The Ultimate Guide for Choosing the Best Interior Paint

Buying the right interior wall paint for your project is like picking the right place for a first date – you want to choose with confidence and set the tone! I’ve painted MANY rooms over the course of my DIY Playbook time! So, I want to pass on what I’ve learned when it comes to buying interior paint.

Choosing the color boothbay gray for our walls

I’m answering questions like, what type of paint do I buy? Where should I go to buy paint? How do I pick the color? How do I know if I’ll like the paint color? And more!

choosing the right paint sheen for your walls

Think of this post as the starting point for your paint job. Then, once you figure out the perfect brand and color, you can check out last week’s post outlining how to paint a room from start to finish.

A Quick Paint Buying Glossary

Four cans of paint in different finishes including flat, matte, egghsell, and semi-gloss

The painting world comes with a lot of lingo. Here’s a quick summary of everything you need to know.

  • Primer – This is the white paint that is often used before you paint your wall color. It helps “prime” the canvas so it’s ready for an even coat of paint.
  • VOC – Otherwise known as volatile organic compounds. These are the chemicals that create a harsh smell as the paint is drying. You want to look for low VOC or no-VOC paint. (You can ask the paint expert at your store to direct you to these choices.) VOCs are typically found in oil-based paint, which you likely don’t need for a typical indoor paint job.
  • Latex-based paint – This is the typical paint type used for interior walls. Oil-based paint is often used for industrial paint jobs because it is very durable.
  • Tint – This refers to a color that has been lightened by adding white. (e.g., pink is a tint of red)
  • Shade – This is the color made darker by mixing black into the paint. (e.g., navy is a shade of blue)
  • Saturation – This is the purity or intensity of a color. The most saturated colors are vivid and the least saturated colors are muted. (e.g., “I like violet, but I’m looking for a more saturated color to create a moody vibe in my bedroom.”)
  • Color Match – This is a process done at the paint or hardware store where they can create the exact paint color you need. A paint store can create a color not sold in their store or match something you bring from home, like wallpaper, a pillow, or even a favorite shirt color! For example, if you want to buy your paint at Home Depot, but you like a color made by Sherwin Williams, that’s fine! Your paint expert will look up the color formula and recreate the right color! In even more good news, you can actually use this to help you stay within your budget. You can find a color from a more expensive brand and ask for it to be recreated in a local hardware store.

Understanding Paint Swatches

When you arrive at the paint aisle in your local hardware store, it can be both exhilarating and overwhelming once you see the array of colors. There will be hundreds and hundreds of paint swatches! There are a few things to know that will help you navigate and choose the perfect color.

How to choose the right interior paint color

First, most displays are organized by temperature. This means that the display will shift from warm colors, like reds, to cooler colors, like blues. You will also notice that in the middle of the display, the colors are more subdued and muted. I tend to look for colors in the middle, with less saturation, as opposed to the vibrant, crisp outer perimeter colors, because the muted colors fit with the general color scheme of my house.

A Benjamin Moore paint swatch with the dark blue color "Galaxy"

Once you pull out a paint swatch, you’ll notice there are several colors on it. All of these are variations of the same hue. You will find the darkest color on one end of the swatch and the colors will graduate through to the lightest color on the other end.

You’ll also notice that each square has a letter-number code. This isn’t something that you necessarily need to understand. It helps the store employees create the color and know where the swatch falls within the color family. These numbers also give various paint providers a common language for color matching.

Finally, If you’re picking a white for your trim, you’ll want to choose from the same side of the display where your wall color is found. In other words, warm walls look best with a warm white trim, and the same goes for cool colors. I talk more about creating a cohesive home color palette in this blog post.

Where To Buy Paint

Each hardware store has paint brands that align with a “library” of paint colors. If you go to these stores, you will find each paint brand’s respective library of colors, as well as the actual paint to purchase. Here are the available brands at some popular outlets:

At each outlet, you’ll find different lines, or levels of paint, within the brands. I would recommend talking to the in-store paint expert about your project. They’ll help direct you to the right type of paint for your needs.

