Avoiding Color Illusions in Your Home

by Trish Helmke, Nolan Painting Color Consultant

The Dress Was Blue and Black

In early 2015, the internet was abuzz about a dress that looked black and blue to some and white and gold to others. The dress was black and blue in real life, but what was up with this visual illusion? Why did some of us see white and gold and others see blue and black?

Because Our eyes can play tricks on us when it comes to color. This often happens in interior painting color selections as well. Did you ever pick a beige tone that when painted looked pink? Or a gray that when painted looked blue?

There are four key mistakes that many people make when choosing a paint color that could result in homeowners thinking their eyes are playing tricks on them. However, you can avoid color illusions in your home by following our tips below. And, if you’re struggling with paint that looks darker on a wall or lighter on a wall or just different than you imagined, we’re here to help. Nolan Painting is your trusted greater Philadelphia area color consultant, ensuring that your home color is exactly what you want. Contact us today!

Common Color Illusions to Avoid in Your Home

Illusion creator#1: Holding the color paint swatch against the current wall color

Illusion fix: Hold the paint color swatch against something white, such as a white door or baseboard. By giving your swatch a new background, you can see it without your eyes taking into account and considering the other colors around it.

When you hold a color against a background color, particularly a red, yellow, or dark color, the swatch color will give the illusion of a different color every time.That’s because your eye is influenced by both the swatch color and the wall color, blending the two in a way that confuses your mind. If the same color paint looks different after applied than it did when you held a swatch up to a colored wall, it’s most likely because your eye is expecting to see that paint color with the background you first saw it against.

As you can see in the pictures above, the same color, Sherwin-Williams “Clary Sage” looks much grayer and less green on the red and yellow backgrounds. Against a white sheet of paper, the true green tones are visible.

Illusion creator #2: Holding a paint swatch horizontally when choosing a color

Illusion fix: Hold the paint swatch vertically. Believe it or not, the orientation of a surface influences the way we perceive color, which can make things complicated when we’re assessing different swatches. But the solution to this one is easy: Walls are vertical surfaces, so lighting hits them differently than horizontal surfaces. This usually results in the color looking darker and more vivid when held vertically, because it is in less direct light. So hold the swatch vertically to more accurately see how the color will look on your walls. See below:

Sherwin Williams Clary Sage Horizontally
Sherwin Williams Clary Sage Vertically

Illusion creator #3: Comparing two color swatches against one another.

Illusion fix: Look at each color alone.Remember the concept of a colorful background influencing how you perceive a swatch when you hold it against the wall? The same factors are at play here.

As you can see in the photos below, comparing colors to one another can lead to color confusion. In the first picture, you could compare Sherwin Williams Clary Sage to Sherwin Williams Escape Gray and see that it is more green. In the second picture you can compare Sherwin Williams Clary Sage to Sherwin Williams Great Green and suddenly think that Sherwin Williams Clary Sage is very gray.

At the same time, your brain is also trying to calculate “how dark” the color is comparison to the color above and below it on the strip. The only true way to visualize the value and tones of the color is to look at it alone, as seen in the third picture.This is another easy solution when you’re dealing with a paint that looks different on a wall than it did on a swatch.

Sherwin Williams Clary Sage Appears Greener

Sherwin Williams Clary Sage Appears Gray

Sherwin Williams Clary Sage Alone

Illusion creator #4: Not looking at a paint swatch in the room that is going to be painted

Illusion fix: Only choose a paint color in the room that is to be painted. The key factors here are both lighting and space.

Lighting in each room of a home can vary greatly. Therefore, a paint color that you liked in your kitchen or on your cabinets might not look as appealing when used in your bedroom. The same applies to exteriors. Exterior sunlight is much brighter than interior lighting, so outside colors are going to lighten.

Spacing matters, too. You’ll perceive a color differently in a bathroom or small bedroom than you will in a large living area. To situations where paint looks darker on a wall or lighter on a wall, always be sure to look at that paint in the room where it will actually be applied.

Sherwin Williams Clary Sage in a Living Room


Sherwin Williams Clary Sage in a Bathroom


Home Exterior Painting Using Sherwin Williams Clary Sage

Color Consultants You Can Trust

Nolan Painting has been serving the greater Philadelphia area for over 35 years and takes great pride in the expert service we provide our clients. Ensure your home’s interior looks exactly the way you want with the help of our skilled color consultants. We will take the time to visit your home, learn your style preferences and deliver compatible color options for your space and offer advice on trending color schemes. Avoid color illusions in your home and contact your local interior painting experts at Nolan Painting today!


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