Does Paint Color Dry Darker Or Lighter?

Jessica Stone
by Jessica Stone

When deciding on paint colors, one of the most common questions posed by homeowners is: “Will the paint color I choose dry to be darker or lighter than the color swatch?” The short answer is neither. So, when you’re choosing some paint, don’t worry about whether it dries to a specific shade. What should matter is the color itself.

As a rule of thumb, paint will dry darker than the color that is initially applied. That said, the dried paint should have the same color as the initial paint swatch. This will be ensured by high-quality paints such as Sherwin or Benjamin, but will depend on the original color of the wall you are painting on.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that several factors can affect the color and how it appears on your walls. We’ll discuss a few environmental and psychological factors that play into this question. Keep these in mind as you’re shopping for your desired paint colors.

Do You Need Painting or Staining Services?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Does Paint Dry Darker or Lighter?

Paints, particularly acrylic, oil, and latex, usually do dry darker than the color that is initially applied. However, assuming that the paint was mixed properly, the final result should match the paint swatch. In other words, the paint may look slightly different when you start the project but it should dry to be the exact color that you picked out.

Keep in mind that it can take up to eight hours for paint to dry completely. So, if you are seeing some discrepancy in the paint color, make sure you at least wait until the paint has taken on its final appearance before you assume that something has gone awry. When it comes to paint drying lighter, this should never be the case unless you’re using watercolors on your walls – which likely isn’t the case.

Follow the guidelines outlined below to ensure that your paint is mixed correctly and, thus, dries to be the anticipated color:

  • Only mix interior paints and other paints of the same brand.
  • Always thoroughly mix the paint.
  • For best results, use the mixers you can find at the paint store.
  • Test the paint on a small, inconspicuous area first and let it fully dry.

How Light Affects Paint Colors

Depending on the room in your home, both the type of light source and amount of light can greatly impact a paint’s color. The two main types of light include natural and artificial light sources. Each of these will slightly alter the way a color is perceived in a room.

Natural light, or light that enters your home through your windows, can modify your paint color depending on the sun’s direction and position. If the room faces north, northern light typically adds a touch of blue and will produce a softer, warmer effect. This will cause darker hues to be more intense and lighter colors more subdued.

In contrast, if your room is south-facing, it will receive the most intense light of any room in your home. Darker colors become brightened, and light hues can appear more washed-out. Rooms located on the west side of your home will experience warm, orange casts in the evening. If these rooms are already painted a warm tone, they can become more saturated. However, an eastern facing room will enhance green tones to your walls.

Choosing The Correct Artificial Lighting

Artificial lights, or the interior lighting in your home, are usually from a mixture of incandescent, fluorescent, and occasionally, halogen bulbs. Depending on what type of light you’re using in a particular room, the influence on paint color will differ.

Incandescent bulbs are generally warm light with a hint of yellow. Bright, warm paint colors will emerge more intense. In contrast, cooler hues will appear dulled as a result of the incandescent lighting.

Conventional fluorescent bulbs emit a cool, bluish toned light and will complement cooler paint colors well. However, if you want to replicate natural light, you should have halogen bulbs in your home. It will not distort color as much as the other artificial light sources.

How Paint Sheen Affects Color

You’ll also need to consider the sheen of the paint when you’re beginning your project. A paint’s finish or gloss level will have a direct impact on how its color ultimately shows up on your walls.

Paints with a flat finish typically have a chalky appearance when dry. Also, since it absorbs light, it can make your paint color look slightly lighter than the swatch color. However, paint with a semi-gloss or gloss finish will make the paint color appear darker. This is due to the higher level of sheen reflecting the light and presenting a darker hue.

If you want something that generally holds to their color swatch, choose a matte or eggshell paint finish. They don’t have the chalkiness of flat, nor the sheen of a glossy finish. It also does not reflect or absorb light and will help you achieve the closest match to your swatch.

How Psychological Factors Influence Paint Color

I’m sure you’ve had an instance in your life when your eyes play tricks on you. Metamerism is the scientific word for this. Specifically, it’s a psychophysical phenomenon where colors appear different to the viewer under conflicting circumstances.

When you’re at your local hardware store, selecting paint colors, you automatically begin to compare hues to the other surrounding options. We often look at the next color on a corresponding color chart instead of independently viewing an individual color.

