How to Choose a Paint Colour – LRV and Why it Matters
Partner Blog Post: LRV, Paint Colours and YOU
Have you ever painted your walls only to discover they looked lighter or darker than you thought they would? Or maybe you’ve rolled it on and then second-guessed the person who actually mixed the paint thinking ‘Oh, surely they mixed it wrong, that looks WAY different than the paint chip…‘.
THAT, my friend, is LRV (Light Reflectance Value).
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, let me tell you that it took me 9 hours, 3 bottles and 17 years of experience to research and write this article. I googled and Pinterested (a real word I’m sure) my lil’ ginger heart out to come up with a simple, user-friendly summary of LRV with images to support my verbal diarrhoea. HOWEVER, I am even remotely scientifically inclined (more artsy-fartsy inclined), therefore, you’re getting a ‘user-friendly’ KISS version of LRV and how it can affect your room (and your sanity). So, let’s grab a
bottle glass of wine and settle down for a bit of a read – just because I’m keeping it simple, doesn’t mean I’m keeping it SHORT!
And if you want to keep things simple, just ignore me. HOWEVER, if you want to pick the perfect colour the first time, not the third time, then this stuff matters.
What is LRV Anyway?
The gist is that LRV, Light Reflectance Value, refers to how light or dark a paint colour is on a scale of 0 (black) to 100 (white). The higher the LRV number is, the lighter the colour is. The lower the LRV number is – the darker the colour is. This can GREATLY affect your room depending on how much natural or artificial light your room gets. ANY colour will look lighter when hit with DIRECT natural or artificial light.
The less light there is in your room, the less light there will be to reflect. So, even if you pick a LIGHT colour with a HIGH LRV, if you don’t GIVE it light to reflect, it won’t rise to the occasion, which goes back to one of my fave sayings (I have about 80)…
What does that mean? It means that sometimes people pick a light paint colour thinking its high LRV will save their dark room. And sure, the room will look brighter than it would if it were painted a dark colour, but the reality is, if you don’t have enough natural or artificial light, there is NO paint colour that will save you as you need LIGHT for a colour to come to LIFE!
LRV refers to how much light a paint colour reflects
LRV is defined on a scale of 0-100
And don’t worry, I’ll tell you how to FIND the LRV of paint colours shortly.
Let’s look at a few examples…
A bright room with a lot of natural or artificial light
If you have a bright room and you partner it with a light colour (high LRV), you are going to have a LOT of light bouncing around. Why? Well, not only are you giving your room/walls a lot of light to play with, you’ve chosen a paint colour that likes to REFLECT light.
This next photo shows Benjamin Moore Gray Owl (LRV 65.77). Looking right to left, you’ll see three OBVIOUS shifts in depth as each wall space gets a different amount of light reflected on to it.
- Left side: The amount of light hitting the left side walls is putting Gray Owl’s LRV of 65.77 to work as the light is reflected back
- Center (bookcase): You’ll see a more ‘average’ amount of natural light, in which Gray Owl looks more like a paint colour with an LRV of 65
- The far-right: This is an extreme, a wall with almost no natural light on it
A paint colour with a more moderate LRV depth (ie: 50) could control the amount of light bouncing around and slow the energy down a bit. It will STILL reflect some light, but not as much as a higher LRV number. A dark paint colour will have a LOW LRV, so it won’t reflect much light back (but will reflect some). So, even though the room has a ton of light in the ROOM, your paint colour won’t reflect as much back as a light colour would.
A darker room without enough natural or artificial light
If you have a dark room, that means there isn’t a lot of light in it – from outside or inside sources. So, even if you choose a colour with a high LRV, the lack of light will affect how bright that colour looks. A light colour in a bright room will look lighter than a light colour in a DARK room as the light room has more light for the paint colour to play with. Choosing a light paint colour may be a better choice for a dark room if you want to brighten it, but it will not save the day – you need actual LIGHT for the paint colour to play off of and reflect.
This next photo shows a room painted in Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter (LRV 55.51). Notice, there isn’t an abundance of natural or artificial light…
Whereas in this NEXT photo, the bedroom has a good amount of natural light on the left side, bringing the look of Revere Pewter UP and making the room look brighter (the bathroom is Wickham Gray). On the right (entrance to the bathroom), there isn’t as much natural light and Revere Pewter falls that bit more shaded looking.
If you chose a moderate LRV depth (ie: 50), you aren’t going to do much for brightening a dark room. Sure, these colours will reflect some light, but not as much as higher LRV’s and if you don’t GIVE those higher LRVs light, they won’t do anything – same with dark colours.
And don’t even get me STARTED on paint sheens, which is a whoooole ‘nother ball game (which I will get into at some point).
Glug glug glug, I mean sip sip sip.
Now, let’s get into the actual LRV ranges. Again, not scientific, just general reference.
Low LRV Paint Colours – Medium-Dark to Dark
Sherwin Williams Cyberspace (shown below) is pretty damn dark with an LRV of 6. In a WELL-lit space, this colour could look soft, stunning, and a bit lighter and more colourful as the undertones come up. However, in a POORLY lit room, it would look closer to black and would lose some of its colour (compare the far left to the far right in the photo below). No light = no reflective value.
In this next photo, notice how Benjamin Moore Hale Navy (LRV 6.3) changes as the amount and quality of LIGHT changes…
- Colours with a lower LRV will reflect SOME, but not tons of light. Basically, if a colour’s LRV is 10, it’s only going to reflect a very small amount of light back into the room. If it’s 20 it’s going to reflect more than 10, but still not a lot. If you want a dark colour to look lighter, you need to give it A LOT OF LIGHT.
