Why Paint Color Looks Different in the Store Than in Your Home

Everything you need to know before picking a hue that's right for you.

Dark blue den with purple sectional
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Kathleen Varner

Whether refreshing a room or renovating a home, fresh paint is the easiest and most impactful way to breathe new life into a space without breaking the bank. But after pursuing thousands (yes, thousands) of tiny paint color chips at the store, analysis paralysis takes over. Is this white too warm? Blue too cool? Then, once you make tough decisions and narrow down your options to only the top contenders, you take your selected paint chips home. And guess what? They look different at home than in the store. Heck, they begin to look different in the various rooms of your same house. Pearls are clutched, and the cycle repeats. But not anymore! You are not alone in what may seem like a never-ending quest to find the perfect paint color for each room and special project at your home.

Here, we share why colors looks different at the store and things to consider before purchasing your paint.

01 of 05

Let There Be Light

Welcoming guest room with four-poster spool bed and crisp white bedding
Hector Manuel Sanchez

Lighting is the most important caveat to consider when picking out paint colors, both in the store and in your home. The store is lit with fluorescent lighting while most homes are incandescent, which means the color will appear different depending on what source of light is cast. Also, natural light changes throughout the day, so there will be subtle variations in the morning versus afternoon.

Quick Tip: Get a sample quart and paint a section on the wall to confirm you like it throughout the day.

02 of 05

Chip Away

Pink Bedroom Builtin Wardrobe with Window Seat
Alison Gootee; Styling: Matthew Gleason

Picking out paint chips and bringing them home is fun and, at the time, commitment free. But reminder: Chips are printed, not painted, which can affect how they look.

Quick Tip: Once you narrow down your favorite 2-3 colors, purchase sample quarts and test with real paint to confirm it's the one.

03 of 05

Finishing Touch

Meg Kelly's 1960s Ranch Remodel Green Bedroom
Alison Gootee; Styling: Matthew Gleason

The paint sheen or finish you select will also affect the appearance of the color. Flat finishes absorb more light than they reflect, so you'll have a more consistent color no matter the lighting variations. High-gloss paint is very reflective, so the color you see will depend largely on the amount of light bouncing off it.

Quick Tip: Know what finish you'd like so you can test accordingly. A general guidepost is flat for ceilings, semi gloss for trim and cabinets, and satin for walls.

04 of 05

Testing, Testing

1950s Mid-Century House Open Living Room and Dining Room
In the living room the painting by Louisianan Rebecca Rebouché was one of my first purchases. Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Page Mullins

Once you have the sample quarts, you should paint swatches on the room walls. (Don't be shy, go big!) However, do not place swatch samples side by side or too close to other colors so they don't wrongfully influence your choice.

Quick Tip: Test a large swatch on the numerous walls to get a true sense of the shade throughout the day as the lighting changes.

05 of 05

Read the Room

Pink Nursery
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Kathleen Varner

Be sure to consider the existing decor, especially if you are picking paint colors in an empty house before you move in. If you have textiles or throw pillows you can bring in, that will help you make sure it's a good match. Final rule of thumb? Try before you buy, y'all!

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