We can see about 10 million different colors.
There are just as many paint colors available in the world, so it’s not a surprise how intimidating it can be to pick ONE to paint a single room in your home -- and that’s not taking into consideration a number of other factors such as price, quality, subjectivity of taste, brand, and the room itself…
So if you were wondering how to choose paint, about paint sheen differences, and how to save money on paint, you’ve just stumbled upon the best possible guide!
“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. George A. Moore”
Oh yeah, if you feel super inspired and want to hire a pro, you can ask for a free painting quote right here!
How to Choose Paint Colors
Despite the intimidating number of paint colors out there, you can look at it on the bright side - the one you want is just waiting for you.
So to get things going, let’s start narrowing those 10 million colors down:
The psychology of colors
Colors are scientifically proven to subconsciously affect your humor - Coca-cola is red because red stimulates the feeling of hunger and thirst.
But of course, there are many color variations and their effects are subjective to a certain degree - red may be cozy, but maybe you don’t like red.
Here are the psychological effects and feelings associated with some common color choices:
- Red: warmth, comfort, coziness, love
- Orange: excitement, beauty, freshness, energy
- Yellow: happiness, boldness, discomfort
- Blue: cold, calm, serenity, loneliness
- Green: nature, luck, fortune
- Purple: royalty, wisdom, wealth
- Black: formality, sophistication, elegance
- Brown: earth, safety, nature, vastness
- White: sterile, spacious, pure
- Pink: romance, delicate, joyfulness, vibrant
How light affects color
The theory of how we see light applies here:
Newton observed that color is not inherent in objects. Rather, the surface of an object reflects some colors and absorbs all the others. We perceive only the reflected colors. (Pantone)
With this is mind, you should pick you new paint color taking in consideration the light your environment will receive.
Say your room will only receive artificial fluorescent white light. If your walls are white, they will absolutely look white.
However, if the room receives direct sunlight, which due to the atmosphere we live in, reaches your walls in yellow or orange tones, your white wall will absolutely look orange while the sun is hitting it.
Or a simpler example:
Maybe your paint color of choice looks perfect during the day when lit by the sun, but at night when lit by a chandelier, it feels completely different.
Bottomline is, be sure the light in your room compliments the paint color you’re choosing!
Another thing you should consider is future additions and remodels.
So you’ve decided to paint the walls - that’s great! But what about in the fall? Are you refinishing the floor? Taking out the carpet? Changing the tiles? Buying new furniture?
Let’s look at an example:
Say you’ve painted the walls a beautiful light shade of pink and looks great against your greyish carpet, but then you decide to get rid of the carpet and get hardwood instead… and suddenly your pink walls don’t match anymore.
Luckily, the solution is easy:
Plan ahead! For each room, be sure the painting matches your future plans for it, and everything will be just fine!
Take inspiration from other homes
The easiest way to pick paint colors is by looking at references!
Luckily, your neighborhood has dozens of them: simply look around for new paint jobs you like and ask what color it is, what brand, how much it cost… it’s the easiest way of getting reliable local information you can actually use!
Purchase sample paint
You can purchase a sample quantity of paint to try on your wall and actually be able to see which works best. This is great because you can let is dry and see how it reacts to light throughout the entire day!
Alternatively, some stores will offer painted chips of wall so you can see how the paint looks on a surface!
Paint color app
Many paint brands offer free apps that let you see how a color will look on your walls based on photos!
The nice thing about this method is that if you like a color you see in the app, you can go straight to the store with the brand’s color code.
Remember colors will look different on your computer screen than in real life - so take note of the ones you like and look for them in stores for the real deal!
Here are some online apps you can try right now:
- Benjamin Moore
- Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap
How to Buy the Right Paint
So you’ve decided which paint color you want and now it’s time to make the purchase!
How much does paint cost?
Good quality paint cost an average of $30-$50 per gallon.
An average size room generally takes 2-3 gallons of paint with expected touch-ups and leftover paint for contingencies.
If you want to know how much it costs to hire a painter for your project, you can request a free quote here!
Going for DIY painting can also save you some money and be a lot of fun, but you have to take in consideration the purchase of all the materials besides the paint gallons - like brushes, rollers, and primer - and of course, how overwhelming it can be to tackle it if you have no experience.
How much paint do you need?
One of the easiest things you can do is find a painter friend or neighbor who can help you figure out how much paint you need since guessing would probably lead you to either miss by more or less.
The average is that one gallon of paint covers around 400 to 500 square feet of surface - however, this can vary greatly based on surface and paint type.
What are the basic paint types?
Water-based paint (latex or acrylic): very common for interiors. It’s easy to clean, dries faster, has less odor, and wears better over time. Good for most walls and ceilings.
Solvent-based paint (oil): better for priming real wood and creating harder coats, making it more resilient on high-traffic areas; can be cleaned with water and soap, but it takes a lot longer to dry compared to water-based paint and the odor is very strong.
Oil-based paint usually covers larger areas with a single gallon than water-based paint.