Of course, the type of paint you buy is a personal preference – a higher quality paint will translate to more coverage and durability. It’s a good idea to buy the highest quality paint that you can afford within the brand.

The bottom line is that it’s not so much about the brand you pick, it’s about the quality of the paint.

How Much Paint to Buy

choosing a blue gray paint color

Typically, a room that’s about 10’x 15′ or 20′ feet will require about 2 gallons of wall paint. The general rule of thumb is that a gallon of paint will cover 400 square feet. However, this is only one coat and you definitely want two coats of paint.

Benjamin Moore Paint Calculator

So, you’d want about two gallons. Benjamin Moore has a really helpful paint calculator to help you plan and budget ahead. However, when you’re in your local hardware store, the paint expert can always help you with this!

It’s always a pain when you have to go back to the store, mid-project, for more materials. But you also don’t want to have too much paint left over. Try to buy the optimal amount of paint for your job and make sure you keep the leftover paint because you might need it for touch-ups later on.

Picking Your Paint Color

How to choose the right paint sheen for your paint project

I know it’s hard, but you can’t pick the paint color based solely on the name. I learned this the hard way after picking “Irish Cream” to use in a guest room. It’s a gorgeous color and sounded so delicious, but it just didn’t work with the cherry undertones I had in my hardwood floors at that time.

I usually use one of the following three approaches when I’m picking a paint color:

My Bathroom Makeover
  • Start by finding inspiration from something that will be in that room – a piece of art, a pillow, or even a piece of clothing! Pull colors from that item and bring it when you’re going to look at paint chips! When I chose a color for my main bathroom, I looked to the wallpaper in my bedroom to help me. To bring the whole design together, I framed a scrap of the leftover wallpaper!
  • Make a Pinterest board. Start pinning all of the rooms you like. Once you have at least ten pins, start to look for patterns between the pictures. Try to identify exactly what you like about each one.
  • Think about how you want to feel in the room. Maybe you want to mimic the feel you get at a spa, or maybe you want the room to be dark and cozy, like a movie theatre. Color is one of the most significant influencers in terms of the way you feel when you walk into a room.

Tools To Help You Pick the Perfect Color

Choosing a nursery paint color that is light pink or blush

There are a few tools that I always use before buying the whole paint gallon.

  • Check Instagram! You can type in whatever color you’re considering, and sift through tons of posts! While color is never exactly translated through a camera, and everyone has a different light, it’s a great way to see the color in real settings!
  • Use paint websites. I especially love the Benjamin Moore website tools. This website gives a description of the color you are considering, other colors that would match it, and it allows you to test the paint color in a variety of different lights.
Help me choose a basement paint color
  • While painting samples on the wall is the most popular choice for testing color, some brands have peel and stick sample sizes! When I chose a color for our basement, I went with “Greige” from Clare paint. You can purchase their color families of samples to figure out the best hue on your wall. Samplize is another option that has colors from a variety of brands! You can move these around and they won’t even damage your walls.
  • Lastly, and maybe most importantly, you want to check the paint samples at different times of day and on different walls. The amount of natural light changes over the course of the day and you’ll want to see how the paint color is affected by different lighting conditions.
Benjamin Moore

And once you find your favorite paint color, don’t forget about the paint sheen. This blog post walks you through everything you need to know to choose the right finish. Then, this one walks you through my best tips to paint a room from start to finish.

My Favorite Paint Colors

I’ve tested many different samples and I hope that these paint round-ups will save you time! Click the images below to see the different colors I’ve tested, and what I chose!

Our home's paint color palette

And here’s a roundup of all of the colors you can find in my home.

DIY guide for choosing the best paint

I hope this helps you feel prepared to walk into any paint store and buy what you need. But, don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. That’s how I have learned along the way! I’d love to hear about your favorite paint colors for your interior paint projects.

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