Our 4-Step System for Picking Paint Colors
Paint fan book

Our 4-Step System for Picking Paint Colors

If you’ve ever had to choose paint colors for your house, you know what a daunting task it can be.

There are thousands of colors on those fan books at the store. Not to mention 8 different “paint collections” at Lowe’s. When you pick paint colors often enough, you start to develop a system. Here’s our approach:

  1. Narrow it down.
    You have to start somewhere, so hopefully you already know whether you want the space to be light or dark, bold or subtle. But if you haven’t got a clue, we find it’s best to create an image book of color schemes you like. Our favorite tool? Houzz.com. With a free Houzz account, you can create idea books of saved images. Try sample searches like “neutral color dining room” or “colorful kitchen” and see what comes up. Magazines are also helpful. Or you can pull colors from a piece of artwork or some upholstery in the space. However you narrow it down, find a way to limit your options. We’ve got more ideas for this in our bonus PDF below.
  2. Get the color fan.
    Next step, head to the paint store and ask for a color fan. This is the skinny book with every single color the company makes. These are excellent for figuring out exactly what hues work in your space. Be sure to check your favorites throughout the day so you can see how they look in daylight, twilight and lamplight.
  3. Stand-alone chips.
    You thought I was going to advise sample cans, right? Not so fast. We’ve found it helps to get color chips once you have a few ideas. These are the single cards that contain only one swatch each. Get one for each color you’re considering, lay them out on the table, then sleep on it a day or two. I’m always amazed how a color looks different when it’s not surrounded by the shades and tints you find on the fan. I was recently hunting a light green for the outside of our house. I’d settled on a color, then when I saw it the next day on its own, it looked straight up tan. Not a hint of green! But it felt green when I picked it because of its proximity to other greens in the fan.
  4. Sample time!
    Truth be told, we often skip the sample can step. Maybe it’s because we do this for a living, or maybe it’s to shorten decision time. But if you don’t often pick colors or especially if you’re painting a very large space (and would like to avoid painting it twice), purchase a couple of sample cans and put them up on the wall before you commit to the whole thing.

Want more?

That’s our primer on paint selection (pun intended). If you want to read on, we put together a bonus page of tools we use to help find direction, including how to get access to 5,565 free color palettes created by professional designers.

Like what you see? There’s plenty where that came from! Click here to get an email whenever we post.

July 1, 2016 4:07 pm

I love using http://www.design-seeds.com to assist with your step #1. I could flip through that website for hours. It really helps create a palette, especially if you’re working with a favorite piece of art or a rug. Great post!

Sara Martin
July 1, 2016 11:03 pm

Love it! I hadn’t seen that one before. It’s really intuitive and thoughtful. Thanks for sharing…adding it to my list!