What is VOC? Is it harmful?
Volatile Organic Compounds - VOCs for short - are solvents released in the air while the paint dries, and immediate effects from exposure include headache, dizziness, respiratory irritation, and visual disorders. In long-term exposure (6 years or more) it can cause cancer.
The majority of VOCs are released while the paint dries, but they remain present and being released in the air for years, potentially harming inhabitants. That’s why you can now find in the market many low-VOC or no-VOC paint options from most brands - until recently, VOCs were considered essential to the performance of the paint.
Some brands like ECO Paints produce exclusively organic and all-natural paint, free of VOCs.
Especially if you’re planning on DIY painting interiors with solvent-based paint, be sure to keep the area ventilated and wear a solvent-respirator and eye protection for safety!
What are the basic sheen types?
For each paint type of any color there are many different sheen types:
Matte (or flat): probably the most common paint for interior walls and ceilings. It’s easy to apply, although it usually takes more than just one coat to really get the right tone. The final look is flat, with no shine or gloss, making it great for a distraction-free environment. It’s also harder to clean and not ideal for high-traffic areas.
Satin: The midway point between matte and gloss - it produces a soft sheen. Not recommended if you have noticeable imperfections on your wall, as it will only make them more noticeable.
Eggshell: pretty much the same sheen as satin, but the finish isn’t as smooth, making it good even if your walls have small imperfections. These glossy finishes are great for high-traffic areas (such as children’s playrooms or kitchen walls).
Semi-gloss: more commonly used on trims than walls, it offers a hard finish that you can clean with water and soap, but the shine will absolutely accentuate imperfections if there are any.
Gloss: The shiniest of paint types - the final look on a smooth wall is beautifully shiny, but because of the hard finish, it will absolutely reveal any imperfections. Getting even coverage could take more than one coat. It takes longer to dry compared to other paint types, but it’s also more resistant to wear and tear, hence why it’s most commonly used for covering trims or wood.
For almost every paint job you will need a coat of primer - it guarantees better adhesion of paint to the surface, protects the material being painted, and increases durability. It also seals up porous surfaces and prevents previous colors from showing under your new paint job.
It’s recommended to sand the wall before applying any of the primer types.
Oil-based primer: considered the best option for most cases, as it’s highly durable and versatile. The drawback is that it takes longer to dry and releases potentially harmful chemical compounds in the process, making safety precautions and absolute necessity. They’re also harder to clean from brushes and rollers and not recommended for masonry.
Latex-based (or water-based) primer: great for prepping unfinished drywall and masonry for painting, and since it’s water-soluble, also makes it a lot easier to clean. It dries very fast, but it doesn’t prevent stains as well as an oil-based primer.
Shellac primer: highly durable and resilient to nearly every condition, but like an oil-based primer, could be potentially harmful without safety precautions during application and is not as versatile as either of the previous types.
How to save money on paint
DON’T go straight for cheap paints! Most low-quality paint gallons will require more than a single coat to get the look you want, while some high-quality gallons can get the look in a single coat. You would end spending more or less the same amount of money, but wasting more time.
Consider purchasing a paint + primer formula: painters are using it more and more and it could save you some money from otherwise purchasing and applying both products separately.
Ask local stores for returned gallons: most stores will keep gallons clients have bought and returned for different reasons (changed their mind, wasn’t the right one, etc.) and re-sell them for very cheap!
Look for sales: most stores will offer great deals on Memorial Day and Fourth of July, but be on the lookout for sales from your favorite paint brand (subscribing to their newsletter could help).
DIY or Hire a Pro?
Painting can be a very fun family project, but it can also be extremely overwhelming to tackle by yourself. There’s so much to take in consideration, so much to learn, so much to worry about… in some cases, it’s better (and cheaper) to hire a painter.
Let’s look at the pros and cons:
If you’re going DIY
It’s usually cheaper since you’ll only be paying for the materials and using up your own time for the job.
But messing up means spending more money to fix mistakes. You should also be very careful, as paint odor can be intoxicating and you could get hurt without proper protection (oil-based paint falling in your eye is no joke).
If you’re going for hiring
Hiring a licensed contractor is usually easier, faster, and has virtually no setbacks. It’s especially recommended if your paint job has more complex preparation (scraping old paint, removing wallpaper, etc).
Homes built before 1978 most likely have lead-based paint - for that, you need to hire a professional certified in lead removal.
When compared to DIY, it will almost always cost more, but will also be a lot less stressful for you.
If you want to know how much it costs to hire a local pro, click here to get a free quote!
Feeling inspired? Feel free to share any tips you might know in the comments section and share this article with that friend or relative currently planning their next paint job!
Keep on reading:
How To Hire a Professional Painter
The Beginner’s Guide on How to Paint Furniture
10 Mind-blowing Wall Makeovers On A Budget (With Before and After Pictures!)
11 Unique Entryway Makeover Ideas That Will Amaze You
How to Achieve the $0 Bedroom Makeover Step-by-step
8 Door Knockers That Add Major Curb Appeal