How Lightening and Darkening Paint Colours Affects LRV
If you read my last article on LRV and why you should NEVER choose a paint colour without it, you’ve probably got the main idea down pat, which is…
- LRV refers to how light or how dark a colour will appear once it’s up on the wall (on the large scale)
- The higher the LRV number is, the lighter a colour will look and the more light it will reflect
- The lower the LRV number is, the darker the colour will look and the more light it will absorb
Now THIS is what I find interesting. When I first started learning about LRV, I read that the lower numbers ABSORB light, higher numbers reflect light. And this is true…but kind of misleading.
Artwork from Mark Penney Gallery
What I’ve discovered is that we get caught up in DARK colours absorbing light, forgetting that they STILL REFLECT IT – even that low LRV colour (say 5 for example) reflects light. It might not reflect a TON, but it still reflects some. How do I know that? Well, I’ve seen it in action literally HUNDREDS of times now and I think I’ve figured it out.
PAINT COLOURS WITH A LOW LRV
When a colour has a low LRV – let’s say it’s a dark colour in between 5-10, it still reflects light. It’s number relates to the percentage of light it reflects back. So, if a colour has an LRV of 10, you can expect it to reflect 10% of the light that it’s given – meaning it absorbs 90% of it. Of course if it’s not given any light, it won’t reflect a thing (like any colour) but if you can give it some light (fake or natural) it will reflect a degree (however small) of it back.
So look at that above photo of the wine bar. On the far left, no light = no reflective value. On the far right, natural light = reflective value. That colour is Cyberspace which has an LRV of 6. You would think it would just be too friggin’ dark, but look at it – the colour of it rises UP and it’s gorgeous no matter HOW you look at it (I might be biased as it’s my own home).
Why does this matter to you?
Because you love me and you need to humour the crazy Ginger.
Really though, let’s say you do my E-design and you want a nice dark gray with suble undertones for a feature wall. So, I suggest a lovely gray paint colour. I tell you all about it, it’s secret nuances and undertones and you look at it and think, ‘hmmm, that’s a super dark gray but I just don’t see those undertones she’s talking about‘. OR maybe you say, ‘Kylie told me this was a great colour for me, but it seems too dark, is she drinking again?‘. And then you get painting…
You see that on the LARGER scale, the colour has some darned interesting undertones. It has depth and interest, and maybe isn’t AS dark/plain as you thought it would be. Basically, on the larger scale you see that the colour looks different than you thought it would.
That’s because that weee little bit of LRV that it has is working overtime. On a small chip there isn’t enough ‘space’ for LRV to work it’s magic, however on the large scale, there is a bigger surface to gather light and then reflect it back – even if it’s a small amount. This can not only make the colour look slightly lighter than you thought it would, it can also enhance the underlying colours in it, bringing them more to the forefront.
And this is ALSO why you need to do large samples, so you can give a colour the chance to work it’s magic!
PAINT COLOURS WITH A HIGH LRV
Light paint colours have a higher LRV, so colours that are in the 60+range. The higher the number is, the lighter a colour is and the more light it will reflect back at you.
In my experience, I’ve found that once we hit approx. 50, the LRV really starts to play a part in how a room can look lighter as long as you have the right lighting.
Why does this matter to you?
It means that in a well-lit room using a colour with a higher LRV, you can expect the colour to lighten-up CONSIDERABLY. In fact, once you hit the 65+ it can get to the point where it washes-out and you lose the contrast you might have had with your trimwork.
So, if a colour has an LRV of 65, you can expect it to reflect 65% of the light and in fact, where it gets a direct hit of light you will notice the ‘light/reflectiveness/LRV’ more than the colour itself.
Look at the above bathroom (I’m a bossy lil’ thang, I know). On the far right, the colour is almost GONE where it reflects light back. The top part of the photo actually shows more of the ‘colour’, whereas in between the middle of the mirrors is the most accurate shot of it. (SW Sea Salt with an LRV of 63 btw)
BUT (Kardashian sized…)! ALL of the above changes at nite time.
LRV IN THE NIGHT / EVENING HOURS
And JUST when you thought you had it ALL figured out – the sun goes down. Regardless of your exposure, the quality of light that you have in the daytime will change in the evening when you only have interior lighting. So here’s what usually happens…
- Unless you have an absolutely epic lighting plan, you will undoubtedly have some shadowed walls and corners. In these spaces, paint colours will go back to their natural state and maybe even darken up a bit depending on how shadowed it is
- On reasonably well-lit walls, the colour will lighten up a bit, but only where the light hits the wall. Light travels at it’s strongest for approx 3′ and then starts to dim out and your colour will shade accordingly
What does this mean to you?
- If you work ALL day and spend most of your time in a room at nite, you’ll want to choose the colour that still looks good in the day, but that you LOVE at nite
- You may need to jack up your interior lighting if you want a paint colour to really work the way you want it to, going back to one of my fave sayings…
I’m leaving that one alone, it was tempting though.
