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 find they looked lighter or darker than you thought they would?
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. HOWEVER, I’m not 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!
What is LRV Anyway?
LRV, or Light Reflectance Value, refers to how light or dark a paint colour will look 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, you need LIGHT for a colour to come to LIFE! Why? Because the actual SCIENCE of it is that you’re not reaaaally seeing the paint colour that’s on the walls, you’re seeing the COLOUR OF THE LIGHT THAT’S REFLECTED OFF THE WALLS (but that’s getting a lil’ deep for this meat n’ potatoes blog post).
And don’t worry, I’ll tell you how to FIND the LRV of paint colours shortly, but first…
LRV numbers vs value (depth) of paint colours
The LRV ranges below are based on my experience and knowledge, not on actual scientific FACT. This means that while these numbers will give you a GREAT idea of the VALUE of a colour (how light or dark it is), the actual numbers/range I’ve come up with are only approximate – the lines are blurry (but that could also be because I’ve had two glasses of wine). I’ve also rounded the numbers off to save your sanity. This makes me a bit twitchy, but makes for MUCH easier learning.
80+ WHITE (more like 82, really)
Glug glug glug, I mean sip sip sip.
Now, let’s get into the actual LRV ranges. Again, not scientific, just general reference.
PAINT COLOURS WITH A LOWER LRV: 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 can look soft, stunning, and a bit lighter and more colourful as the undertones come up. However, in a POORLY lit room, it can look closer to black and loses 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…
- Paint colours with a lower LRV will reflect SOME, but not tons of light. Basically, if a colour’s LRV is 10, it’s going to absorb a lot of light and reflect a smaller amount 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.
- 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
PAINT COLOURS WITH A MID-RANGE LRV: Light-Medium to Medium
This is a WIDE range as it covers not only the medium-toned depths but the light-mediums as well.
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 grab the minimal light that it’s offered.
In the above photo, look at the top portion of the walls. See where the natural light HITS Dorian Gray? That’s LRV in action – friggin cool! Dorian Gray looks lighter because it’s 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. It’s also a great example of a colour that could stand up a BIT better in a darker room as it has a bit more colour and less gray in it.
- Paint colours with medium-range LRV’s reflect a moderate, but not obscene amount of light, especially in the middle of the range. 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. AND REMEMBER, the quality of light changes throughout the day, so sample carefully and look at it on all walls in a variety of lights
- In a poorly lit room, medium-range LRV’s can look quite flat and drab, especially if they’re neutral
- 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
- In a room with poor lighting, paint colours in the 50+ range will take ANY light they can and reflect it back into the space, but don’t expect any screamin’ glory. Often, it’s better to add a bit more COLOUR to help counteract the shade vs going with a more standard neutral paint colour
Long story short – lighting matters.
PAINT COLOURS WITH A HIGHER LRV: Light, Off-White and White
This range goes from the light range (heavy lights if they’re close to 55) right up to the WHITE end of things, but they all have the potential to reflect some decent or even OVERWHELMING amount of light back into your space.
If you have a bright room and you partner it with a colour that is lighter (usually 60+ is where you’ll start seeing more activity), you are going to have a LOT of light bouncing around. Why? Well, not only are you giving your walls a lot of light to play with, you’ve chosen a paint colour that likes to REFLECT light as it has a higher LRV.
The higher the LRV of a paint colour is, the more light it’s going to bounce back at you
A space with three types of natural 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.
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, making it look more like a bright off-white.
CENTER (BOOKCASE WALL)
This wall is getting a more average amount of natural light, in which Gray Owl looks more like a paint colour with an LRV of 65 should.
This is an extreme – a wall with almost no natural light on it.
And this is why it so important to look at your paint samples in ALLLL lights on ALLLL walls. BTW, if you’re getting paint samples, I highly recommend THIS vs traditional sample pots.
A darker room without enough natural or artificial light
If you have a dark room, that means there isn’t a lot of light 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 will look.
A light colour in a bright room will look lighter than the SAME 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 and how that affects the look of Revere Pewter…
Whereas in this NEXT photo, the bedroom (painted in Revere Pewter, same as above) has a good amount of natural light on the left side, bringing the look of the paint colour 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 you’ll see that Revere Pewter falls a bit more shaded looking again.
Let’s take a look at an off-white like Benjamin Moore Classic Gray, a warm gray. With an LRV of 74.78, it will reflect a considerable amount of light, therefore, lightening and brightening a space. Notice how it washes-out on the left side of the photo where it gets direct light and softens up on the wall space behind the vase…
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 making an average room with average light look reasonably bright, but still soft. However, even at 62, it can still wash-out. As an example of this, look from the far left of the photo to the middle-right and see how Collingwood changes its tune…and tone!
The EVER popular Sherwin Williams Repose Gray (below) has an LRV of 58, so it’s a HEAVIER light depth. If you have average lighting (natural/artificial), 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. While I’ve said that you can go as low as 55 in the light range, those would be DARKER looking light colours for sure – there is a range.
Read more: The Best Paint Number For Your Home– 62
- Paint colours with a higher LRV’s will have the potential to reflect A LOT of light (particularly the 70+ range). Again, if you don’t give them light, they’ll have nothing to reflect
- Paint colours with a higher LRV can look brighter than they do 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 which might be more shaded!
- 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?
For how important LRV is to the average paint buyer, I’m surprised some paint companies haven’t made it EASIER to find it.
So, 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 – the BEST place for it!
- 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! HECK YES it does, 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?
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