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3 Easy Steps to Achieve Your Perfect Paint Color: Lighten & Darken

Are you struggling to find the perfect paint color for your space? It may be that you have already found the right color, but you just haven't found the right depth. In this article, we...

Are you struggling to find the perfect paint color for your space? It may be that you have already found the right color, but you just haven't found the right depth. In this article, we will explore the art of lightening and darkening paint colors to help you achieve your desired result.

Understanding Lightening and Darkening Paint Colors

Have you ever come across a gray shade that seems too dark or a beautiful blue-gray that seems just a bit too light? Well, the secret lies in the process of lightening and darkening paint colors. This technique, also known as "tweaking," allows you to adjust the depth of a color to suit your preferences.

Every paint color has a unique "recipe" that determines its composition. These color recipes consist of different colors mixed together in varying amounts. Some simple colors are made up of approximately three colors, while more complex colors can have seven or eight colors mixed together. The paint supplier takes care of the intricate details of these color recipes, so you don't have to worry about understanding every aspect.

When you lighten or darken a paint color, you are essentially removing or adding the same amount, typically around 25%, of each color in the recipe. This adjustment changes the overall recipe and, subsequently, the outcome of the paint color. Keep in mind that even though the color may change, the undertones remain relatively consistent.

How to lighten and darken a paint colour recipe Caption: A visual representation of how to lighten and darken a paint color recipe.

Lightening or Darkening: The Same Color, Yet Different

It's important to note that lightening or darkening a color does not retain its exact identity. While the base color remains the same, the adjusted color becomes a variation of the original, manifesting as either lighter or darker. This change is often measured using the Light Reflectance Value (LRV), which indicates the amount of light a color reflects.

During the adjustment process, the appearance of the color can shift slightly, not only in terms of depth but also in terms of the overall hue. For example, a gray color with a green undertone may appear slightly greener when lightened or lose a touch of green when darkened. However, these shifts are subtle and typically not noticeable to the naked eye. The resulting color is still within the same color family as the original.

Revere Pewter lighter and darker by 25 percent. How to lighten and darken a paint color Caption: An example of Revere Pewter paint color lightened and darkened by 25 percent.

Step 1: Pick the Color You Want to Sample

To begin the process of lightening or darkening a paint color, start by selecting the specific color or colors you would like to experiment with. Consider the desired effect and the overall look you want to achieve in your space.

Sample pots of paint Caption: Sample pots of different paint colors.

Note that sample pots from paint companies are available for a more cost-effective means of experimenting with multiple colors. However, keep in mind that the paint in these sample pots may differ slightly from the higher-quality paints used on walls or other surfaces.

Step 2: How to Order Lighter or Darker Paint Colors

When you are ready to request a lighter or darker version of a particular paint color, simply communicate your requirements to the paint store employee. For example, you can say, "Hi, could you please make me a sample pot (or quart of paint) in 'this color,' but make it 25% lighter (or darker)?" Even if the employee suggests that the difference may not be noticeable, it's best to proceed with the adjustment to ensure you achieve your desired result.

Step 3: Create Paint Sample Boards

To accurately visualize the adjusted color, it is essential to paint sample boards. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you:

  1. Purchase poster board and cut it into halves.
  2. Assign each paint sample its own board, labeling the back to avoid confusion.
  3. Use a small roller to apply two coats of paint on each board.
  4. Paint up to the edge on one side, leaving a two-inch white border on the other three sides.

The best way to make a paint color sample board Caption: A demonstration of how to create a paint color sample board.

The white border serves to visually separate the existing paint color from the new sample, preventing any influence on your perception of the adjusted color. The painted edge allows for easy comparison between different sample colors or when comparing against existing finishes in your home.

What to Expect When Lightening or Darkening a Paint Color

No matter how much you lighten or darken a color, it's important to understand that you are fundamentally changing it. The adjusted color may share a similar foundation with the original, but it is a distinct variation. When lightened or darkened by approximately 25%, the shift is subtle, with the actual change varying depending on the color and the amount of black present. Lighting conditions in your space can also influence the visibility of the shift.

Bathroom with Sherwin Williams Network Gray shiplap, Benjamin Moore White Dove walls Caption: An example of Benjamin Moore White Dove walls in a bathroom.

If you desire a more noticeable change, you can opt to lighten or darken a color by 50%. This adjustment places the color between itself and the adjacent shades on a color strip, producing a distinct yet subtle shift. It's essential to compare your new color against the original to ensure the undertones remain consistent, as lightening or darkening can cause slight variations.

While occasionally a 75% adjustment may be necessary for specific purposes, it is not commonly recommended. Undertones may undergo more noticeable shifts at this degree of adjustment, demanding extra caution.

Limitations of Lightening and Darkening Paint Colors

It's important to note that not all colors can be lightened or darkened to the extent you desire. Some colors cannot be lightened further due to the amount of colorant present, while others cannot be darkened beyond a certain point before the paint becomes unmanageable. Darkening certain colors may also alter the "base," complicating the process.

Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray darkened by 25% Caption: Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray darkened by 25%.

It's worth noting that different paint companies offer varying adjustments. For example, Sherwin Williams can adjust colors in almost any increment, whereas Benjamin Moore offers specific options such as 10%, 25%, 50%, and 75% adjustments. A 50% adjustment is generally more noticeable than a 25% adjustment.

Ultimately, the adjustments you make may change the Light Reflectance Value (LRV) of the color by approximately three points for a 25% tweak or up to eight points for a 50% tweak. Keep in mind that this is not an exact science but rather a user-friendly approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can you lighten a color by adding white?

No, the most effective way to lighten a paint color is to have it professionally adjusted at the paint store. This ensures that the appropriate modifications are made to each color/tint in the recipe, maintaining the integrity of the color.

Q: Can you lighten a color by less than 25%?

If a 25% adjustment is too noticeable for your liking, take a closer look at the original color on different walls and at various times of the day. Sometimes, the original color may appear slightly lighter or darker on a larger scale, making it the best choice for your space.

Q: Why not just pick a new color instead of lightening or darkening?

In some cases, the exact shade you are looking for may not exist as a lighter or darker version. Therefore, tweaking the color you have is the best option available.

We hope these three easy steps have demystified the process of lightening and darkening paint colors. Remember to take the time to sample and compare your adjusted colors to ensure you achieve your desired result. Happy painting!

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Discover more about our Online Decorating, Design, and Color Consulting Services by Kylie M Interiors: E-design and colour consultations. Online color expert Kylie M INteriors. Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams specialist Caption: Online color expert Kylie M Interiors offering e-design and color consultations.

Disclaimer: This article was originally written in 2017 and has been updated in 2023.