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How To Choose a Paint Color

Understanding Color
Different paint brushes displayed with colorful paint chips.

While picking paint colors doesn’t require you to be an expert in color theory, understanding the following terms can make color selection easier.


  • Primary colors: the colors that can be mixed in varying amounts to create all other colors. Red, yellow and blue are primary colors.  
  • Secondary colors: the colors obtained by mixing two primary colors. Green, orange and purple are secondary colors. 
  • Hue: the variety of a color. For example, aqua is a hue of blue. Hue is often used interchangeably with tone, tint or shade to describe the qualities of a color. 
  • Tone: a hue that is produced by adding gray pigment to a primary or secondary colored pigment. In practice, a paint color may be described as a soft or bright tone. Soft tones will have more gray, while bright tones will have less gray and be closer to the pure primary/secondary color. 
  • Tint: a hue that is produced by adding white pigment to a primary or secondary colored pigment. Paint colors may be described as having a lighter or darker tint. Lighter tints have more white than darker tints. 
  • Shade: a hue that is produced by adding black pigment to a primary or secondary colored pigment. In everyday language, shade and tint are often used interchangeably to describe how light or dark a color appears. 
  • Warm colors: hues of red, orange and yellow. Warm colors often invoke images of fire and feelings of both coziness and excitement. 
  • Cool colors: hues of blue, purple, and green. Cool colors often invoke images of water and nature, as well as feelings of calm and relaxation. 

In interior design, colors are selected and described based on their mood. A color’s mood is how it makes the viewer feel.


  • Passive colors: color hues that create a calming effect and promote mental focus and relaxation. Blues, greens and purples are usually considered passive colors. Generally, passive colors are cool and soft-toned colors. Passive colors are popular choices for bedrooms and can make small spaces seem more spacious. 
  • Active colors: color hues that create a stimulating effect and excite the mind. Reds, yellows and oranges are usually considered active colors. Active colors are often warm and bright toned colors. Vibrant and eye-catching, active colors are popular choices for kitchens, offices and accent walls. 
  • Neutral colors: color hues that do not comfortably fit within one of the primary or secondary color families. Neutral colors include black, white, brown, gray and cream. In interior design, many hues can be used as “neutrals” so long as they are less saturated (i.e. less vibrant) than the accompanying colors. For example, baby pink can act as a neutral when paired with vibrant, rich colors such as emerald, navy blue or scarlet. 

Tip: Of all the paint colors for walls, bright white is the most popular choice. It makes small spaces feel lighter and bigger, while pairing with any color of decor.  

Pick a Color Scheme
A neutral monochromatic living room filled with beige and tan furniture.

Picking a color scheme for the entirety of your room, including furniture and decor, can help you in choosing a paint color. A color scheme is any arrangement or combination of colors that you use for decorating, so your color scheme can be as simple or ambitious as you choose. For beginner designers, selecting three colors is a great place to start. From there, you can select the exact paint colors you need based on inspiration from your scheme. 

Here are some tips for choosing a color scheme:


  • Look at a color wheel to understand how color families work together. Colors next to each other on the wheel are called analogous. Colors directly across from each other on the wheel are called complementary. 
  • For a monochromatic color scheme, select various hues that are all within the same color family. Neutral colors are perfect for creating an elegant monochromatic color scheme. 
  • For a bold room, try creating a color scheme using only primary color hues, also known as a triad color scheme.  
  • Hues that all share the same tone will create a harmonious color scheme.  
Choose a Paint Finish
A blue and white floral print chair against a dark blue satin finish wall.

Once you have an idea of the hues you want, the next step in choosing a paint color is to decide on the finish you want. A paint’s finish, or sheen, refers to how much light the paint’s surface reflects. Paint that reflects a lot of light will appear shiny and make a room brighter, while paint that reflects very little light will appear smooth and flat and make a room feel cozier. When picking paint colors, you should also consider how the type of finish will affect your room. 