In order to get the truest impression of a color, you should view it individually by using a large swatch or paint sample. You’ll also want to look at it either against a white backdrop or your particular trim shade. This should give you the best representation of the color you’ve selected.

Tips For Choosing Interior Paint Colors

Now that you understand what influences the way we perceive a paint color after it’s dried, it’s time to select your colors. Picking the perfect shade can be an overwhelming and intimidating challenge. However, here are some tips to help you choose your interior paint colors:

  • Gather inspiration from the colors already in the room. Examine the room that you want to paint and notice colors that already exist in the space. Whether they be from furniture or décor, you want to ensure that your paint choice complements all of the hues in the room.
  • Decide on the feeling you want to induce. When deciding on a new shade, think about how you want the overall feel of the room to be as well as how you want your visitors to feel. A room that you want to feel tranquil will have a very different paint color than one that evokes liveliness.
  • Consider the purpose of the room. Thinking about the overall objective of the space can help you decide on your ideal paint color. For example, if you are remodeling a living room, think about what you’ll spend most of the time doing in this environment. Will you be entertaining guests, relaxing, or distracting your children?
  • Keep the lighting in mind. As mentioned, this is very important, and the lighting in a room will significantly influence the paint color. Paint large swatches on the walls of your space to help you get a good idea of how the lighting will affect the color.
  • Steer clear of highly saturated paint colors. Although there is no such thing as an incorrect paint color, hues that are incredibly bright or saturated can be difficult to complement a room. Instead, decide on a more subdued version of the very saturated color that you’re drawn to.
  • Keep it simple. When in doubt, stick to a very simple color scheme. This will ensure that your wall color doesn’t distract from any of your room’s focal points. In general, you should keep to one palette of three to five colors. One light (or white) color, one or two neutral shades, and one or two supplementary colors.

Avoid Generic Brand Paints

The brand of paint will play a role in whether your paint dries the same color as it shows. If you choose a cheap, generic dollar store brand of paint, the chances are that the paint wasn’t mixed properly. You may not even get the same shade inside the can that shows on the outside of it.

Additionally, these generic paints are made with watery ingredients. They add a lot of water to boost the volume, so while you’re assuming you’re saving money, you’re not. Usually, it will take about 5 to 7 coats of this type of paint to get it to appear the way it should. With that many coats, you’re buying even more cans of paint, which is why it’s better to purchase a well-known, reputable paint brand, like Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore.

Related Questions

How long does paint take to dry to its true color?

How long paint takes to dry depends on the type. Oil-based paint generally takes between six and eight hours to be dry to the touch, and can be recoated in 24 hours. Whereas, latex paint will be dry to the touch is just one hour and ready to recoat in four. Though, keep in mind that the labels on paint cans specifically state the dry and recoat times for the paint you buy.So, when in doubt, always consult the manufacturer’s directions regarding paint drying time.

Will two coats of paint make it darker?
Adding any layers to your paint will not affect the color of it or the richness of it when it is finished. However, if you choose a glossy type of paint, this will make a color look darker because of the sheen. The sheen reflects the light, which makes the color appear to be darker than it is.
Does paint always need a second coat?

Whether paint needs a second coat or not depends on your situation. If you’re going from a light color to a dark one, then one coat is usually enough. Or, if the color is close to the original, then one coat is fine too. However, if you’re painting a dark wall and you’re lightening it up, then you will possibly need two to three coats of paint.

Do You Need Painting or Staining Services?

Get free, zero-commitment quotes from pro contractors near you.

Wrapping It Up

In short, the paint swatch you choose at the hardware store will not physically dry lighter or darker on your walls. However, based on some environmental and psychological factors, the shade can appear different. You should always consider the amount and type of lighting, paint finish, and the fact that your eyes may play tricks on you.

In order to ensure that there are no surprises when your paint dries, paint plenty of large swatches on your walls to observe how the color changes. View the shade multiple times throughout the day before making any commitments.

For more painting tips, check out “ How Long Can Primer Sit Before Painting?” and “ Smooth vs. Textured Walls: Which Is Better To Refinish Walls?

Jessica Stone
Jessica Stone

Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.

More by Jessica Stone