How to Choose a Paint Colour – LRV and Why it Matters
Featuring Sherwin Williams Paint Colours
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 2nd 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)
And before I get into the nitty-gritty, let me tell you that it took me 8 hours, 2 bottles and 13 years of experience to research and write this post. I googled and Pinterested (a real word I’m sure) my lil’ ginger heart out to come up with a simple summary of LRV with images to support my verbal diarrhea. So, grab a
bottle glass of wine and settle down for a bit of a read!
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?
Well, it can be really complicated and WAY too scientific for my artsy-fartsy brain to fully explain, so I’m going to give you the KISS version of LRV and how it can affect your room (and your sanity).
And BTW, ANY colour will look lighter when hit with DIRECT natural or artificial light. What we’re talking about here are walls with an ‘average’ amount of light. The less light there is, the less light there will be to reflect. The more light there is, the more light there will be to reflect. Capiche?
LRV refers to how much light a paint colour reflects
LRV is defined on a scale of 0-100
Low LRV = Reflects SOME, but not much 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. What this means is that it really absorbs a lot of the light that it’s offered. So, on a wall with an average amount of light, a colour with a low LRV will only look just a bit lighter. Once a good light source is taken away and there are poor lighting conditions, the colour will be very dark.
Medium LRV = Reflects a moderate amount of light, which in turn will make the paint colour look lighter than you think it will based on that small chip. Not a lot lighter, but a bit for sure.
High LRV = Reflects A LOT of light. 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. The higher the number is, and the more light there is, the lighter the paint colour will look.
This paint colour, Benjamin Moore Collingwood 859, has an LRV of 62, which is pretty decent. This means it will reflect light back into the room and ‘overall’ the room AND the paint colour will feel lighter and brighter. You’ll see this effect when you look from the top left to the middle right of the photo, where the natural light hits, things REALLY lighten and brighten.
The LRV Scale 0 – 100
LRV of 0-50 Dark to a Light Medium
Benjamin Moore Hale Navy is pretty darned dark. With an LRV of 8, this colour looks rich and stunning in a well-lit space as it will look fractionally lighter. However, it will look closer to black in a space without enough light (look at the center/bottom of the wall in the above photo) – no light = no reflective value.
Sherwin Williams Dorian Gray is a popular medium toned gray (almost greige feeling) paint colour. It has an LRV of 39, meaning when exposed to an average amount of light (like shown above) it will lighten up a bit, but not TONS. 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.
- Colours in this low end of this range tend to absorb natural and artificial light and reflect only a small amount. The closer you get to 50, the less light it will absorb (50 being considered ‘neutral’ with regard to colour depth and light absorption). The closer you are to 0, the more light your paint colour will absorb (think black) and it will only reflect a minimal amount of light
- I’ve found that once you hit 40+, there isn’t TONS of light absorption going on and things start shifting. You may notice paint colours looking slightly lighter than you ‘think’ they will once applied
- In a brighter room, a colour with a LOW LRV tends to look JUST slightly lighter than it does on the paint chip. This is because while it absorbs a lot of light, it will still reflect a small amount
- In a room with poor lighting, a colour with a lower LRV may look darker than it does on the paint chip as not only does it absorb the light that is there, there is not enough light to support the colour and it can fall into shadow easily
LRV of 51-100 Medium to Light
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 it will reflect some a considerable amount of light, therefor lightening and brightening a space.
The EVER popular Sherwin Williams Repose Gray has an LRV of 60, which is right on the start of what I think is 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 or even more colourful to add some visual interest.
Read more: All About Sherwin Williams Repose Gray
- This is the range where the paint colour really will reflect light back into the room. The closer you get to 100, the more light the colour will reflect (100 being pure white).
- I’ve found that between 40-60 is where things start to lighten up noticeably. However 60+ is where the light really plays with your paint colour with regard to considerable lightening and brightening
- In a bright room, colours with a high LRV may look quite a bit lighter than the wee little paint chip shows as these colours take the light provided and reflect it back into the room – making the room and the colour itself feel lighter. Really, even darker colours with the right lighting can look lighter as well as they take the limited LRV they have and run with it!
- In a room with poor lighting, these colours 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
How do I find out what the specific LRV of a paint colour is?
Unfortunately there is NO easy way to see the LRV with most brands if you don’t have a fan deck. So, not only do you have to search through a bajillion colours, you also have to search for the LRV.
Here is the LRV location of a few of the popular paint brands (or ask a store employee)…
Sherwin Williams – In the fan deck, on the back of each sample. Also on the back of the independent colour samples
Benjamin Moore – In the glossary of the fan deck
Behr – In the glossary of the fan deck
What does LRV mean to you?
In the paint deck glossary it says the colour name, number and LRV – basically the 3 things you need to know. And LRV should play a HUGE part in your colour picking process if…
- You are wondering if a colour will be too dark once it’s applied
- You are wondering if a colour will look too light once it’s applied
- You are painting your exterior (as there is an OVER abundance of natural light available to be reflected or absorbed)
Grays are SO popular right now, how does gray affect the LRV?
Most of todays popular gray paint colours sit between 50-60, meaning that while they will certainly be brighter than LRV’s that are 50-, they certainly won’t be as fresh and bright as colours with less gray in them.
Gray is a mix of black and white. White reflects light (higher LRV), black absorbs light (lower LRV)
For example, a fresh and light mint green would have a slightly higher LRV than a light mint green with a gray undertone, this means that even if they are the same ‘depth’, the one with less gray in it will ‘look brighter’ once it’s applied to the wall.
To sum it all up
If you are looking for a fresh and bright look and have a well-lit room, then you can go as low as 60. If your room does not have good lighting, you may want to go 65+.
If you are looking for a medium tone, not too light and not too dark, you may want to stick in the 35-50 range
If you want a dark colour, but are worried about it looking too blackish/heavy, then you will want to be between 12-25 range.
So there you have it – LRV in a very big, fat nutshell.
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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