How to Pick the Right Paint Color Every Time

Selecting the right paint color can seem like a really daunting task for most people. With infinite options available, it can feel seriously overwhelming. Don’t worry my friend, I’m going to give you the bare bones basics on what is actually important when it comes to choosing a paint. I’m going to share the method I use each and every time I want to paint something a new color.

No matter what, even if you are the most experienced designer in the world, I would still ALWAYS recommend this exact process. It’s tried and true and I’ve never regretted my paint decision after working though this process.

Also, I should specify that this is the Non-Tech method. There are so many “virtual paint apps” and color matching machines etc. that can also help aid you in this process. This is just the good old, hands on, old school method I’ve used hundreds of times without fail! The techy stuff can be used to help in the process if you find yourself really struggling, but let me be clear:

NO virtual representation of color on a screen is EVER going to be the same as ACTUAL paint on your ACTUAL wall, guaranteed! Screens do not equal real life!

Alright, now that we all know to distrust the tech, I can move on, lol. First of all, if you don’t already have a specific brand of paint that you are loyal to, I’m going to recommend working with Behr (#NOTsponsored). You can purchase Behr paints at Home Depot. I honestly think they have some of the best quality paint for the best price. They also will mix you a generous sized sample of any of their colors for a small fee. This, my friends, is key so if you prefer another brand, check to make sure they can mix you a sample.

For the sake of this example, let’s say we are wanting to paint our living room. We have a neutral, light colored sofa and a rug with some blue/gray tones in it that we need to keep in the room. The room used to be a warm beige and we are wanting to use a new paint color to make a big impact on the space and give it a new vibe.

Step 1: Decide on the general color concept

  • Use photos from Pinterest, Instagram, etc. to give you inspiration.
  • If you find yourself continuously drawn to images with a deep navy color and you think that represents the vibe you’d like for your room, navy is the general color concept we are going with.
  • Think about those pieces you are keeping in the room (our sofa and rug) and whether they’d work with the navy idea. Did you see images of navy walls with a neutral light colored sofa and a blue/gray rug? I bet you did. See how that looks to you, and if it’s a go, it’s time to go to the store!
Pinterest Inspiration Image – from Etsy

Step 2: Get paint card samples

  • With navy in mind, you are going to go to Home Depot or the store of your choice and head to the Behr section or brand of your choice.
  • Don’t get distracted by the other colors in the rainbow, focus in on Navy!
  • Grab multiple cards of each color card that looks appealing to you. When I do this, my stack of cards could literally be an inch deep.
  • Remember to get a range and a variety, get cards with colors a little lighter, darker, more or less saturated than you think you might need.
Paint card samples from Behr

Step 3: Tape up your card samples in your space and observe

  • Back at home in your room, lay out all your samples. Look at them under the natural light of the room as well as with the artificial light.
  • In this example, look at them next to your sofa and next to your rug.
  • As you are doing this, you should immediately toss aside any samples that are obviously not working. Too dark? Too bright or saturated? Too much on the green side? Whatever doesn’t feel right, eliminate it.
  • Since you grabbed several of each card, you can use clear tape to tape them together to make a larger sample of that color.
  • Now, using painter’s tape, tack them up to your wall side by side.
  • In this example, I’d butt them right up to the edge of the sofa.
  • Observe these color swatches in different areas of the room throughout different times of day with different lighting and continue eliminating any that don’t seem right.
  • At the end of this process, I like to have it narrowed down to 3-6 possibilities. If they all seem wrong, go back and repeat the process until you feel like you are on the right track.
Tape samples up on wall – shown butted up to sofa

Step 4: Get actual paint samples

  • Time to head back to Home Depot!
  • The reason I love Behr is that they will sell you little jars of sample paint in any color for a pretty cheap price. This is KEY
  • Take your winning 3-6 sample cards and ask them to make them up in the little sample jars
  • Back at home, paint apx. 12″ x 12″swatches of these colors on your walls in several different locations. One location should be butted up to something you plan on keeping in the space, in this instance, the sofa.
  • Get it on your wall nice and thick – if using a brush, you might want to do 2 coats.
  • Allow to dry completely, (color will become darker as it dries) and then observe them in the various lighting conditions.
Behr paint samples

Step 5: Make your selection

  • By this time, you should be very familiar with the color options. You can compare back to your inspiration photo to see if the colors you painted on the wall seem like what is in the photo.
  • You’ve seen the option next to the items you plan on keeping and have judged whether they will work well or not.
  • You’ve seen the options in your actual space under your own lighting conditions.
  • Now go with your gut and pick one! Keep in mind, it’s only paint! This is a relatively inexpensive remodel project, so don’t sweat it! If you LOVE the color, then it can’t possibly be the “wrong” choice!

Step 6: Purchase your full sized cans and get to work

  • Take your sample card or jar of the big winner back to Home Depot and ask for them to mix it up in the qty. you need!
  • A few tips:
  • I usually get the Behr Premium Plus “paint and primer in one”, or the Behr Marquee. This won’t always guarantee a single coat application, in my experience, but it helps! Both are really high quality paints.
  • If you aren’t sure, go with eggshell as the finish unless you are in a kitchen or bathroom or are painting baseboards/doors or something that needs to be ultra grease/stain resistant or cleanable. But basically, eggshell is going to work for most everything

~ Takeaway ~ To this day, I use this method every single time I choose a paint color. Even if it’s a color I’m familiar with. You are never going to know what the paint is going to look like unless you physically paint it on your walls next to your stuff. The virtual apps are cool, but color on a screen will never truly represent color in real life. Happy painting friend!


Free Guide: Best Paint Colors

Since I constantly have people asking me what my favorite paint colors are, and to provide recommendations, I wanted to compile them all in a handy little guide for you! You can get your hands on my FREE Guide by filling out the form below!

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2 thoughts on “How to Pick the Right Paint Color Every Time

  1. This is a great guide! We just painted our house and I had a horrible time finding the right navy!! And they would look one way on the card and then different on the wall. Thank you for the great advice.. And jfyi.. I love the navy!! We have it in our bedroom just on one wall and the closet doors and it is seriously my favorite!

    1. Yes! You always need to paint swatches of the actual paint on various places. I love navy too, I have one room in my house that is “Starless Night” from Behr – Love it! I bet your bedroom looks amazing – Cheers!!!

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