- As the LRV number goes UP, it will start reflecting MORE light as the number rises
- In a bright room, a darker paint colour will appear lighter and you may notice the ‘colour’ and undertones more. This is because you’re giving the paint colour more light to reflect
- In a dark room, a dark colour won’t come to life as much and won’t much reflect light (as it hasn’t been given any and it has a low LRV to boot, double-whammy). Dark colours can almost look black-ish in dark rooms
Medium LRV Paint Colours
Sherwin Williams Dorian Gray is a popular medium-toned gray paint colour. It has an LRV of 39, which means that when it’s given light to play with (like shown below) it will lighten up SOME, but not TONS – it doesn’t have a high LRV, it’s a medium-toned paint colour. This ALSO means that in a room without much natural light OR adequate artificial lighting, it may look a bit heavy as the LRV isn’t strong enough to really grab the minimal light that it’s offered and run with it.
In the above photo, look at the top portion of the walls. See where the natural light HITS Dorian Gray? That is LRV in action – friggin cool! Dorian Gray looks lighter because it is reflecting some of that light back, and right there, it looks lighter than it does on the rest of the walls. HOWEVER, if the walls were painted a colour with a HIGHER LRV, the colour would almost disappear in that spot as it would reflect more light and could potentially wash-out. Medium-toned paint colours tend to hold themselves a bit better in SUPER bright rooms as they don’t reflect as much light – they have a lower light reflectance value.
In this next photo, Benjamin Moore Mount Saint Anne (LRV 42.48) does quite well because the room has a good amount of natural light, showing you how a medium-toned paint colour isn’t necessarily too dark if you have enough light to balance it out.
- Medium range LRV’s reflect a moderate, but not obscene amount of light. So, while on a small scale, medium-depth colours can look a bit darkish, on a larger scale (wall) they can look a bit lighter if given a reasonable amount of light
- In a poorly lit room, medium-range LRV’s can look quite flat and drab
- 50+ is the range where the paint colours really start reflecting light back into the room. The closer you get to 100, the more light the colour will reflect (100 being pure white).
- On a wall that gets direct light (refer to the upper portion of the above photo where the natural light directly hits the wall), colours with a 50+LRV can lighten up A LOT and the 65+ colour range can look considerably washed-out – but ONLY when the light hits (and the sun moves…so be patient and know that things will change throughout the day
- In a room with poor lighting, the 50+ group will take ANY light that they can and reflect it back into the space, but overall, they will look more or less like they do on the paint chip. In fact, some lighter colours look drabber than medium/dark ones if there is POOR lighting
Long story short – lighting matters.
High LRV Paint Colours
Light REALLY starts bouncing with a colour like Benjamin Moore Classic Gray. Classic Gray is a mix of gray with a warm beige undertone. With an LRV of 74.78, it will reflect a considerable amount of light, therefore, lightening and brightening a space – but it has to be GIVEN light to reflect it.
This next photo shows Benjamin Moore Collingwood 859, which has an LRV of 62.14 (which happens to be my magical LRV number). This means it will reflect light back into your room and overall, the room AND the paint colour will look and feel lighter and brighter. You’ll see this effect when you look from the top left to the middle right of the photo below – where the natural light hits, things REALLY lighten and brighten, where there isn’t a ton of natural light, the colour looks darker.
The EVER popular Sherwin Williams Repose Gray (below) has an LRV of 58, which is right at the start of what I think of as a ‘light’ colour. If you have average lighting (natural/artificial) then it’s a good choice for most rooms. If your room doesn’t have great lighting, you might want to look for something just a wee smidge higher (62+) or even more colourful to add some visual interest.
Read more: The Best Paint Number For Your Home– 62
- A paint colour with a higher LRV will have the potential to reflect A LOT of light (particularly the 70+ range). Again, if you don’t give it light, it will have nothing to reflect
- A colour with a higher LRV will look brighter than it does on that wee little paint chip when exposed to an average amount of light. There isn’t much SPACE on that little chip for light to hit, whereas walls have a much larger surface area. The higher the number is, and the more light there is, the lighter the paint colour will look
- In a well-lit room, a colour with a high LRV can flash almost TOO light where it gets direct hits of light, but remember, this can change a lot as the day progresses and you have to accommodate the rest of the walls too!
- In a poorly lit room, light colours can fall flat and drab, and won’t come to life. You can supplement a bit with less neutral/more colour, but you have to work at it
- On a wall that gets direct sunlight, a 50+ lighter colour will lighten up A LOT and the 65+ range can almost look white-ish – but ONLY where the sun hits
Read more: YOUR Best Paint Number!
Read more: LRV, Paint Colours and YOU!
Where do I find the LRV of a paint colour?
Unfortunately, there is NO easy way to see the LRV with most brands if you don’t have a fan deck.
Here are the LRV locations of a few of the popular paint brands (or ask a store employee)…
- Sherwin Williams: On the back of the fan deck or on the back of colour chips
- Benjamin Moore: On the Benjamin Moore website on the specific colour page
- Farrow and Ball: They don’t make it easy, you’ll just want to write customer service
- Valspar: In the fan deck index
- Kelly Moore: In the fan deck index
- Behr: In the fan deck index
Here’s what it looks like on the back of the Sherwin Williams colour strip…
And in the index of the Benjamin Moore fan deck…
Does lightening and darkening a paint colour affect its LRV?
Good question! And you can read ALL about it (and more) right here…LRV, Paint Colours and YOU.
So there you have it – LRV in a very big, fat nutshell.
Still not sure what colour to pick?
Check out my Online Colour Consulting Services!
Kylie M Interiors Interior Decorating and Design Ideas Made Affordable E-decor, E-design, Online Decorating and Colour Consulting services specializing in Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams Paint Colours
Originally written in November 2017, updated March 2019