Tips and Tricks for Choosing the Perfect Paint Color (Paint It Monday)…

Tricks for choosing paint colors by eliminating undertones and eliminating shades that you know you don't want {The Creativity Exchange}



Benjamin Moore Edgecomb Gray


via Benjamin Moore

via Benjamin Moore

Wedgewood Gray by Benjamin Moore 

I hope you guys have had a great weekend!

Last year, I shared my favorite tips and tricks for how I choose paint colors.  I have a different approach when it comes to choosing paint colors and some of you may have seen that post.   It’s my most popular post since I have been blogging and every month, I am always so surprised to see it pop as my most visited blog post for the month.  It just goes to show how so many of us really struggle with how to narrow down and choose paint colors for our home and I really hope that my post has helped in some way.

So today, I have updated that post with tons of new paint color inspiration and am also reposting the tutorial for how to eliminate undertones and shades and zone in on just the right colors.

If you approach paint colors through a process of elimination, the ideal color for a room should jump out at you and make this process so much easier and a lot less painful.

So let’s jump right in!

There are some really easy tricks to zoning in on the perfect paint color quickly {and painlessly}, making it easier to identify and narrow down perfect paint colors for a space. I no longer have to spend weeks with six paint colors swiped onto a wall, going in circles trying to narrow down a paint color.



Sherwin Williams Sea Salt


Every picture in this post will have the name and brand of the paint color directly below each image and maybe you’ll find your perfect color today among these beautiful images. I would love to hear at the end of the post which color is your favorite!


Sherwin Williams Sleepy Blue


Decor Pad- Benjamin Moore- Paint Color Abalone

Source: Decor Pad

Benjamin Moore Abalone


Sherwin Williams Gibralter- Decor Pad

Source: Decor Pad

Sherwin Williams Gibralter


Step 1) Changing the Focus/Process of Elimination

One of the main elements that has really helped me more than anything in choosing paint colors is that instead of focusing on the various shades of a color that I like, I change my focus and eliminate what I don’t like about a color.  This makes the process so much easier and I automatically eliminate different elements that I will go into below that make my final color choices obvious .  When I am finished with my elimination process, I usually have one or two paint chip/cards left of my ideal color, making the paint decision obvious. This process also helps me to keep an open mind and broaden my color/shade choices and often times, my end color/shade is something I would have never considered in the beginning!


Decor Pad- Contented- Bathroom- Sherwin Williams Contented

Source: Decor Pad/ Kristy Froelich

Sherwin Williams- Contended


Door- Brown Door- Decor Pad- Benjamin Moore Dragons Breath

Source: A Well Dressed Home

Door- Benjamin Moore Dragons Breath


Step 2) Determine {roughly} what color and tone you’re interested in for your space.

It’s really important to consider a smooth color transition from room to room and it makes all the difference overall in a home. This is big head start in narrowing paint choices by choosing the same undertone of a color of the space adjacent to the space you want to paint. For instance if one room is beige with a subtle green undertone and you want to paint the room next to it a blue-gray, choose a blue-gray with a slight hint of green undertone.


 Dunn Edwards Dunn Edwards DEC789 Light Gray, Flat.

If your color in the adjacent room does not have a strong undertone that jumps right out at you, try bringing a lamp close to the wall or looking at the wall in both morning and dusk natural light. If nothing jumps out at you, consider the undertone a “neutral”.

All colors have an undertone but some have more of  a subtle undertone and this is where it gets dangerous! What seems like a safe neutral undertone can change and pop out under certain changes in lighting.  All of the sudden you have what you thought was a perfect neutral beige and paint it on the wall, turn on the lights and now you have an ugly peach wall {sigh}. Been there!


Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter- Paint Color- How to Pick a Paint Color

Source: The Nest

Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter


Sherwin Williams Pilladium Blue


Step 3) Difficulty Choosing a Main Color

If you’re having trouble deciding on what general color you want to paint a space- I’m talking you don’t even know if you want red, green, blue, ect., and need some inspiration, there are some amazing resources and inspiration out there for you.  Pinterest has become a fantastic resource to see specific paint colors already on a wall and in a space.  You can search by a specific wall color (if you have the paint name) or many pinners like myself have paint color boards dedicated to paint colors and specific paint names.

This is what my paint color board looks like:

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 9.20.04 AM


Another great resource that I love for paint colors is Houzz, where you can look through designer rooms or simply search “paint color” in the search box and you’ll get all kinds of fabulous inspiration.  Most of the time, the designer has included the names of paint colors in the question section! On Houzz, you can even search things like “paint color, brown” to get a specific color result of photos with rooms painted brown or whatever color you like!


 Fireplace is Sherwin Williams Black Fox and wall is Sherwin Williams Morris Gray


Kitchen- Iron Mountain Benjamin Moore

Source: Coco Cozy/ Tom Newman

Cabinet paint color is Benjamin Moore-Iron Mountain


Behr Granite- Kitchen- Dark Cabinet Color

Source: Houzz/ Jason Ball Interiors

Cabinet Paint Color is Behr- Dark Granite 780F-6

3) Picking the right paint cards/chips

Once you have some idea of what color you want (and hopefully you have an idea of the undertone), head to your paint store and zone in roughly on your ideal color and tone and pick up the card/s. But wait!! Now pick up all of the tones and shades surrounding your “ideal” color, getting the paint cards at least three deep/beyond your original color and moving into the next colors.

I pick up almost every shade and tone of my color because even if you think the color will never work, you have to have the surrounding cards to help you later quickly spot the undertone of the color.

Choosing a color at a paint store is a complete waste of time because the industrial lighting is not remotely similar to the same lighting that you will have in your space.  Basically, you are recreating the same color chip/card layout in your own space like it was at the paint store, but using the lighting that will be in the space that you want to paint:


Paint- Choosing Paint Color



How to Pick Paint Color- Benjamin Moore- Shale

Source: Decor Pad

Benjamin Moore Shale


4) Eliminating Tones

Next, go into the room that you’re going to paint and use the lighting that is used most of the time in that space. For instance, in my guest bath, there are no windows, so I eliminated my colors by looking at paint colors with the overhead horrible vanity bathroom lighting that I have in this space (I purposely took my pictures with this awful lighting just to show you how lighting impacts colors)

Lay your paint cards out in color/tone order just like it was laid out in the store. Organize by shade as well- with the lighter at the top of your column, to darker at the bottom.  Make your columns with the neutral undertones in the middle and move into each perspective undertone to the right and left for each new column like this:


If you look above, you can see that I have the neutral tones of the blue-gray in the second column from the left.  You can see that to the left, the cards move into the gray brown undertones and to the right, it moves into the greens and darker blues.

So as you look at your laid out colors under the lighting for the room, eliminate and take away the cards of a certain undertone that you know you don’t want.  If you know you want a certain undertone, you keep those cards. If you’re unsure, keep them for now. If you want to stay as safe as possible with a neutral undertone, go right to the middle and eliminate the cards to the right and left.  When you lay your cards out this way, the safest and most subtile undertones can now be spoted immediately because they should be in the middle.

In my guest bath after eliminating the undertones that I knew I didn’t want, I got down to about 6-9 color choices:



 Benjamin Moore Slate Blue

Step 5) Eliminate Shades

Now that you’ve narrowed your colors down and eliminated tones, the next step is to eliminate shades.  This another easy elimination.  Obviously if you want a lighter shade of your color, eliminate the darker colors and vice versa.  For me, I wanted something right smack in the middle. so I eliminated and removed the cards for the lighter shades and the darker shades and kept the shades in the middle.

By eliminating shades, I automatically narrowed my choices down to three colors (again, notice how the light in this space really alters these colors):



I know there are a lot of different opinions on choosing a shade of a color but someone once told me that for lighter shades, go one shade darker and for darker shades, go one shade lighter. I’ve always done that and it’s usually right on target for me. In this case, I wanted a medium shade and again, it’s obvious because it’s the color in the middle of my laid out cards!

