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3 Easy Steps to Your Perfect Paint Color: LIGHTEN & DARKEN

Posted on January 1, 2023 by KylieMawdsley
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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.

For example…

  • 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.

How to lighten and darken a paint colour recipe

  • 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.

Revere Pewter lighter and darker by 25 percent. How to lighten and darken a paint color by e-decorating and color consultant Kylie M Interiors

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’

Lighten and darken paint colours and how it affects them and lrv. Kylie M E-design

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.

sample pots of paint

  • 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.

There, done.

STEP 3  PAINT SAMPLE BOARDS

Paint up large samples of your colors on their own boards. Here are the steps to follow…

  1.  Buy some poster board, and cut it in half.
  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)
  3.  Use a small roller – always do two coats
  4.  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…

The best way to make a paint colour sample board by Kylie M Interiors

Benjamin Moore Gray Owl

Here are two sample boards with a white border between them…

How to compare paint colours. Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray and Repose Gray samples by Kylie M Interiors

And here are the same two sample boards without anything between them…

How to compare paint colours the right way. Sherwin Williams Repose Gray and Agreeable Gray on sample boards by Kylie M Interiors

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!

bathroom with Sherwin Williams Network Gray shiplap, vanity, gray and white tile marble look floor, black fixtures, Benjamin White Dove walls. Kylie M. (1)

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!

Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray darkened by 25. Best light greige taupe paint color, popular for walls. Kylie M Interiors Edesign, consultant

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!).

How to lighten and darken a paint colour. Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter. Kylie M Interiors e-decorating and online colour services

Revere Pewter lighter and darker samples. How to lighten and darken paint colours to create the perfect color by Kylie M Interiors

IMPORTANT DETAIL

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.

READ MORE

How to Choose Your PERFECT Paint Color: 4 TIPS & IDEAS

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing Paint Colors with LRV

The 12 Best Whole Home Gray & Greige Paint Colors

Check out my video on this topic here…

Not sure which colors are best for your room? 

Check out my affordable Online Decorating, Design and Color Consulting Services

E-design and colour consultations. Online color expert Kylie M INteriors. Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams specialist (1)

Kylie M Interiors Edecor and Edesign

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN 2017, AWESOME UPDATED FOR YOU IN 2023



Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this insightful post and also your posts on LRV! I have been referring to it for a couple of weeks while I sort out the best color for my main living areas and halls. I am wondering if you have a gut idea if lightening BM Stonington Gray by 50% would be enough if I’m trying to get a little lighter than the depth of BM Wickham Gray (lrv 69)?

    Stonington Gray is the “perfect” color in my eyes, but it is darker than what I want for our house with less natural light. I tested Wickham Gray in one room and while I love how fresh and cool it is, it may be almost too green-blue and maybe still too dark. I am trying to determine if I would be better off lightening Stonington Gray or trying to find a new lighter color (BM Paper White?) I feel like I need something in between…. My husband wants it to be noticeable, and I want light, bright, and fresh. 🙂

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      Author

      Hi Kim! While I haven’t lightened Stonington by that much, I would THINK that 50% would do the trick. And of course you can TRY 75% even. It is a stunner! If you are open to SW colours check out SW Big Chill. I bet it’s a MUCH better depth for you and has similar gray/blue undertones.
      I hope that helps!

  2. Hi Kylie,
    I have recently bought several grays. I painted them on poster boards according to your recommendations. But, when I painted two coats on the wall it looked different. So, I taped the poster board on the wall and it doesn’t look like the same color at all. This has happened with every color I’ve bought. Why is this happening?
    Chris

    1. I had the same problem. I dont know how big of a swatch you painted on the wall or if you painted the whole wall, but I painted a 12″ x 24″ swatch on my wal & it did not look like the poster board. Then I went back and outlined the swatch in white paint. This made a huge difference in how the color looked to me. It actually looked like the poster board. I have since painted the rooms each color and the colors are what I expected. Good luck if you haven’t gotten around to painting yours yet & if you have, I hope you like the way it turned out!
      Crystal

  3. I’m becoming obsessed with reading your blog posts! Thanks so much for your help and expertise. Tested a lot of colors and now have painted my living room and dining room BM Edgecomb Gray, up the stairs BM Ozark Shadows and upstairs hallway BM Gray Owl. I’m going to use some of your blue color selections in my bathrooms. Thank You! Nora

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      Author

      Hi Dana, yes, the odd time, Classic Gray can flash a WINK pink. NOt often, but of the 3 it can – same with Pale Oak though. Revere Pewter is more likely to favour a vague green undertone :).

  4. I recently had a BM paint HC 81 Manchester Tan lightened by 25% as I thought it needed to be a bit lighter. I went to my local Farm & Fleet store which carries BM paints and the Paint Department people were bewildered on how to do it. They used the computer but I think I ended up with it being 75% lighter. I painted my paint boards with the “new” 25% lighter Manchester Tan and it looks extremely light. How do I know if they did this correctly. Wouldn’t you use .75 of the original formula to make the paint 25% lighter?? I think they used .25 of the original formula and I ended up with a 75% lighter sample. Any guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated. The painter is coming in one week!!

    1. I had the same problem when asked to have Edgecomb gray lightened by 50%. They looked at me dazed and confused. Paint people were getting calculators out and typing the ‘new formula’ into the computer. In the end, I pretty much have the same color and hue…no difference.

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        Author

        Oh man. I do find it so strange sometimes how the paint store employees aren’t all on the same page. I’m so sorry to hear that…I’ve had the experience where I ask them to lighten something by 25% and they don’t want to do it, because they say I won’t see the difference. Drives me crazy! With most colours, it just isn’t that difficult and there should be a considerable shift in the depth!

