Does Paint Dry Darker or Lighter?

How many times have you finished painting a wall, then wondered why it looks different than it did in the store on the paint swatch? That’s not just you – there are a host of factors that can influence whether or not a newly painted wall can look lighter or darker than you expected. But which is it – does paint dry darker or lighter?

Paint can appear to dry darker and lighter depending on the environment it is in and the type of the paint.
The paint will appear darker if it is surrounded by lighter colors, or the previous wall color was lighter. Paint finishes such as gloss will also make the paint appear darker since it reflects light. Flat paint will appear lighter as it absorbs light.

With so many factors affecting the way paint looks after it dries, we’ll investigate all the various factors surrounding how the paint looks after finishing. With each factor, we’ll take a look at how it might appear versus your initial assessment.

Does Paint Dry Darker or Lighter

Does Paint Dry Darker or Lighter?

Paint does not dry lighter or darker. During application, paint can look lighter or darker than expected, but quality paint should always dry the color indicated on the lid or color swatch.

Below we’ll go over the environmental factors that might cause you to think that paint has dried a different color than you expected.

After applying a coat of paint, many people stand back from their wall and say, “Hey, this isn’t the color I wanted!” However, there is a very simple explanation.

A freshly painted wall is wet. That particular wet paint is not the color you saw on the color swatch at the store. It’s a “wet” version of it. All paints contain a type of solvent, whether it’s oil or water, that evaporates upon application. Once it completely evaporates, your true color will reappear.

All paints have pigment, binders, and a solvent. The pigment is the actual color, made out of specific metal dust i.e. titanium dioxide (white paint) or iron (red/orange paint).

Solvent is a paint thinner, allowing the viscous pigment/binder mixture to spread evenly and dry in an appropriate amount of time. Importantly for us to know, the solvent will distort the color of the paint- at least until it dries. Why?

The particles of the water or oil solvent will absorb or refract light, blocking light from getting to the pigment, making it look darker. Once dry, however, the solvent is gone and the pigment can absorb and reflect light to achieve it’s true color, just like the one from the color swatch in the store.

It’s the same as when you get a t-shirt wet – it looks darker. But once dry, it returns to its normal color again. Paint acts in just the same way.

Paint vs. Surrounding Walls and Objects

Another more obvious reason paint might seem lighter or darker upon application is due to its surroundings.

Let’s say you are painting an accent wall in your bedroom. You want the accent wall to be a couple of shades darker than the other walls. So you have a light grey, and you are going with a slightly darker grey accent wall.

The color swatch of that darker grey probably didn’t look much different from the other walls when you saw it in the store. But then when you paint the wall, it looks much, much darker. What happened?

Nothing happened. In actuality, the paint looks different because the light colors create a deceiving contrast in the room. Brighter colors reflect more light, darker colors absorb more – that contrast between the lighter grey versus the darker gray will make the latter appear darker than it seems.

Pairing a paint, such as red, in an area with opposing (complimentary) colors such as greens or blues, will make red appear brighter. Oppositely, pairing the newly painted red wall with similar colors such as oranges or yellow will make it seem darker, or not as bright.

Comparing New Paint vs. Old Paint

Paint will fade over time. The pigments will react with their environment, causing them to degrade slightly with age.

Colors that are red, or similar to red such as orange, are at a greater risk of fading over time due to the iron used to make the pigment. It is more susceptible to environmental damage.

Sunlight is an enemy to paint, both interior and exterior. A bright, sunny room will experience more fading than a darker room. If you’ve hung a picture and remove it after a year or two, you will clearly see the difference. The paint behind the picture will be darker.

Finally, if you are painting over a previously painted wall, chances are your new paint will just seem brighter. The faded, old paint will have lost some of its pigment and finish, making the new paint seem brighter than normal. But it’s just you – the paint is the same color as when you bought it in the store.

How Does Sheen Affect Paint Color?

This is arguably the most critical aspect of paint – the sheen. What does that mean – “the sheen”. It refers to the paint’s finish. A finish is simply how the color of the paint is showcased by the paint manufacturer.