Once you eliminated the shades of  from your choices, remove the cards.


Benjamin Moore Coastal Fog


Step 6) The Final Decision

After you eliminated the shades and taken away the cards, you should have just 1-3 color choices left.  Most of the time when I get to this point, my ideal color is usually obvious and jumps right out at me just like it did below for my guest bath:


For my guest bath, I picked the Krypton (the color in the middle) because the color to the right had WAY too much blue and the color to the left, didn’t have enough blue. Without laying out the paint cards and having the colors with the undertones to the right and left of my color, I would not have been able to see the undertone differences! Imagine how disappointed I would have been had I simply picked the too blue color to the right (Rain) at the paint store without seeing how much blue undertone it had!

The moral of this super long story is that the only way you can truly see undertones clearly is by putting them next to similar colors with varying undertones and choosing colors with the lighting in the space.  

So the final choice is really the only big decision to make as the rest of the decisions are pretty much automatic elimination.  As you can see, even the final choice was hardly a choice to make in the case of my guest bath.


Benjamin Moore Vapor Trails


Step 6) Get a Sample of your Final Color Choice

Odds are that you have either nailed your final color/tone through this process or you’re extremely close but you may need to tweak the shade.  Just to be safe, it’s best to get a small sample of your color and paint a large poster board in your sample color and let it dry.  After it dries, tape it to your wall.  You will quickly see if you want to go up or down a shade once you get it on the wall. Keep in mind that if you are torn to two final color choices, talk with the people at the paint store and they can suggest formula tweaks or diluting with a certain percentage of white.


 Benjamin Moore Providence Olive

If you take away two things from me today, remember that you need to have colors surrounding colors to really spot true undertones and always choose your paint colors in the space you want to paint with the dominant lighting.  If you just do these two things, I promise you, you will stand a much better chance of being happy with your final color choice!

If you want to see a lot more paint color inspiration or see paint color palettes, you can go to those posts by clicking the image below:

Tips and tricks for choosing the perfect paint by eliminating undertones {The Creativity Exchange}


Thanks for hanging out with me today!


This entry was posted in color palettes, Paint Colors, Paint It Monday. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Tips and Tricks for Choosing the Perfect Paint Color (Paint It Monday)…

  1. Kelley says:

    Brilliant post! Thank you so much for taking the time to be so specific. This is going to be so helpful!

  2. Kyle says:

    Choosing paint colors has always been so difficult that I give up and go with white (Navaho White to be specific). I’m trying to get more color on the walls now but all my trim and doors are stained wood rather than painted. Any suggestions?

  3. Your tips are always so helpful and so well thought out. Thank you for always writing such detailed posts and sharing such inspiring ideas. :)
    Megan @ Our PInteresting Family recently posted..Sweet Little Desk ChairMy Profile

  4. Awesome post Cyndy! You’re making me want to repaint some rooms in my house after seeing these photos! Beautiful! Pinning for future reference – great tips!
    Jenny@EvolutionofStyle recently posted..Naughty Knotty PineMy Profile

  5. Lisa says:

    Great post! My husband and I are in the planning stages of our home building project and paint color is an area that I’m still wrapping my mind aroun. Your Paint It Monday posts have been very helpful.

  6. After living in apartments for many years I vowed two things when we bought our house, no more flat interior doors and no more white walls. Your post is filled with such helpful information in picking interior colors. Wish I had this post when I was deciding which colors to select. Well, I think it’s about time for color revamp, now which room wants to be first! Thanks Cyndy for sharing.
    Patty Virginia recently posted..Orange and White Chevron Steering Wheel Cover by EmbellishMePattyVMy Profile

  7. Marcey says:

    Love this post! I’ve always felt so overwhelmed with choosing paint colors. Love your step-by-step, easy “elimination” approach…because it is so much easier for me to tell ya what I don’t like! LOL! The color palettes really inspire me too! My favorite paints in this post are BM Rockport Gray, Vapor Trails, and Abalone..and SW Sleepy Blue (ahh!) and Gibralter!
    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Brandi says:


    Thank you for posting such great info and tips! Currently, my walls are sherwin Williams blonde and all of my trim is white. Any tips or suggestions in colors for interior trim colors that would pair well with the blonde?