Below are the types of paint finishes available: 

  • Matte paint: also known as flat paint, absorbs most light and creates a smooth, almost chalk-like appearance. Matte finish paints are most commonly used for ceilings. When dry, matte paints may appear lighter than their swatch colors. 
  • Eggshell paint: has a low sheen with a soft, smooth finish reminiscent of a true eggshell. Eggshell paints tend to stay true to their swatch colors when dry. 
  • Satin paint: has a soft and pearl-like finish that makes it a very popular and versatile choice for interior walls. Like eggshell paint, a satin paint’s finish usually does not affect the paint color’s appearance. 
  • Semi-gloss paint: has a shiny, sleek appearance that brightens a room by naturally reflecting light. On the wall, semi-gloss paints may appear darker than their swatch colors. 
  • High-gloss paint: reflects the most amount of light of any paint finish, making it very shiny in appearance. Generally, high-gloss paint is used for accents such as doors, moulding and cabinets, rather than on walls. Like semi-gloss, a high-gloss finish can make colors seem darker than their swatch.  

Tip: If your walls have slight imperfections, choose your color in an eggshell or matte paint, since these finishes can hide defects. 

Test Paint Colors
A ladder rests against a wall featuring large test paint squares of different colors.

Once you've narrowed your interior paint choices down, it's important to see how each potential color looks in your home in both natural light and indoor lighting. The easiest way to do this is to get sample cans and paint test strips of the colors.

  • Paint very large squares of the sample color directly on your wall. If you don’t want to paint swatches on your wall just yet, you can also paint onto poster board and hang it on the wall(s) you want to paint. Note that painting on the wall will give you the best idea of how the paint color and finish will look, while poster board’s texture may not give an accurate representation of the paint’s final appearance. 
  • For the best color representation, paint at least two layers and/or start with a paint primer so that the previous wall color does not show through the test strip and affect the new color’s appearance. 
  • Make sure your test strips are eye level and you can see them from a distance.  
  • If the space you’re painting is very large, paint test strips on two walls to see how the color works in all areas and levels of light. 
Transition Color Throughout Your Home
A modern dining room with a dark green accent wall.

Once you know how to choose paint colors for a room, the next step is to transition it seamlessly throughout the rest of your home. 


  • When working with different colors for each room, a good rule of thumb is to use a darker or lighter color in adjacent rooms. For example, if your dining room is a light gray, then you could paint the adjacent living room a dark blue.  
  • Choose a flow-through paint. Decide on a color that will be your main color throughout the home and use it as the wall color for your hallways, foyer and connector or main living space. This strategy works particularly well in open-concept homes. 
  • When standing in one room, consider all the adjacent rooms that you can see into. Make sure all the visible rooms are painted colors that work well together. For example, if you can see into the living room and kitchen from the foyer, all three of the rooms’ colors should coordinate. Bedrooms, however, don’t necessarily need to coordinate their wall colors because they are often behind closed doors. 
  • Choosing colors that have the same temperature (i.e. are all warm colors or are all cool colors) will usually flow well. 
  • Tie rooms together by incorporating accent decor of that matches the colors of other rooms. 
  • Add drama with an accent or feature wall in a shade that is warmer or cooler than your main color. 
  • Bring coziness to tall rooms by painting the ceiling a darker color.   

Tip: Add unity to a room color scheme by painting the trim in the same color but with a different finish. 

Find Color Inspiration
A hand-carved wood settee stacked high with orange, blue and tan pillows.

When knowing how to choose a paint color that suits your room still isn’t leading you to the perfect color, you may just need a spark of inspiration. Finding paint ideas for home projects can be as easy as looking around you.


  • Designer fabrics provide a professional color palette, especially when it comes to ideas for coordinating colors. 
  • Bring the great outdoors indoors by drawing inspiration from the colors of nature. Think grassy greens and beachy blues. 
  • If you love a color, but it’s not quite working in your room, you may just need to try a lighter or darker shade. 
  • Make neutrals interesting by mixing warm- and cool-toned neutral hues in one room.  
  • Try matching the wall color to a color in your favorite piece of artwork or other home accent.  

To browse colors and find inspiration for choosing paint colors, use The Home Depot’s ProjectColor app. You can easily find, match and save colors while you plan your next painting project. 

Once you understand how to talk about color, picking paint colors for your home can become a fun journey. You can explore the endless possibilities of your favorite colors as you thoughtfully transition them throughout your home. Now that you know how to choose a paint color, order online with usThe Home Depot to get the painting supplies you need delivered free straight to your door.