Picking the perfect paint colour – 8 easy designer tips and tricks


Paint colour!  Seems like such a simple thing, but is one of the single most influential design elements to make an impact in your space.  When it’s done well you may not even notice how it adds to a room, but when it’s done wrong…yikes!  You know that brown you picked out for your feature wall that turned out to be purple?  Or the grey you picked for your ensuite that sometimes looks blue?  Yup, I’ve been there!

Choosing the right paint colour can be tricky and takes a bit of practice for sure.  Nobody likes to have to paint the same room twice… in one weekend.  With a number of years in the design biz behind me now, I thought I would pass along a few tips and tricks to help you out on your next painting project.

tips for picking paint colours

What prompted this post is a proposed painting project of my own.  We are planning to chip away at a few minor projects over the next year or so before diving into a major-ish renovation next summer.  Right now I am trying to put together a design for my daughter’s room.  She is soon to be six, very girly and loves all things pink and sparkly.

People ask all the time if picking colours for other people is easier than picking colours for myself.  Hands down, YES!  It is much easier to be objective when you’re picking colours for someone else’s space…I don’t have the personal anguish to torture myself with.

tips for picking paint colours

So I sympathize with all of you out there struggling to make your colour choices.  Painting may be one of the cheapest and “easiest” ways to update your space, but picking the colour can be one of the hardest.  It no doubt has something to do with the hundreds of shades, tones, tints and hues that are out there.  Just the paint lingo can be scary and confusing!

Here are 8 easy tips to pick the perfect paint colour:

1. Deciding where.

This might seem silly, but you need to focus on where you are going to paint. Is it a room, a wall, your entire main floor?  This will help you eliminate possible distractions from creeping into your decision make process.  For me, I am limiting it to my daughter’s bedroom so I don’t need to worry about the rest of the house for now.

2. Find your inspiration.

The best way to keep on track is to have an idea of where you are going. Find a picture online, on Pinterest, watch dozens of hours of HGTV…or maybe that’s just me…but have something you can reference on demand to reflect your vision.  It may show the mood you want or a colour palette you love, but it will help you keep on track.  I love grey and my daughter loves pink, so a grey, white and pink palette was a natural choice.

tip for picking paint colours Photo courtesy of Pinterest

3. Anchor point.

Have a look around the room you are planning to paint. Is there something in it that is going to stay or that you want to keep?  Most of the time we can’t replace everything in a room when we want to re-decorate, it’s just too costly.  Is there something in the room that you can use as a starting point for paint selection?  Pull a blue out of your artwork, the grey out of your tile…this can go a long way towards helping you pick the right tone or shade in the end.

tips for picking paint colours

For us we are going to paint the existing furniture white and replace the bedding and window treatments.  This makes things a bit easier as it will be a pretty clean slate.  We are, however, keeping some of the artwork and nic nacs as they are the perfect shade of pink.

tips for picking paint colours

4. Gather your samples.

Once you have a rough plan and a colour in mind, time to hit the paint store.  This can be one of the most overwhelming steps.  My advice is to get in and get out!  There are dozens of paint manufacturers, each with there own hundred+ colours laid out before you in their extensive display.  Pick a store, hone in on your colour of choice and grab it.  Don’t waste time in the store trying to find the right shade, take what you think will work and 3-5 colour cards to either side for a total of 10 max.  Take them home to compare under your own lighting.

tips for picking paint colours

5. Process of elimination.

Once you’re home, lay out your samples and see what you think. Instead of trying to pick the one you like, it is way easier to rule out the obvious ones you don’t.  If you started out with 10 samples, this should help get you down to 3 or 4.

tips for picking paint colours

6. Consider your lighting.

Try your final few colours in all possible light variations in your room.  Check them in the morning, afternoon and evening.  Try them in natural light and artificial light.  This will help you find any unwanted or hidden undertones that could otherwise surprise you later.  Keep in mind that you will rarely find a colour that is perfect in all of these lighting situations.  Focus in on the colours that are the most appealing most of the time…sometimes that’s the best we can do.  This should help you cut down your final few to 2 or 3.

tips for picking paint colours

7. Main colour before accent colours.

Sometimes we get ahead of ourselves and start thinking about accent colours and accessories before we have picked a main colour. This will only cause distraction and confusion.  Keep your eye on the prize and get that primary colour locked in before thinking ahead to colour combinations.  There is a general rule of 70-20-10 that can help you balance your colour combos once you are able to move to that step.  Check out my post on colour schemes for some great tips.

8. Try a sample.

There’s no better way to see whether or not a colour is going to work in your space, than to actually try it out. Most stores offer samplers of their paint for just a few dollars, it is a great investment of time and money.

tips for picking paint colours

Paint your final selection or two onto a poster board so you can see a larger sample and still move it throughout your space to check locations and lighting one last time.  This should help lock in the final colour choice.

tips for picking paint colours

Now all we need is some time to make it happen!

Let me know in the comments below what you’re planning for your next painting project.

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