  9. Heather D says:

    I am terrible at picking paint colors. Just awful! They always end up bolder/brighter than I intend, and I’m left disappointed. I am about to repaint my living/dining rooms, so I will reference this often! Thank you. =)

  10. Kay says:

    Hi Cyndy,

    Do you have any suggestions on wall colors that go best with oak kitchen cabinets?

  11. My father was given an almost full, 5 gallon bucket of house paint. He wants to change the color to green and paint the shed. Where can I get a dye to change the paint color?

  12. Joanne says:

    Sherwin Williams Pilladium Blue?? I love the color in your pic but can’t seem to find it under that name…….help!

    • Rose says:

      Palladium blue is actually a Benjamin Moore color. I went to Sherwin Williams yesterday to get it and they said that they don’t have it and if they ever did it must be old because the girl helping me did not find it in the system. I am also looking for a nice blue to paint my master bedroom. I am now debating between BM Grossamer Blue and BM Yarmouth Blue. I felt the Palladium blue was more on the green side.

  13. Marilyn C. Wendling says:

    Love your paint selections I just need more rooms to use all the colors

  14. Jessica says:

    I love the colors in the opening photo of the greys…. just wondering what brand they are so I can starting painting my house!!! Thanks for hitting the nail on the head!

  15. Melody Christensen says:

    Hi Cindy,

    I am in a bit of a panic. I need to pick a gray for living room, dining room, kitchen and den, they all share common walls. I am selling my house soon, and just had dark distressed wood floors installed. All my woodwork, trim, cabinets etc, are white. I need to pick a light gray that will appeal to the masses.
    I have not seen the 2014 grays announced or posted anywhere, but I have been following you a long time and I am sure you will know. I love just slightly blue grays, but can’t do that on these walls. I hate green grays, and really not overly fond of brown grays, but if it is very, very subtle I could live with it.
    I really want a true gray, but light, because even though my house gets a lot of natural light, I need to appeal to buyers, and darker grays are probably too dramatic.
    Can you make some suggestions? It most likely is Home Depot that will be supplying the paint, and I will run gt samples as soon as I hear from you. I hope I haven’t bothered you at a super busy time, I truly appreciate any guidance you can give me.


    • Rose says:

      omg! You would love elephant skin by behr paint. To me it is like the perfect gray. We used the ultra behr paint. If you go on pinterest you will be able to see pics of the different colors. Another color I looked at was fashion gray but I am glad we went with the Elephant skin because its bold but not too dark.

  16. Nanette Mattox says:

    I need to paint my foyer, which is open to the second floor, and the second floor halls. My kitchen, which has the stairwell to the 2nd floor has been painted in Plymouth Rock (BM) gray, which I really like. The living room (between the foyer and kitchen) is Meditative Blue. I’m thinking of doing the foyer/halls in Plymouth Rock but what is your opinion on adding a second, darker shade of the gray on the first floor of the foyer? There are walls that logically could be different. Is that “accent wall color’ treatment out of style?

  17. Emilie says:

    I just bought a new home down in Florida, I’m looking to do beach colors, love light shades of blues and greens but I’m not sure what colors to start with. Any ideas?

  18. Teri says:

    Great post but what are the differences between tone, undertone, and shade?

