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How to get the right paint color the first time

Consider room size and lighting and paint a test patch first

Published: August 04, 2014 12:45 AM

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How often have you found that a paint color that looks great in the store is a disappointment once you apply it to the walls? Here’s how to minimize fuss, expense, and bad tempers by getting the right color the first time plus some top-rated paints from Consumer Reports’ tests.

Keep room size in mind. Color intensifies over large areas, so it’s better to go too light than too dark in a given shade. Or you may want to use a bold color on just one wall and a more neutral one on the adjacent walls.

Consider the lighting.
Fluorescent light enhances blues and greens, but it dulls warm reds, oranges, and yellows. Incandescent light works well with warm colors, but it might not do much for cool tones.

Pick the right white. Pure whites have a bluish hue in certain light. Warmer whites are easier to work with, and they work well with other colors.

See the whole picture. If you use a bold color in one room, carry it into the surrounding living areas, perhaps as an accent wall or in a less saturated version. The repetition of color helps connect the spaces and makes each one feel larger.

Use in-store tools. Most chain retailers and paint stores sell sample jars, so you can try out a color before making a major investment. Most manufacturers also offer large color chips, which are easier to use than the conventional small swatches. In-store computer programs also let you view colors under various types of light.

Explore other interactive tools. Home Depot has a free smart-phone app that lets you mix and match colors before making a selection. Most of the major paint brands also offer a host of tools you can access from your home computer, smart phone, or tablet.

Try out sample colors on your walls. Be sure to use different walls—the same color may look  different in a room with a northern exposure than in one facing west—and at various times of the day. Your sample area should be at least two feet square, but larger is always better.

Valspar Signature Matte

The right sheen for the job
Interior paint comes in three gloss levels, which may differ by name from one manufacturer to another.

Flat or matte finishes hide imperfections well, but they’re not the most stain resistant. Use them in a formal living room, dining room, or other space that doesn’t see heavy use or grubby little fingers.
Best flat or matte:

Eggshell and satin finishes have a slight sheen, so they’re best on smooth, well-prepared surfaces, because their shine can accentuate imperfections. Use them in family rooms, kids’ rooms, hallways, and other areas subject to frequent wipe-downs. Some products might change sheen when scrubbed.
Best eggshell/ satin:

Semigloss paints are shinier still and are formulated to stand up to stains. They’re generally the easiest to clean, but some may dull when scrubbed. Use them in kitchens and baths and for windowsills and other woodwork.
Best semigloss:

For more choices see our full interior paint Ratings and recommendations and find out the best places to buy the best paints.

—Adapted from Your New Home, published by Consumer Reports

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