Let’s say you choose BM Revere Pewter for your bathroom. It’s a small bathroom, with a small window (or no window) and a standard vanity light and Revere Pewter hits just the right note. So you think to yourself, ‘well, I like it in the bathroom – I’m going to paint it in my LIVING room too!’. And of course it still looks good, but you notice that it seems so much lighter in your living room. Hmmm…
Size matters. The more wall space you have, the lighter a paint colour can look, simply via the fact that there is more wall space for more light to hit and reflect back. This is another reason why 2 storey rooms can be challenging to pick a colour for; what looks good on a standard 8′ high wall, might seem a bit too light and washed-out on a 16′ high wall as there is MORE wall space with the potential to reflect MORE light. And of course a lot of this depends on your light source, exposure, etc… but in general, the more wall space you have, the lighter a colour can look compared to what you see on that little paint chip.
Why does this matter to you?
Because choosing paint colours can be hard. You can’t assume that a colour that suits one room will suit another. It’s why that colour that looked JUST right in your friends powder room, maybe isn’t so hot in your living room. That’s LRV my funny friend (and exposure and…and…and…I digress).
What it REALLY means is that just because you loved it in ONE room, doesn’t mean it will be perfect for another. The more light a room gets, combined with the size can directly affect how light or dark a paint colour looks.
Does lightening or darkening a paint colour affect it’s LRV?
YES! When you lighten a paint colour your are changing the way it looks – it will look lighter. The lighter a colour is, the higher it’s LRV will be. Now this is NOT scientific, but based on me fiddlin’ around in my office with samples and here’s what I’ve found…
Lightening or darkening a paint colour by 25%
Lightening a paint colour by 25% seems to change it’s LRV approx 2-4 points higher. This can vary depending on how much BLACK is in the paint colour’s recipe. Black reacts more strongly to being lightened than a colour without black in it.
So, if your paint colour starts at an LRV of 60, 25% lighter can make it approx 62-64.
Darkening a paint colour by 25% seems to change it’s LRV approx 2-4 points lower. Again, this can vary depending on how much black is in the recipe.
Some paint store employees will tell you that 25% won’t make a noticeable difference, but listen up Buttercup – it does.
- 25% is not a drastic change – it is a subtle tweak. For some people a subtle tweak isn’t worth it, but if you are anal (one of my more redeeming qualities) and looking to hit things just right, it can hit the spot. I have 3 colours in my home that I’ve shifted by 25% and it made all the difference for me
- If you are putting a colour on one wall and want the 25% lighter version on another wall, you WON’T notice the difference. 25% does not work if you are going for a tone-on-tone look. You WILL notice it if you place the original and the tweaked version next to each other on the same wall. 25% lighter/darker is for an ‘overall change’, not as a way to play with depths from wall to wall.
In our family room (above) I used SW Creamy – as is. However, in our living room upstairs, I darkened it by 25% so I could see a bit more of the colour and a bit more contrast with the trim.
Lightening or darkening a paint colour by 50%
Lightening a paint colour by 50% seems to result in an approx 6-8 point shift. THIS IS NOT SCIENTIFIC. But let’s be honest, you aren’t here for scientific info, you’re here for some common sense advice and inappropriate comments about hardwood and wine (often combined).
So if your paint colour starts at 47, you can expect 50% to take it somewhere around 53 or 54 (math is not my strong-point).
Darkening a paint colour by 50% seems to change it’s LRV approx 6-8 points lower and just like with light colours, the amount of black can affect how much of a change you see.
BUT (Kardashian sized), this is where it gets a bit trickier.
Let’s focus on ‘lightening’ for the sake of ease. When you lighten a colour by 25% you are changing it’s recipe and the way it looks. While there may be a minor shift (overstatement) in undertones, you are basically going to get a slightly lighter version of the colour you started with.
When you lighten a colour by 50% you might start to notice a subtle shift in the way the undertones advance or recede. That gray that had a wink of green in it – the green might almost entirely disappear. That greige that leaned more beige, might lean a bit more gray. Again, you are still working off of the same colour, but you might see slightly different aspects of it.
The problem is that many people think that colours on a colour strip are all related, and to a GOOD degree they are. But they are not ALWAYS the SAME colour in lighter/darker forms. They are often different colours with similar recipes. Like chocolate chip cookies with a bit more butter in them, making them a bit more creamy – sometimes there is a subtle shift in the recipe that can give you a slightly different result. This is not all the time, but it is a LOT of the time. There are some colours that are literally ‘the darker version of the one above them’, where you have the same recipe, just with higher or lower amounts – but you can’t bank on it, so don’t.
So, what does ALL of this mean to you?
It means that you can’t make assumptions. Just because I drink a lot of wine…doesn’t mean I won’t sit back with a G & T. Just because Tim works from home now, doesn’t mean he puts pants on. And just because you lighten or darken a colour by 50%, it doesn’t mean you will be left with the SAME COLOUR just lighter or darker. Will it be similar? ABSO-TOOTLY. Will it be THE SAME. No ma’am.
For example, here’s BM Steel Wool (LRV 19.4) in our entryway (north facing with pretty good natural lighting).
And here’s Steel Wool, 25% darker in our dining/kitchen upstairs (south facing with good lighting). I wanted a bit more richness and depth out of it, whereas I wanted it JUST the way it was in the entryway.
Just the shift in EXPOSURE is enough to make it look different, nevermind the darkening bit. So, if you like grays you might LOVE the way it looks in the entryway, but might see a touch too much colour in the dining area. Is it subtle? Yes. Am I being anal-retentive? Yes. But is the darkening and exposure shift still SUPER important – you bet your buns it is!
Are you exhausted yet? If not, hop back and read my original LRV blog post to tighten up your knowledge a bit more.
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