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13 Expert Tips for Choosing Perfect Paint Colors

How to choose the right colors inside and out.

The Family Handyman

Use actual paint samples, not chips

It’s difficult to tell what a color is going to look like on your wall from a small paint chip, so many manufacturers offer sample containers of their colors. Depending on the manufacturer, you can buy sample containers in quarts, pints, or even smaller sizes, and they range in price from $3 to $8. They’re a wise investment that will prevent you from wasting money on a color that isn’t right. And because colors can change dramatically under different lighting conditions, instead of rolling the sample onto the wall, roll it onto white tagboard. You’ll be able to move the sample around and view it under all the different lighting conditions in your home. Check out these 10 tips for a perfect paint job.

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Paint family color collections are invaluable

Paint companies have gone to a lot of trouble (and spent a lot of money) grouping colors into “families” and “collections” and “concepts” and “schemes.” These are combinations of complementary colors that may not occur to you until you see how well they work together. Take advantage of all the research already done for you by color experts. Find brochures at paint stores and go online to paint manufacturer websites, Houzz, and Pinterest, where you’ll find hundreds of examples of interior and exterior paint color combinations. Here are 11 steps to a faster, neater paint job.

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Start with the permanent colors

Base your color choice on the permanent furnishings in the room or the features on the exterior of your home. Inside, the flooring, rugs, artwork, blinds, and upholstery will suggest a color direction. Outside, factory-finished materials like the roof, gutters, fascia, soffits and brickwork are existing elements whose colors rarely change but should play a role in determining your paint colors. The landscaping is another important factor. Select colors that fit in with the surrounding palette. If you have brilliant-colored spring-blooming trees or a sea of green foundation plantings, choose colors that will complement them. Check out these 21 tips for smooth and perfect trim painting.

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Consider the neighbors

A clashing color choice is a lose-lose situation. You may think a purple house with red trim would be really groovy, but your neighbors will hate you. You’ll not only drag down your resale value but affect theirs as well. Inside you only have to please yourself and your family. But remember this: If you plan on selling, bizarre colors or schemes will likely turn off potential buyers.

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Lighten the ceiling color

Because ceilings are seen in shadow, the color often appears darker than the same paint on walls. If you want the ceiling to match the wall color, buy ceiling paint one or two shades lighter than the wall color. Or instead of buying another gallon of a lighter shade, save money by diluting the wall color you have with 50 percent white paint. Try these genius tricks for using painters tape.

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Choose the right sheen

When you choose a color, you have to choose its sheen, too. Most paint companies offer flat, eggshell, satin, semigloss, and gloss as options. Glossier finishes offer greater durability and are easier to clean, but they emphasize any wall imperfections. Flat paint will do a much better job of hiding imperfections, but it’s easier to damage than high-gloss. Flat finishes are generally best for ceilings and low-traffic areas like living and dining rooms. Glossier finishes can withstand moisture and grease so they’re good for trim and cabinets and high-traffic rooms like kitchens and bathrooms. If you love the way flat wall paint looks but you wish it were more durable, try mixing it 50/50 with eggshell paint. The paint will still offer a nonreflective look, but the eggshell will add some durability to the finish. Here are pro tips for selecting the best outdoor paint or stain.

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Skim-coat bad walls for darker colors

Lighter colors are more forgiving in terms of showing wall imperfections; darker colors show more detail. If you’re set on using a darker color (or a glossy sheen) and your walls are in rough shape, you should really “skim-coat” your walls with a thin layer of drywall compound before painting (search for “skim coat walls” at familyhandyman.com). And even skim-coating the walls won’t make dark colors look good in every room. Extremely dark colors don’t handle the moisture in a bathroom very well; they can look blotchy and chalky. If you’re planning to use a dark color, reduce the number of coats necessary by using a high-hide gray-tinted primer.

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Don’t just paint the walls

Just as paint accentuates features, you can use it to hide unappealing elements too. Paint conduit, radiators, gutters and other utilitarian components the same color as the walls to make them blend in. You can also do that with light fixtures, switches, outlets and just about anything else. There are spray paints for all different types of material now. Here are the best-kept secrets of professional painters.

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Buy better-quality paint

For the best results, spend at least $40 to $50 per gallon of paint. Paint is made of solvents, pigments, and resins. Better-quality paint will be more concentrated with finer pigments and higher-grade resins, so the final product will have a more even color and durable finish. It’s tempting to try to save money up front, but better coverage ultimately means fewer coats and less paint to buy. Even reputable brands have a range of paint qualities within their product lines, so do your homework and buy the best you can afford.

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Virtually paint your house

Many manufacturers offer opportunities to “paint” your home virtually—you upload a photo of your home or a room and try out different colors and painting schemes. You can also search for homes similar to your own and try “painting” with various combinations and products. There are also apps that allow you to take a photo of a color you like and have it matched with a manufacturer’s color or suggested palette (Paint My Place on iTunes is one example). Just be aware that your computer monitor, cell phone or iPad screen will affect the color of the paint you see. Here are the top 25 painting tools you need.

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Vivid exterior colors fade faster

The more intense or dark a color is, the more likely it is to fade and show dirt. After a few years, vivid blues and deep reds will become subdued, and you may see streaks and splotches of dirt more readily. Dark colors can also absorb heat and sustain more moisture problems than lighter shades. And because dark paint fades, it can be difficult to match exactly when you do small touch-ups. On the plus side, dark colors can give your house an air of dignity or drama. Generally, colors like red, blue, green, and yellow tend to fade more quickly than earth tones like beiges, tans, and browns, which are considered more stable.

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Consider sponge-painting your walls

Of all the techniques for creating special effects with paint, none is easier or yields more attractive results than sponge painting. You don’t need a precise hand, expensive tools, or exotic potions. You don’t even have to put up with smelly, messy, oil-based paint. And, unlike other painting techniques, sponge painting is forgiving. If one part of your wall turns out too light, for example, you don’t have to start over—you can just go back and dab on some darker paint. Here are tricks for painting ceilings better.

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Use this pro wall painting technique

Once you’ve selected the right color, the key to streak-free wall painting is to maintain a wet edge. The wet cut-in paint should blend with the rolled areas to prevent “picture framing” or shadow lines at hand-painted/rolled junctions. Roll from top to bottom, from right to left, keeping the unsupported side of the roller frame pointing toward the left. Apply slightly heavier pressure to the unsupported side of the roller to eliminate roller tracks.

Originally Published in The Family Handyman