Selecting Paint Color When Bright Isn’t Right

Have you ever walked into a recently-painted room where the wall colors were electric. . . just too bright, almost blinding?  We’ve all had that experience, but do you know why some paint colors appear that way?

Often, the explanation is that the paint color is a “pure” hue – in other words, it is precisely the same as the hue that appears on the color wheel.

In real life, few colors are pure hues.  The leaves of most plants may be green, but each one is a variation of the green on the color wheel.  And color in the natural world is typically mottled, as is most of the color we see, whether it be on fabric, wood, or any other object.  That’s why pure colors are so visually shocking:  They look almost unnatural.

Paint color experts know that the aesthetics of any hue can be greatly enhanced by modifying the pure color slightly.  This is accomplished by adding white, black, or gray to the pure hue to soften its intensity, making it more visually inviting.

When white is added to a pure hue, the result is a tint of that color.  Add white to the blue on the color wheel and it takes on look of a soft blue sky, something we see almost every day and, hence, are familiar and comfortable with.  Our eye can easily accept paint in this color because we experience the color frequently.

When black is added to a pure hue, something else ensues:  It produces a shade of that color, which is darker in value than the pure hue.  As an example, add black to the red on the color wheel and it takes on the familiar shade of ripe strawberries or leaves in the fall, objects (and colors) we’re used to seeing.

Adding gray – that is, both white and black — to a pure hue is an especially effective way to “kill” its intensity and, thus, make it visually acceptable.  The addition of gray converts a pure hue into a tone, which is a muted version of the pure hue on the color wheel.  Artists sometimes refer to this type of color modification as “muddying” or “dirtying” the color.  Don’t be put off by those terms.  From an aesthetic standpoint, pure colors benefit greatly from the addition of gray by “toning down” their brightness to a more visually pleasing level.

The next time you create an interior or exterior color scheme, remember that bright isn’t always right, especially when it comes to paint color.  Tints, shades, and tones are usually more visually attractive than pure hues. . .and there are an infinite number of color variations to choose from!