    • Cyndy says:

      Thanks Teri! Undertone and tone are the same thing..This would be a subtle secondary color under the primary color. All colors have undertones and some are very prominent. For instance, you can have blue but it might be a blue green. Green would be the undertone (blue would be the primary). The shade is dark to light of the exact same color. Paint cards have one color on them but there are 7 shades (light to dark).. Hope that helps.
      Cyndy recently posted..Color Spotlight- Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter {Paint It Monday}My Profile

  19. Linda says:

    My favorite is the Traditional Entry by Greenville… but it does not say the color or brand of paint. Can you tell us?

  20. Lorraine says:

    Hi Cyndy,
    Thank you for the great and detailed information. Something that I have done and works great when a color just doesn’t look right in a room is change the light bulb. Try switching from a Soft White to a Reveal light bulb or visa versa. I’ve seen the Reveal light bulb with a blue tint and a pink tint. Hope this helps someone.

  21. Lisa Hartigan says:

    What color would you recommend to pair with Providence Olive?

  22. Linda says:

    I love all these light grays, sea foam blues, and light whites. But, I have cherry woodwork throughout my Cape Cod house. Do you think they would be too light? I have large windows and lots of light.

  23. deb says:

    BM Ocean City Blue…I painted my diningroom this color 4 years ago and may I say I’m still in Love with it…..

  24. Francis Hughes says:

    I have just put glass splash backs on my kitchen walls
    They are jelly bean blue I was wondering what colour would go with them

  25. Janet says:

    terrific article!
    Really nice choices.
    I like the S-W Gilbralter best.

  26. Hi Cyndy, I’m a paint color consultant and was checking out your blog – I’m always curious. I couldn’t have said it better myself – just how I work as well! One other thing I often tell people is to reduce the intensity of the yellows they pick out. I say, “go less yellow than you think you want and you’ll be surprised how yellow it will end up looking!” It’s probably the number one problem I find people have.

  27. Carol Lanham says:

    I am looking for a neutral that will go with blue and green as well as yellow. Pure white is too “severe” for my tastes. Any suggestions?

  28. Debbi says:

    Thank you, thank you for this formula. I have a completely grey house (new construction)and want to start putting color in rooms but not totally eliminating what I have. This was so helpful.


  29. Donna says:

    Thank you for the great advice! I am disappointed that not one photo shows wood trim left unpainted….the wall colors that I think I love- may not be loved with stained trim… Could you do some sample photos like that????

  30. Mary Ann says:

    I just painted my great room with very high ceilings with SW Mindful Gray. I love it on the stairway and on the south wall. However, the east wall (24′ in height) looks blue as blue can be. I am not sure I can live with a blue family room. I love gray and thought Mindful Gray would go more green if anything. Any thoughts on why this looks so blue? I have a wall of windows on the north wall. The night time is the worst. If anyone can help me by giving me some ideas, please do.

  31. annmarie says:

    Tips and Tricks for Choosing the Perfect Paint Color (Paint It Monday)…
    Posted on August 19, 2013 by Cyndy

    what paint company are these colors from?

  32. Colorblind says:

    i came up w a way to eliminate certain color undertones after having a hard time with BM whites. Every time I came home w a BM beige or white it went up looking peachy. Ask store to look up the formula on their computer. If it has red or orange in it I stay away. I like colors that have black in them. I wish companies would add the formula on their swatches.

  33. dani says:

    Help, help please help!!!
    I have been buying paint samples like a lunatic. I paint a little part of my wall & a papercard for reference. The paint looks beautiful in the jar & sometimes on the card but on the wall, the color never matches. I don’t mean the shade is off but the color simply changes. For example: bm revere pewter looks purple on my wall, SW assessable beige looks blue purple, SW escape gray looks blue & for goodness sake the beautiful SW Sea Salt by day I feel like I’m trapped in a robins egg & by night a baby boy’s room. I’m devastated.
    To date I’m happy with only 2 colors I’ve painted repose gray SW (gray/blue )I’m ok with that although my test didn’t look like that. Also lyndhurst gallery beige valspar (Gray/beige). How do I fix these colors so they will be their true colors. I have lots of natural light in the day.

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