’RE HAVING TO LIGHTEN OR DARKEN A COLOR, WHY NOT JUST PICK A NEW COLOR?
If that ‘other color’ existed, you would. Sometimes there ISN’T a ‘lighter or darker version’ of the color you want and you have to play with what you’ve got.
Well, that was somewhat of an epic novel, but the info should be pretty darned straightforward. Pick a color, lighten or darken it, paint a board – get ‘er done.
Check out my video on this topic here…
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ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2017, AWESOME UPDATED FOR YOU IN 2023