Interactive Color Design Tools

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You may THINK you have the right color…

Choosing paint colors is a tricky task, particularly if all you have to go on are tiny paint chips from the hardware store. It’s easy to be disappointed when you see the little square of color reproduced life-sized on your living room walls. Paint companies know this. They also want satisfied customers as much as any other business, so they have created some fantastic interactive color design tools on the Internet.

We recommend both Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams paints both for their quality and choice of colors, and we can now recommend them for their user-friendly online design tools. These apps can make choosing house and room colors not only less daunting but downright fun. In fact, you can get downright captivated by the many color schemes you can create in just a few minutes.

All of the colors are keyed to each manufacturer’s paints, of course, so all you have to do is note down the names and numbers and go buy them. (Or tell your painting contractor.)

Sherwin-Williams Depends on Drag and Drop

Sherwin-Williams’ “Visualizer” follows a more traditional approach. First you select an interior scene (bedroom, living room, etc.) or an exterior scene (Colonial, Victorian, etc.). The software displays a photo of a room or a house painted white. You also have the option of uploading one of your own photos, so you can design with your own home as the canvas.

Next you select a color palette, using one of their color collections or by entering one of their color names or numbers. The Visualizer lets you pick and choose from the swatches in the palette and also to adjust the colors by going for shades that are lighter, darker, more orange, and so on. This expands your working palette.

When you see a color you like, you drag and drop it onto a part of the photo – a wall in the bedroom, for example, or the trim boards on an exterior view. The Visualizer fills in that part of the image with the color you selected. You can drag colors onto other walls or sections of the image and change to new colors until you have the combination that you’d like to see on your home.

Benjamin Moore Has Style

Benjamin takes a different approach. Its “Design by What Matters” tool uses a brief lifestyle survey to figure out what your personal preferences are. For example, it asks questions like “What does your dream view look like?” and “What type of movie would you act in?” and shows several alternatives to choose from.

After the survey, the designer creates a palette by asking you to either download a photo that you really like, pick a color that suits your personality, or let it surprise you. (Try them all – it’s worth it to see the differences.)

Then the designer shows you a room painted in your palette, with options to change the colors on the walls, wainscoting, and other elements. You can also see different rooms (with your dream view outside the windows, by the way) or pick a different palette. And small black dots around the scene expand to show decorating tips and suggest different color concepts.

Save and Share What You’ve Done

Both the Visualizer and Design by What Matters let you print your results, share them, tweet them, and otherwise make a record of your preferences. The web sites also invite you to register and save what you’ve done, so you can show them to your family or housemates or easily change your mind and try something new without having to start from scratch.

Things to Watch Out For

For all the high-tech ease of design that these two apps offer, they are still a step or two removed from your own room and the actual paint. Your computer’s screen won’t necessarily show the exact tints of the paint.

And ambient light will make a difference, too. The position of the windows, the lights you use, the color of the floor, the paintings on the wall – all of these will change how the paint colors look when you’re done. We’ve seen a dark floor cast a red reflection on a blue wall in the morning, then a purple reflection in the afternoon.

Using flat paints can help reduce reflections. Or you can plan for the reflections by using rich shades on floors and wainscoting and light shades above, as long as you’re ready to live with some unexpected (and hopefully delightful) variations at different times of the day.

Despite these considerations, you’ll still find that – compared to a handful of paint chips – the online design tools can get you a lot closer to the colors you want.
Despite these considerations, you’ll still find that – compared to a handful of paint chips – the online design tools can get you a lot closer to the colors you want.

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