3 Things You Need to Do Before Buying Paint for a DIY Project

New to the painting game? Remember these three tips for a stress-free project.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

The Home Depot and Sherwin-Williams can be a seasoned painter’s paradise, yet double as a nightmare for newbies. Unless you’ve had hands-on experience of your own, buying paint for an accent wall or a DIY remodel can be intimidating. With all of those shades, tints and finishes, how do you know where to start?

Sadly, we can’t offer a shortcut. The perfect paint job takes time and quite a bit of thought. Still, when it comes to questions on how to choose paint colors, there are a few tips you’ll want to keep in mind. It’s best to consider these pointers before you pick up color swatches.

1. Test Your Paint Like a Decorator

Swatching a few light strokes of color may have been how you tested paint on your walls in the past, but don’t do that for your next project.

Instead, color expert Maria Killam suggests testing your paint color directly in relation to anchor items in your room. Why? Because the way a paint’s color looks to our eye depends on the colors around it. More explicitly, the hue qualities of a paint color can either be strengthened or diminished by other colors in the room.

To properly test a paint color, reach for a large piece of white card stock or poster board and paint a healthy amount of the surface area (but leave some white bordering the sample color). Then, prop that painted sheet up behind or next to the featured objects in your room to see how they look in tandem with those colors—think furniture, tables, art pieces, even floors. This process of isolating your paint color will be a more accurate test and will help you choose that perfect color without painter’s remorse.

Maria’s Tip: Compare the color to objects or areas in your room at different times of day to see how the light reflects, too.

Here are the colors to skip when painting your home.

2. Think About the Finish

Choosing a color is one thing, but you’ll also need to consider a paint’s finish before buying a gallon (or six).

When we refer to a paint’s “finish” we’re talking about its sheen, or how much light reflects off of a paint-covered surface. Painted surfaces with a higher sheen reflect more light, and look glossy when light hits them. Areas covered in paint with a low sheen are less reflective. Benjamin Moore lists the following paint finishes:

  • Flat: has no sheen; does not reflect light
  • Matte: more durable than flat paint and almost as shine-free
  • Eggshell: reflects slightly more light than the finishes above
  • Pearl: paint with a medium gloss and high durability
  • Satin: glossier than paint with a pearl finish
  • Semi-Gloss: paint with a luminous finish
  • High Gloss: very reflective, very durable

If you’re not sure what finish to consider, test out a few and see how the color reacts with light.

3. Measure Your Space

It’s tempting to make an educated guess on how much paint you’ll need for a room (when we say educated, we mean “eyeballing” an estimate), but this is one of many common painting mistakes. Though measuring your room in advance is yet another step you’ll need to add to your pre-paint process, the accuracy will save you from having to visit the paint store for a second or third time.

So, how many gallons of paint do you actually need? This depends on the following, according to Real Simple:

  • Height and length of walls and ceilings
  • How many doors and windows are in a room, and their measurements
  • How many coats of paint you need

After taking accurate measurements of your walls, ceilings and their accessories, all you need to do is input those numbers into a paint calculator (like this one from Benjamin Moore). It’ll do the math for you and save you some time in the long run.

Here’s how—and why—you should clean your walls before painting them.

Get Started with the Right Tools

Hannah Twietmeyer
Hannah is a writer and content creator based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a passion for all things food, health, community and lifestyle. She is a journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a previous dining and drink contributor for Madison Magazine.