Let’s say you have a can of royal blue paint. That can may come in several different finishes: flat, matte, and gloss.

Each of these finishes – or “sheens” – have different characteristics when they dry. We’ll go through them one by one to explain how they look so you won’t be surprised when you put on your next coat of paint.

Flat/Matte

Flat finish has no luster or gloss whatsoever. It is ideal for covering up a textured wall, such as a drywall that was poorly mudded.

Without any gloss to reflect light, flat paint absorbs more light than it’s glossy brother and is, therefore, able to hide contours in the walls that gloss paint wouldn’t be able to hide.

Since there is no type of finish on flat paint, it will look lighter. Why? There isn’t any sheen or gloss to refract light and block the pigment from absorbing and reflecting light. Since the pigment is completely unhindered in flat paint, it has full access and will seem lighter.

Flat paint is not ideal for bathrooms or humid areas because gloss acts as protection between the pigment and the environment. Without that, flat paint is highly susceptible to environmental factors.

Gloss

Gloss paint has a reflective shine that also serves as a protective barrier between the pigment in the paint and the environment of the room in which it is applied.

Since gloss paint has an additive in the paint to make it shinier, it will seem darker. Why? The gloss refracts some of the light intended for the paint’s pigment. When this occurs, the pigment cannot absorb enough light and will seem darker.

Unlike flat paint, gloss paint works better in humid environments and bright areas, where the gloss can liven up a wall and not have to worry about seeming “darker” in the bright environment.

Eggshell and Satin Paint

On one end of our paint spectrum, we have flat paint – non-glossy and light absorbent. On the other end, we have glossy, discussed above. Then, in the middle, we have eggshell – around 15% gloss – and satin finish, which is about 40% gloss.

When I say “gloss”, what I mean is how much light that type of paint finish reflects. The more light a paint product reflects, the darker it will appear.

You can see that eggshell is one step above a flat finish in the amount of light it reflects, so it will also appear brighter than gloss or semi-gloss paints. You can also wipe a dirty eggshell paint with a wet cloth to clean the wall – you cannot do that with flat paint without risking damage to the wall.

Does Paint Get Darker With Second Coat?

No, more coats of paint will not make your paint darker.

As stated above, the wetness of the paint will initially give off the impression that your paint is darker as you put on more, although this is just the effect of wet paint. When it dries it will dry it’s true color, no matter how many coats you apply.

Does Exterior Paint Dry Darker or Lighter?

So far we’ve only discussed interior paint – but what about the exterior?

The same factors influence exterior paint color, but the stresses on exterior paint are much greater. The true color of an exterior paint won’t last nearly the length that an interior paint will, primarily due to UV damage.

Will Multiple Coats Make Exterior Paint Darker?

No amount of coats will protect exterior paint from UV damage. The topcoat will fade, but not to the point that other layers will become exposed. And no matter how many coats of paint you apply, it won’t become increasingly darker.

On the other hand, multiple coats of paint for an exterior surface is always a good idea due to other environmental hazards.

Will UV Damage Make Exterior Paint Lighter?

UV rays will make paint fade, which is not the same as making it seem lighter. Faded paint is an altogether different color, where the pigment has been altered in some way by an environmental factor.

A paint that appears brighter merely has some sort of environmental aspect working to make it “seem” brighter, many of which I mentioned above.

Tips for Avoiding Darker or Lighter Than Expected Paint

Below are some tips for avoiding darker or lighter than expected paint. This is not a definitive list, but these are points you should consider before you embark on your next painting project.

  • Get quality paint – you get what you pay for
  • Always paint above 60 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Always use a primer
  • Make sure humidity is less than 70%, and preferably around 50%
  • Stir your paint thoroughly before use
  • Avoid touching up your paint – repaint the whole wall if necessary, instead

Conclusion

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of buying quality paints. Not only will they lost longer, but they are more likely to match the color on the top of the lid. Quality paints and brushes are critical when trying to avoid a much brighter or darker than expected paint.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to drop me a line, below with any of your paint-related questions. And remember, the next time you embark on a painting project, come on back here to let us know how it went.

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