Getting it White

Thousands of white paint colors exist and this huge array of whites can complicate color scheme specification. However, three key issues are important to consider and these can help simplify white paint color specification.  

Firstly, what is the aim of the project in terms of style and ambience? Second, once the style and ambience is determined, select a white paint color that has a hue/undertone suitable for the project. Finally, be aware of the impact of simultaneous contrast as this can influence the appearance of paint color. 

Style and ambience

Consider the style outcomes of the project and select a preferred style as this can narrow down white paint color selection. Styles may include:

  • Edgy, ultra modern and non-traditional - stark, vivid whites; whites with a cool undertone
  • Modern, contemporary, more classical than cutting edge - whites with a neutral/grey undertone
  • Traditional, conventional and classical - whites with a subtle warm undertone
  • Historical, vintage and old-time quaint - whites with a subtle yellow undertone

Each of these styles tend to convey a certain ambience which can be reinforced by paint color specification plus furniture and fittings selection. For each of these styles, the presence or absence of textures and furnishing selections can reinforce, enhance and complement white paint colors. 


White paint colors vary due to hue/undertone and these throw or reflect varying tints and shades of white. White paint colors vary primarily for two reasons. 

  1. Each individual white paint color may have a small proportion - albeit a very tiny proportion - of a hue mixed with the white paint color. 
  2. Due to the way paint is manufactured and the base paint used, white paints almost inevitably have an undertone, and this undertone may reflect a hint of yellow, blue, pink, brown or grey. As a result, white paint colors vary considerably. 

As a result, various white paint colors exhibit slightly different apparent white impressions; however, there are a couple of ways to identify the hue/undertones that may occur in individual white paint colors. 

Some paint companies like Resene Paints provide hex codes for all their paint colors and this can be used to identify and hue/undertone evident in the paint color. In addition, Resene Paint colors are identified using a code which starts with a letter. This letter indicates the base color of the paint: Y for yellow, BR for brown, G for green and N is for neutral (which means black, or rather grey once white is added).

A second way to identify hue/undertone in white paint colors is to actually paint a large surface area - preferably 3x3 feet or 1 metre square. Painting a series of white samples alongside each other provides a way of assessing the hue/undertone of each white paint color.

The following image features an array of Dulux white paint colors and it is clear from this grid of nine colors that white can vary considerably.

Simultaneous contrast 

This is an effect that can occur in any context whereby the target color (for example, the specified white paint color) can appear to change slightly due to the influence of contextual color.

The following illustration features popular Resene white paint colors including Alabaster, White and Black White. Resene Rice Cake (hex code #EFECDE) features in the middle of each Resene white and the impact of the simultaneous contrast effect alters the appearance of Rice Cake, making it lighter, darken or a subtly different hue depending on contextual colour. 

If a proposed color scheme features more than one white paint color, paint a large surface area - preferably 3x3 feet or 1 metre square - wth the dominant white paint color and add the second white in an interior square. This will help to indicate the impact of simultaneous contrast on the appearance of the secondary white color.

Hope you get it white!

Image 1: Mashup of Dulux images featuring (left to right) Dulux Antique White U.S.A®; Dulux Lexicon® Quarter and Dulux Natural White™​.

Image 2: An array of Dulux white paint colors.

Image 3: An array of Resene white paint colors illustrating the simultaneous contrast effect by Zena O’Connor, PhD. 

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