Why paint looks different in different lighting


We went to the paint store, looked at the color chart, and tested the shades on our virtual 3D display with our favorite trims. So why did your living room look so bad once the paint dried?

Maybe you should have consulted a color scientist.

Professor Mark Fairchild of the Munsell Institute for Color Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology said:

“Think of an iPhone: its camera needs to detect color stimuli, its software needs to process and store that information, and its display needs to reproduce those stimuli for the viewer. Yes, color science is involved in all these steps.”

Science can help explain why the colors you see at the paint store or paint chips look so different at home. The size of the color sample, the lighting in which it is viewed, and the colors of other walls and objects nearby all play a role, says Fairchild.

“Two big issues are lighting and context,” he said. “When you paint a 3-foot-by-3-foot patch on a wall and let it dry, the paint he sees in the store a lot more than just looking at the color wheel. You will get a part of

Usually a contrasting study, the paint company’s 2022 colors are all pretty much the same.

Science also explains why the time of day affects the color of a room so much, says Fairchild.

“In the morning and evening when the sun is at a lower angle, the sunlight passes through the atmosphere longer,” he said. “Because the atmosphere scatters more blue light than red light, the longer the light travels through the atmosphere, the redder it gets. So early mornings and late nights usually have more red lighting than noon. ”

In fact, lighting is fundamental to color perception, he said.

“Get me an apple,” he said. “Apples are red, but they don’t just reflect red light. They reflect all wavelengths of light. As the balance changes, so does the relative amount of red, green, and blue light that reflects off the apple and reaches the eye.”

He gave an example from his own home. One evening, as his family sat for dinner by candlelight, it emitted a yellowish tone. Their little daughter started crying because her beloved yellow mac and cheese looked white. He switched on a light that emitted a whiter hue.Look, the macaroni and cheese looked yellow again.

One of the most difficult parts of perceiving wall paint color is describing how the color is affected by the lighting and paint color of adjacent walls and rooms.

“Interreflections between adjacent walls can have a big effect,” says Fairchild. “Let’s say you choose a slightly yellowish off-white paint that looks pretty neutral in the store. When you paint a room that color, that yellow tint illuminates the adjacent walls, making them appear more yellow.” Seeing the corner where both yellowish walls reflect each other amplifies the effect, the same reason why the center of a red rose petal looks so colorful.”

Color appearance and perception is certainly a science, but our tastes and reactions to different shades are largely subjective, Fairchild said. There’s no scientific explanation for why you think is great, but it makes you cringe.

“Pleasant colors and unpleasant colors and color combinations are not universal,” said Fairchild. “One of my former students used to say, ‘This color makes my teeth hurt!’ But the color that infuriates me may calm you down, because we may have different historical or cultural backgrounds for that color.”

Interior designers who specialize in color selection agree that subjective taste plays a large role in color perception.

“Color is science, but it’s also math, it’s art, it’s psychology,” said Peggy Van Allen. Independent Color Prior to becoming a consultant, he worked in color design and marketing at Sherwin-Williams. Today, she is president of the Color Marketing Group, which publishes annual color trend forecasts. “Don’t let the science intimidate you. Choosing colors should be fun.”

Van Allen said of the effect modern light bulbs have on the color of a room, “LED bulbs are made to last, but they often have a cold blue hue that almost looks fluorescent.” said. “That way, every color in your room will look different. That’s where you need to pay attention when choosing lights.”

Additionally, Laura Rugh of Rugh Design, a color consulting firm, cautions against relying solely on what your computer program displays when choosing colors.

“There’s a chasm between what you see online and what you see at home,” she said. “Adobe renderings are not an accurate representation of what a room will look like. Introducing lighting can change everything.” Directly or even from a photograph, she said, it can provide a more realistic perspective.

Fairchild agreed that relying not only on computer imaging, but also on the lessons of science alone, has its limitations.

“3D graphic imaging is very accurate, but it’s not perfect,” he says. “Computer image processing combined with actual patches of paint on the wall is probably best. Adding advice from experienced designers and painters can also help.”

Still, don’t leave science behind. For example, when certain colors are believed to influence emotions (e.g. calming blues or uplifting reds), it is mostly based on hearsay.

“There is a bit of scientific evidence to support some of the emotional effects of color,” says Fairchild, “but when someone tries to say it’s absolute, it’s a bummer.” It depends a lot.”

For example, the bright pink color known as “Baker Miller Pink” or “Drunk Tank Pink” has been touted for decades as having a calming effect on prisoners and psychotic patients.

“The allegations made about it have been completely debunked,” he said. “Nevertheless, it is still used today by some institutions.”

Dan Hurley is a freelance writer from New Jersey.

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