Cutting Paint Color Formulas – People Decide it Works Before it’s Done

Ask Lori Sawaya Color Strategist

Hey Lori, I am trying to understand cutting paint color formulas. If you cut a formula by 50% does the color just lighten? Can I just add white paint to lighten a paint color?

Short answer, no.

Here’s what you need to know:

Whenever you cut an existing formula, you’re essentially creating a new color because all 3 dimensions of color, hue, value and chroma will be affected.

Many don’t think the logic of cutting or doubling paint color formulas through because they’re focused on the ONE PART of a paint color they want to change. For example, they want it to be lighter.

What they don’t consider is color is 3 dimensional (hue, value, chroma) and all 3 dimensions of the color will change – not just the part they don’t like. You don’t know what part(s) of the color will change or by how much until you have the color mixed, let it dry and look at it.

At which point, you own the quart or gallon of paint. If you don’t like your new, custom color -too bad- it’s still yours and you have to take it home. You can either continue adjusting that same can or buy another one and start over.

Adding white is different from cutting or doubling the colorant load.

It can take A LOT of white paint to significantly affect a color.

It depends on the strength of the colorants used. Some colorants are stronger, or more concentrated than others and an entire gallon of white paint may only move the color up in lightness by a tiny fraction.

Either way, adjusting a formula or adding white, it’s not the same as creating a color string. Color strings are a continuous range. Often starting with a fully chromatic hue parent and moving in calculated, regimented steps all the way to a neutral. There’s usually a goal to change only one color aspect along the string. E.g. only change chromaticity but not hue or brightness. Or only change brightness but not chroma or hue.

Tangible examples you can check out: Ben Moore’s Color Preview deck the color strips are (for the most part) strings.Benjamin-Moore-Preview-Fandeck

Ben Moore’s Classic Colors deck the color strips are NOT strings. You can kind of see how they’re different just looking at these pictures.


Since brightness and chroma are inextricably tied, it is difficult to create graduated color strings in perceptually uniform steps.

And it’s highly unlikely to happen at a paint store counter.

Due to substance uncertainty of bases and colorants, anything can happen. Again, you won’t know until you mix the color, let it dry and then look at it.

Custom mixing color and adjusting architectural paint colors is romanticized to an extreme – especially out there in blogosphere.

I think the success of mixing custom and/or adjusting colors is decided before it’s actually done.

In other words, people believe that cutting a color by 50% is going to get them a color that’s exactly half as dark, or half as colorful, or half as whatever they’re imagining so that’s exactly how they see the resulting color.

Because it sounds logical. However, the reality of what happens with paint bases and colorants doesn’t always align with logic – because of substance uncertainty.

If you were to measure that same result, either by qualified observer or using a color measurement instrument, the outcome would very likely NOT be a color that’s half as dark, half as chromatic, half whatever imagined.

Smart paint counter folks know that people will see what they decide they want to see in a color. I think many just go along with the cutting formulas meme. Because it’s easier than going into the complex explanation like I just did and then arguing facts vs. perception.

Perceptible color is really just an illusion.

So What’s the Solution, Lori?

If you’re a home owner, hire a Color Strategist. Color Strategists understand color beyond the formula. We understand color at its DNA level. We know the formula is not the genesis of a paint color and we have an arsenal of high-level color science know-how to find the perfect colors for you.

Cutting paint formulas

A Color Strategist is the right solution because we know how to use our specialized color expertise to find colors that are lighter, darker, grayer, cleaner, more blue, more, green, etc. and we don’t have to futz around with the formula wasting time, money or paint. (where do all those unwanted cans of failed custom colors go?)

If you want to hire me to help with your Color Strategy, you can find my menu of services here.

If you want to learn how to become a Certified Color Strategist, you can sign up for my online color training course here.

It’s the best and smartest color training in the world and whether you’re a color pro or color enthusiast, you will learn how to get color working for you.

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The Color Strategist Color Wheel by Lori Sawaya