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What is LRV?  What is Light Reflectance Value?

Understanding LRV is crucial when choosing color for the built environment, interior and exterior.

Lori Sawaya, Color Strategist
Albert R. Sawaya II, EE, MBA • Metrology Expert

©2005 all rights reserved – LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors – please quote with appropriate link and attribution

©2005 all rights reserved – LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors – please quote with appropriate link and attribution
LRV – You may have noticed these three letters on manufacturer’s color specifications, on the back of paint swatches or noticed an entire column dedicated on precious few square inches of space available in the index of paint fandecks. What do those letters stand for? What does the LRV number mean and how is it used?  It is rather simple.  Paying attention to a color’s LRV can prevent poor color/paint color selections by helping you determine and evaluate certain color characteristics.

Keywords:  LRV, Light Reflectance Value, brightness, lightness, visual ergonomics

©2005 all rights reserved – LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors – please quote with appropriate link and attribution
LRV is the acronym for Light Reflectance Value. As mentioned, LRV is on the back of most color swatches and in the index of all major brands’ fandecks. Value is often confused with the term intensity. Intensity is about vividness or dullness – is the color clear or muted. Value is an important term used in color and it speaks strictly to the lightness or darkness of a color.

What is LRV Light Reflectance Value?

Light Reflectance Value (LRV) is the total quantity of visible and useable light reflected by a surface in all directions and at all wavelengths when illuminated by a light source. (ref. British Standard BS 8300:2001/A1:2005)

©2005 all rights reserved – LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors – please quote with appropriate link and attribution
LRV is a measurement that tells you how much light a color reflects, and conversely how much it absorbs. LRV runs on a scale from 0% to 100%. Zero assumed to be an absolute black and 100% being an assumed perfectly reflective white. An absolute black or perfectly reflecting white does not exist in our everyday terms. Approximately speaking, the average blackest black has an LRV of 5% and the whitest white 85%. Some yellows can measure up into the 80’s or 90’s as well.

How do color pros use LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors?

©2005 all rights reserved – LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors – please quote with appropriate link and attribution

Color consultants, architects, and designers use LRV data in several stages of color planning. Many examples can be found in the workplace. Careful planning for proper visual ergonomics is paramount in color design.  From individual work surfaces to the outside walkways, ramps, hand-railings and everything in between. From a sustainability point of view, a wall color with a higher LRV supports lighting plans by helping to propagate daylight deep into the space.  Thereby reducing the standard number of lighting fixtures required to enable employees to efficiently and safely perform their tasks.

Find the perfect paint color – How can homeowners use LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors?

Most important for the do-it-yourselfer is to refer to color specifications for exterior products. For example, vinyl siding. Painting vinyl siding with a color that has too low of an LRV, that absorbs too much light and energy and thus retains too much heat, could result in warped siding. Some paint manufacturers have developed special formulations for painting heat-sensitive exterior surfaces.  They offer diverse color choices. However, if you do not use one of those specially formulated products, you are limited to a paint color that is within the same LRV range as the original color.  Else you risk warping and voiding any warranties.

Interior Color:  LRV provides a reference as to how light or dark a color could look and feel once up on all the walls.  Remember LRV runs on a scale of 0% to 100%, 50% would be a mid-value paint color. Fifty percent LRV is the common guideline for residential interiors.

Below the mid-point of 50%, and you know the color will tend to be darker absorbing more light than it will reflect back into the room. Thus, an interior lighting plan that accounts for the darker paint color should be a priority.

Colors with LRV higher than 50% will be lighter and will reflect more light back into the room than is absorbed.

When sampling paint colors, paying attention to Light Reflectance Values as you try different hues, tints, tones, and shades create benchmarks that can assist you in arriving at color selections quickly and efficiently.

What are the precautions of LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors?

It is true that LRV Light Reflectance Value communicates a lot about a potential wall color, possibly provides even more of a sense of the color than those very small color chips – and we all know the issues with relying on just the small color chips.

LRV refers to the percentage of light reflected by the paint color regardless of how much light is present. The LRV number is a measurement, a piece of data and is one of the few things about a color that is a consistent factor. No matter from what direction the natural light enters a room, no matter what reflection of color you get from the other elements in the room, no matter what other conditions exist that will affect the context in which the wall color is experienced, the LRV is the LRV. However. . .

LRV can be misleading when it comes to yellow. Yellow is one of the most reflective hues in the spectrum. In addition, the more area it covers it grows more intense exponentially. People err when choosing yellow more than any other color. They end up with a too bright Lemon Chiffon yellow that borders on needing eye protection to enter the room when they really were going for a softer, more muted Buttercream color.

©2005 all rights reserved – LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors – please quote with appropriate link and attribution

There is a difference between Light Reflectance Value or luminance and visual brightness albeit subtle. When choosing yellow wall colors, consideration of visual intensity – how bright or dull the color LOOKS – would be a more prominent consideration than the LRV Light Reflectance Value number.


