You can easily master the paint aisle.

By Zoë Gowen
January 30, 2020
SDI Productions/Getty Images

Standing in the paint aisle at your local hardware store can be overwhelming. There are so many options whether you’re looking at store display or a paint deck. It is never as easy as picking out a color you like. You need to consider the color palette of your room, the natural and artificial light variation throughout the day, and the type of finish you need. Here are some key things to keep in mind to become a pro for your next paint project.

Robbie Caponetto

Play Your Cards Right

There is a method to every paint deck or store display. Once you know how to read it, you’ll easily find the perfect colors for your space.

Reading the Deck

Store displays and paint decks (pictured above) typically feature cards with seven swatches that are grouped by color family and listed from lightest to darkest. Sue Wadden, the director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams, says the top four swatches are the most used on each strip.

Rounding Our Your Palette

Once you have one shade in mind (like Aquitaine, the midrange blue shown above), Wadden advises a shortcut to choosing complementary pairings: Stick to the same swatch placement on the card, and look two to three rows to the left and right on the paint deck or store display.

Robbie Caponetto

Work the Wheel

A little color theory comes in handy when picking out paint for your next project.

Know Hot From Cold

Art class reminder: Reds, oranges, and yellows are considered warm while blues, greens, and violets are cool. Limit the paint scheme in a room or on an exterior to all cool or warm selections. Add contrasting color via an easy-to-change element such as an accent pillow or the front door.

Take the Guesswork Out of White

Even the lightest white has warm or cool undertones. For visual clues, look to the most saturated swatch at the bottom of the color card. If you're selecting white as a trim, pair like with like: Cooler whites work best with cooler colors and vice versa. (See the photo above for reference.)

WATCH: This is Behr's 2020 Color of the Year

Learn the Lingo

• Saturation and Intensity are similar. The more color and pigment in a formula, the more saturated and higher the intensity. The more white and gray in the formula, the less saturated it is.

• Hue and Chroma refer to the color family. Each color in the rainbow is a completely different hue.

• Shade and Tone are sister terms. Adding white to a paint lightens the overall tone while adding black to the same color gives it a darker shade.

Pick the Right Finish

Overwhelmed by all the finish options? We don't blame you. Tradition suggests using flat for ceilings, eggshell or satin for walls, and semigloss for millwork (trim and cabinetry). Splurge on high gloss for a front door.

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