Vancouver Colour Consultant: How Light Affects Paint Colour

I am getting lots of questions about lighting and how it affects paint colour. I’m including this one to start off this post because it’s even more complicated than the usual one I receive (and it’s a great question, thanks!)

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“Maria, do you know of a seminar that would delve into the more technical aspects of colour: how do certain chemicals affect the colour, how will this be reflected in light and environment; the different aspects of light and environment that affect colour, for example. We’re really hoping to find a course more specific and technical – ie: to know WHY the colour reacts in different environments?”

Before I distinguished the different undertones in complex neutrals I was obsessed with understanding how exposure, light bulbs, outdoor reflections like water bouncing off an ocean or lots of green trees would change the paint colour in a room to something that makes you want to run screaming in the opposite direction, or move house.

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In fact I recently conducted a colour consultation with a client who hated the colour in one room in her house so much she was quite convinced she should move. This is how powerful colour is and this is why we lose sleep over getting it right.

But I digress.

It was at the same time that I obsessed over trying to understand Metamerism that I started working with large samples.

This (and the thousands of consultations I did) was how I learned that there was a finite number of colours that worked 95% of the time when I needed the right neutral. And it was how my system that I teach to homeowners and designers was born.

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So here is the scoop on paint colour and what happens to it:

Light Source Information (source)

Morning Daylight – Cool daylight absorbs the coolness and shifts color towards warmer pigments.

Strongest Daylight – Very bright direct sunlight washes out colour and lightens and whitens it.

Fading Daylight – Mixed light cancels both warm and cool shifting color duller and neutral.

Artificial Night Light – Warm lights absorb warmth shifting it to cool pigments.

Effect of Natural Light Exposures on Colours

North – Adds Blue and overhead skylights dulls colour

East – Adds Green

West – Adds Orange

South – Adds Yellow-White and washes out colour

When I first learned all this I studied it and tried to wrap my head around it, but my best advice would be this: if all you have to work with when choosing colour for yourself or your clients is small paint chips then yes, this might be useful because now you have to try and predict what the colour will look like because you certainly can’t see what is happening to it with a small colour sample.

Yes, I know you still test the colours but it’s painful to specify 2-3 colours for your client (or for you), test them and then discover they are not even remotely correct because it was too hard to tell in the first place if you were even close.

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For example, remember this consult in Atlanta I did last year? Crema Marfil in two bathrooms, one with natural light and one without. Perfect example of what I’ve just been saying.

It was working with my large samples that taught me undertones so that I can teach you. To this very day if I hold up a large paint sample and the lighting in the room is causing it to look greener, yellower, bluer, pinker, more orange or purple than usual, it’s easy to tell right on the spot. I then just tweak it by pulling out a warmer or cooler one, depending on what is required.

I asked my group of Certified True Colour Experts on our private facebook page today if they are less obsessed with understanding how lighting affects colour now that they have the big samples and this is what Heidi Nyline said:

“My ever-growing collection of big samples allows me to ignore/forget/not care about all the things I am supposed to know/learn/understand about colour and light. All of that is just theory. Whatever. You put a big sample up and it either works or it doesn’t work.”

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And to answer the question at the beginning of this post? No. I don’t know of a course that would give you that (although I’m sure they exist). Everything I’ve ever studied gave me theory (see above examples) which did not help me when I was trying to figure out which paint colour was right in any given situation.

And just in case you think this post is written just to sell my samples, not true. I pushed them this hard in my courses long before I found a supplier to make them so that you could buy them. Get your assistant to paint them up for you, whatever it takes, your world will change once you have them in your back seat for your house AND for your clients.

One more thing, if you have just read the technical lighting part above and have questions? I am not the one to ask, it will hurt my head.

Related posts:

Why is it so hard to Choose Yellow?

A Light Colour will Never Come to Life in a Dark Room

Effect of Natural Light Exposures on Colour

If all this hurts your head too, download my eBook here and it will make a lot more sense!

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

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  1. So happy to cross that worry off my list. I can share that we were VERY surprised when the new LED light bulb requirements in the USA made a big difference in our kitchen lighting. There was just TOO MUCH to learn to not hire a professional to help. 3500 lumens left a yellow cast over everything. 4000 lumens was a lovely bright white light. No one ever complained because a kitchen was too bright, did they? Well, they might as into the 5000 lumens, it’s hospital bright. So that MIGHT be too bright for some. It was too bright for us, so we settled on 4000 lumens. Our Killam approved colors hold up great in that light.

  2. Hi there, enjoy the blog. Just wanted to let you know the link to the source (for your natural and artificial light info) doesn’t link correctly. Any chance you can send along the link or correct? I’m really interested in the lighting aspect and would like to read more from the source. thank you.