©2005 all rights reserved – LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors – please quote with appropriate link and attribution
LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors is a guideline. A relative point of reference for predicting how light or dark a color will look and feel once it’s applied to the walls. It is not a set standard by which to choose colors.  Rather an indicator to help you make your best guess. And choosing wall colors is all about guessing.

No one can predict how a color will feel once it is out of the can and on structure. No matter who it is, designer, professional color designer, architect, or your next-door neighbor… they guess. The difference is some people are better guessers than others. What makes some people better paint color guessers than others is a matter of knowledge, taste, and experience.

With your new knowledge and clearer understanding of LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors, you are one-step closer to expertly choosing paint colors that are pleasing and appropriate for the inherent lighting and chosen design style of interior spaces and best suited to exterior applications.

You really can do this! Read these other blog posts and add to your color skill set.

  1. Bringing Perspective to Undertones
  2. Color Order Systems are Like…
  3. Learn How to Use a Paint Color Order System Now
  4. How To Master Overtones
  5. Etymology of the Term Overtone
  6. Color Overtones Review

©2005 Lori Sawaya – LRV Light Reflectance Value of Paint Colors All rights Reserved – please quote with appropriate link and attribution

  • A very clarifying explanation, Lori. In NCS System’s notation this is noted another way, but I think this is the same concept. I hadn’t thought about LRV as a helpful concept to lighting design.

    I see you have my blog in your blogroll, I hadn’t noticed. So thank you very much, I’m honored!

    • Lori Sawaya

      Oh my pleasure to share your link with the tribe here on Color Budz, Isabel. Love connecting color friends and including blog links is a great way to do that.

      NCS does speak to it a lil differently. The NCS is so cool – love how they deconstruct color and explain it. So smart.

  • Excellent article Lori! Will bookmark this for future reference. I am no color expert so every time I try to explain the difference between value and intensity, clients look at me like I have a third eye. Your explanation is way easier to understand!

    • Lori Sawaya

      Thanks, Amanda. We’ve talked color before, AB, and I’d say you do pretty darn well with the topic! The podcast we did on lighting is awesome and still gets tons of downloads so others must agree with me!

  • As you say, NCS explains a lil differently,so your explanation is the complement that helps me to put all together. NCS notation really helps you understand components in “that” specific hue. I train my eye by watching color chips, trying to notice undertones and then analyze and contrast with the information given in the NCS notation.

    Thanks again!

  • This is great Lori. An aspect of the color consulting process that isn’t always widely understood. It is helpful to have a source that explains LRV in succinct terms.
    Remember that book writing idea! Great Stuff!

    • Lori Sawaya

      lol! Yes, Debra, I do remember your suggestion of my writing a book. In addition to being an incredibly talented artist, you are also a smart and successful businesswoman – I need to take your advice and put action on it! Thank you for commenting.

  • Really succinct post on an great topic. Interestingly, one of our National Galleries in Edinburgh has just painted one of its rooms in a deep charcoal, I suspect to lower the LRV possibly to protect the prints?

  • nancy

    I’m still confused on how to actually use the LRV factor. I guess you have to already know what value you like or want in your space or, say, what an 80% color looks like in there to be able to gauge whether the potential colors you’re considering are a good fit for what you’re after.

    I had no idea LRV was simply referring to a color’s VALUE!

    Enjoyed your article!

    • funcolors

      Hi Nancy,

      There are two significant ways to use LRV:

      Once you get used to referring to LRV it helps you assess color. Many color order systems use numbers similar to LRV. They’re called notations. LRV is a form of a color notation that is universally used among all paint brands. Understanding notations, including LRV, means you can read the numbers and have a sense of the color without even seeing the chip or a sample.

      Paying attention to LRV as you go thru the color selection process can help you zero in on the right color. For example, if you’re consistently attracted to the colors in the 40% LRV range, that’s a benchmark. You’ve established that colors in the 40% LRV range is what you’re gravitating to so you can move on to making decisions about other characteristics – like the specific hue.

  • Olu

    Thank you ! helped with my course work

  • Sophia

    Hi, Lori very useful information helped me a lot! I just need to know when was this page last updated? I need this information ASAP for my bibliography for coursework thanks:)

    • Sophia

      Thank you so much, it will help.

    • Sophia

      Sorry to be a pest but, do you have any information about the Solar Reflectance Index and how it is used to design buildings by any chance?

      • funcolors

        First thought is LEED, second is the roofing industry, third is concrete and asphalt color control, and I’m sure there are more.

        It’s important to mention that LRV is different from TSR, Total Solar Reflectance. Here’s an advanced quote from my book on LRV that explains the difference.

        “LRV is a measure of light wave radiation in the visible spectrum. There are light waves that are not in the visible spectrum like infrared. Infrared contributes to heat build-up too and it is measured and
        calculated separately from LRV. Total Solar Reflectance, or TSR, includes the visible, infrared, and ultraviolet wavelengths. TSR indicates how much total energy is reflected.” ~Lori Sawaya

        • Sophia

          Okay, I think I get it. Thanks again Lori:)