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How to Choose the Right Shade of White Paint

Choosing the right shade of white paint can be the hardest color choice of all. With a thousand shades of “white”, here’s what to look for to pick the right shade for your project.  

The color white encompasses the entire color spectrum. We think of white as the absence of color but it’s anything but. We don’t think of white as a mix of ALL colors but it is!

The color spectrum is made up of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Most “whites” are a combination of these colors just as white light contains all these colors. 

Why does the right shade of white matter?

  • Warm whites will be on the warm end of the spectrum (reds and yellows) and cool whites at the other end with the blues and violets.
  • Cool white paint colors are usually a combination of blue, indigo and violet but may also be green mixed with blue
  • Warm white paint has red, orange or yellow undertones but may also be green mixed with yellow.
  • Neutral white paint has a combination of cool and warm colors which neutralizes the cool or warm tones. Think blue plus red or yellow plus violet.

Here’s the take away: white paint can be cool, warm or neutral.

Don’t get fooled by color names either as those are designed more for marketing than practicality!

How to Choose the Right Shade of White Paint

The only thing to remember when choosing the right shade of white for your project is to match cool with cool, warm with warm and neutral with neutral. In other words, match your cool white with a cool blue or a warm white with a warm gray. Got it?

1. When to Choose Neutral White Paint

Choose a neutral white trim to go with a neutral wall color.

Look at this neutral white with a neutral color using the Sherwin Williams colors Pure White and Gray Screen:

    • Trim color: SW 7005 Pure White
    • Wall color: SW 7071 Gray Screen

how to choose the right shade of white paint

Both Pure White and Gray Screen have a neutral base meaning they are neither cool or warm. These colors are the easiest to work with as a neutral shade can also pair with some warm or cool colors.

How can you tell if a white paint is neutral? Set the swatch next to a very cool shade and a warm shade and see how flat the neutral white paint swatch looks.

how to choose the right white paint

By the way, Pure White is a Pottery Barn Spring Summer 2021 color.

2. When to Choose Cool White Paint

Choose a cool white trim to go with a cool wall color.

Look at this cool white with a cool color using the Benjamin Moore colors Chantilly Lace and Aegean Teal:

    • Trim color: OC 65 Chantilly Lace
    • Wall color: 2136-40 Aegean Teal

how to choose the right shade of white paint

How can you tell if a white paint is cool? Set the swatch next to a very warm shade and see how they differ. The cool white will look flat next to a warm shade.

how to choose the right white paint

3. When to Choose Warm White Paint

Choose a warm white trim to go with a warm wall color.

Look at this warm white with a warm color using the Sherwin Williams colors Paperwhite and Baby Bok Choy:

    • Trim color: SW 7105 Paperwhite
    • Wall color: SW 9037 Baby Bok Choy

how to choose the right white paint

How can you tell if a white paint is warm? Set the swatch next to a very cool shade and see how they differ. The warm white will look yellow next to a cool tone like this blue.

how to choose the right white paint

4. Go to Your Local Paint Store

Colors on screens don’t appear as true, which is why the next step to choosing the right white paint is to head to the local paint store or order swatches online. It’s difficult enough to see the difference between neutral, warm and cool in person but almost impossible when viewing those shades on a computer screen.

Do yourself a favor and only choose 4-5 color swatches at a time.

5. Take Your Swatches Home

Take your paint swatches home to compare them in daylight, artificial light and at night.

6. Buy a Sample Paint Pot in the Right Finish

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices to 2-3 colors, buy a sample pot of paint. Don’t paint on a piece of cardboard or foam-core or wood; only try a sample on the wall or trim you plan to paint.

Make sure your sample is in the paint finish you plan on using for your final project.

Paints come in matt, satin, semi-gloss or high gloss finishes for example. Different manufacturers use different terms but you get the idea. The finish makes a big difference in how the paint reflects light which also affects how you will perceive the color. I’d advise taking that extra step or expense to pick the right finish for your sample

7. Paint a Sample on the Wall or Trim

Paint a sample, let it dry and wait to view it at different times of day in different lighting conditions.

Look to see if there’s a warm (yellow\red), cool (blue\violet) or neutral (blue\red) tone to your white paint. Compare that swatch or sample to your wall color and as yourself if both your white and wall paint colors have warm, cool or neutral tones.

8. Pick the Right White Paint

Pick the warm, cool or neutral paint that fits your wall color. Not sure? Send me a photo of both colors side by side and I’ll tell you if it’s right or not.

Don’t let white paint intimidate you! Need help with getting the right color? Head on over here.

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