How Light Affects Color

by Michelle Lloyd, Sedona Paint Center

Nothing changes our observation of color more than light. We always recommend that one needs to look at colors under different lighting conditions. When putting a sample on the wall, it is important - whether interior or exterior - to apply in different areas and observe throughout the day.  The color is not going to appear the same in the different locations so it is the overall effect that one has to consider.that one needs to look at colors under different lighting conditions. When putting a sample on the wall, it is important - whether interior or exterior - to apply in different areas and observe throughout the day.  The color is not going to appear the same in the different locations so it is the overall effect that one has to consider.

Dunn-Edwards have published an article on the three important lighting sources to consider when looking at colors for your interior: direct sunlight (natural light), indirect sunlight and artificial lighting.  As mentioned in their article:

"Direct sunlight is considered the most ideal light source because it provides the best balance between warm (yellow shades) and cool (blue shades) extremes.

Indirect sunlight is inconsistent, varying throughout the day and greatly impacting the color in a room.  The intense gold rays of sunrise and long dark shadows of twilight “warm” and “cool” room colors in dramatic fashion. Indirect sunlight is the most volatile and unpredictable lighting to assess. 

Artificial lighting can be separated into either warm or cool light. Incandescent and halogen lights enhance reds and yellows, warming up a room. Fluorescent and energy-saving bulbs enhance blues and greens, cooling or flattening a room's color. Artificial light will change colors simply by the type of bulb that is used."

From Dunn-Edwards, here are 3 examples of the above lighting sources - left to right, Natural, Indirect and Artificial Light:
Dunn Edwards wall patch paint samples

To see how the color appears under natural and artificial light, paint the same color on different areas, for example, paint a wall that gets the most light and one that gets the least.  To get the best results, paint two coats on a white background and let dry for about 2 hours.  If you don't want to paint directly on to your wall, then prime some drywall or cardboard and paint at least 2 sq.ft by 2 sq.ft and then move around the room during different times of the day. 

Another factor that affects color is the paint sheen. A flat finish is less reflective and absorbs light and can therefore give the perception that the color is darker; whereas a glossy finish reflects light and makes colors appear lighter.  Flat is the most common to use for ceilings and the most popular sheen is eggshell.

In addition to lighting and paint finishes, carpets and other flooring can also change the perception of the color. On say an off-white wall, a bold green rug could cast a green tone to the color.

With all the color tools that the paint manufacturers have available online, people do use these tools to see how a color looks in a room. People often bring these in to us and are surprised at the difference when they see the actual chip.  Everyone's monitor has different settings and therefore one color is never going to be consistent from one to another. When people show us colors from their cellphone, it can also look very different due to the pixels and resolution. This way of choosing colors is supposed to be just an idea and is not an accurate representation.

The only way to conclusively see how a color truly appears in your home is to work from a wet sample.  We are more than happy to help you as we offer free samples and free in-home and in-store consultations so you can find the perfect color scheme for your home.

For more information on how to choose paint color, visit: https://www.dunnedwards.com/howto/choosing-color