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  • Writer's pictureJed Roper

Paint Perception: Why Colors Look Different in Different Lights

In the realm of interior design and home renovation, color plays a starring role. However, many homeowners and even some professionals are often baffled by a peculiar phenomenon: why does that vibrant shade of blue on the swatch look so different when painted on your living room wall in the afternoon sunlight? And why does it morph again under your evening lamps? Welcome to the fascinating world of color perception and lighting.

Light and Color – A Bond That Can't Be Broken

At its core, our perception of color is all about light. When light shines on an object, say, a painted wall, certain wavelengths are absorbed by the object while others are reflected. It's the reflected light that enters our eyes and gives us the perception of color.

Different light sources emit light at different wavelengths. The morning sun, with its cooler, bluish tones, emphasizes different colors than the warm, orange glow of a setting sun or the balanced white of an LED bulb.

Metamerism – A Designer's Challenge

This phenomenon, where two colors look the same under one light source but different under another, is known as metamerism. It often poses challenges for interior designers and homeowners. For example, two different paint colors might look identical in the store under fluorescent lights but could show their true, different colors when painted side by side on a home's wall illuminated by natural daylight.

Overcoming the Color Shift

Here are some steps you can take to ensure the color you select stays true in varied lighting conditions:

  1. View paint samples in multiple lighting conditions: Before committing to a color, look at the paint swatch in daylight, under artificial lighting, and, if possible, in the room where you intend to use it.

  2. Use full-spectrum light bulbs: These bulbs closely replicate natural daylight and reduce the distortion of paint colors.

  3. Consider the room's orientation: North-facing rooms tend to have cooler, bluish light while south-facing rooms receive warmer, golden tones. Select colors that complement the natural light of the room.

  4. Test with large swatches: Instead of relying on tiny paint chips, paint a sizable portion of the wall or use larger swatches. This will give you a more accurate feel for how the color will look once the room is painted.

  5. Understand undertones: Every paint color has undertones. Some blues might have green undertones, while others could lean towards purple. Recognizing these can help in selecting the right shade that won't shift undesirably under different lights.


The dance between light and color is an age-old relationship, one that brings both challenges and opportunities for creating beautiful spaces. By understanding the science behind this interaction and making informed choices, you can ensure that the hues in your home remain as captivating at night as they are in the full light of day.

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