  5. I love Wrought Iron for an accent wall in our home on the stairs landing and powder room. However, I think it might be too dark. I think Trout Gray might be too light. Have you lightened or darkened either of these colours? Thinking all the other walls (open concept) might be chantilly lace. Thank you, I have been obsessed with reading all your tips! Currently renovating our home.

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      Author
  6. I painted SW North Star. It is the most beautiful absolutely perfect color when it is wet. When it dries it is still pretty but of course darker. I can’t get that perfect lighter shade out of my head. I had the paint store lighten it by 25%. It came out looking darker and all periwinkle-purple no soft blue or gray to be found. Any suggestions before I drive my husband crazy?

    1. I know this is old but I chuckled b/c I’m fighting like mad to get rid of BM metallic silver, which in my northern exposed bedroom Turns out perewinkley/purpley. After immense research I have chosen SW northstar which has more red in its RGB formulation. I wanted to lighten it 25% but if that’s going to take me to periwinkle hell, I will leave it as is.

  7. Kylie, thank you for your videos. They’ve been invaluable.

    I wanted to share my experience with you and your readers. Hopefully this isn’t the norm. I reached out to Benjamin Moore regarding getting a sample pot of Revere Pewter, brightened 50%. They said they only offer tweaked colors in quarts. I then called a second BM location and was told the same thing. So from that, Benjamin Moore was out.

    I then went to Home Depot and purchased a $5 sample pot of Revere Pewter brightened 50% as well as 75%. I had these two samples made at two different Home Depots. The 50% was a slight difference from the Revere Pewter I already have on my Living Room walls, but not to the extent I expected (having previously watched your video). The 75% percent was actually darker than the 50% (whaaaat??).

    I’m going to roll the dice and have the room repainted with Revere Pewter, 50% brighter, and cross my fingers that BM’s lightening process is accurate. I took a paint swatch of Edgecomb Gray, but the beige undertones are coming out a bit much in my low-lit NE facing room.

    Again, thanks for all you do. Having watched videos from several paint experts, you’re my fav 🙂

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Brittany! Yup, this makes sense. Their wee sample pots can’t always take that much tint out (although they can usually do 25%). And it sounds like HD screwed up on the 75% and went the other way!

      I’m crossing my fingers for you too and feel like BM is your BEST shot of getting what you want :).

  8. Hello! I had the same experience with BM- they wouldn’t even given me a sample size of 25% lightened— had to be a quart for $30 (which I didn’t do). Not to be a downer, but I feel like the people working at BM stores near me are incredibly unhelpful. Seems like a huge missed opportunity to have improved customer service and color consultants. I asked them to explain the lightening/darkening process and generally more about it and they just wouldn’t/couldn’t (with no one else in the store). I ended up sitting in the corner scrolling through your blog to get the info I needed! Amen to your blog!

    1. Post
      Author

      Thank you Miller! And you know, my local store is awesome, but I have heard complaints like yours quite often. I do know that the stores were short on sample pots for a while, with the supply chain issue, but HOPEFULLY they’ll have them fully stocked soon. I’m glad my blog can be a good resource for you :).

  9. I have tried quarts of diviine white at 50% and 25%. Tried it on the wall that is currently antique white. Decided on 25% and had walls painted in one room off foyer. It came out much lighter and more yellow than I could have imagined. Two coats. It is not bad though. However, that shade will not look good in the LR across from the foyer so I need to get a different color. I am thinking the 50% divine white but I saw such a difference going from the quart to the gallon in the 25 that I am thinking I need to get a gallon of the 50 to test or just tweak the 25% to get more cream in it which will look better in the rests of the house. I really would like it to somehow blend enough with the 25% painted room which is open to foyer etc.

  10. Hi Kylie! I know this post is so old, but we are building a house and choosing alllll the the things. What are your thoughts on painting the trim 100% of the color (say Alabaster) then painting the walls 25 or 50% darker? I thought it might be a great way to have trim and wall match without it being exactly the same color. (Though I do like the idea of doing that, just not sure I can convince the Mr.)

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      Author
  11. Hello Kylie!

    I am going to have SW recreate a former Frazee paint color for me (3213 Seattle). The blogger was kind enough to share the formula (fingers crossed that I love it as much as I do from the pics online). Is there a way for me to figure out the LRV? I want to make sure I stay within the 60 – 62 range and when I asked an associate at SW they said it is a scientific formula that only the lab could tell me. Do you happen to know anything about this gray paint color? I love all of your videos! Thank you so much!

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      Author

      Hi Shari-Lyn! Sadly, there’s not much info about Seattle. I can’t find the LRV anywhere. What I did find was this blog post. When I eyeball it and compare it to Light French Gray and Agreeable Gray, it looks similar to LFG (53) and darker than Agreeable Gray (which is 60). So, even if it IS the SAME depth as LFG, this would put it at 53, which is a lot lower than you’re wanting! I wonder if you need to find a new color that’s similar?

      https://withinthegrove.com/nine-gray-paint-samples-put-to-the-test/

  12. Hi Kylie. Does lightening or darkening shades of black paint work too? I’m painting our staircases and handrails and thought Iron Ore would be the perfect soft black color. Now that it’s on, all I can see is charcoal gray. Would darkening Iron Ore by 50% make it more of a soft black and less charcoal? Or should I look into lightening something like Black Magic or Tricorn, and if so, at what percent do you suggest?

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      Author

      Hmmm, with Iron Ore at 50% lighter I’d be SO CURIOUS to see it – these adjustments to black aren’t always as drastic as you’d think, but I would think the green undertone could pop up a touch more? To be honest, I might play with that and Tricorn Black and see which undertones comes up and which sits best in your space.

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