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Repainting a room sucks, so I tried to see if tech could make it any easier

Finished wall

It’s embarrassingly been a year since I last wrote about testing out paint colors with online tools; it took me that long to go from browsing to actually getting it up on my walls. One of the biggest issues was committing to a color. Then I wanted to make sure a weekend project didn’t turn into a week-long one. Here’s how I used a bit of tech to get the job done.

Spinning the color wheel

Last year, I picked up a tote bag full of paint swatches, and they didn’t help me get any closer to settling the hue issue. Instead, I went back to the Dunn-Edwards InstaColor tool I looked at last year. Instead of uploading my own photo, I used one of the paint company’s pre-loaded images and just started clicking on colors. The menu on the right gives palettes based on color family or curated lists.

Dunn-Edwards InstaColor tool

When you click on La Terra — a terracotta color — the wall turns a salmon-y orange, while the trim gets painted with Whisper white and the accent wall becomes Muslin gray. These are the company’s suggested colors, but you can uncheck the arrow at the bottom and pick your own accent and trim. For the design-challenged, though, it gives you a sense of where to start.

Some tools will help you figure out what you don’t want, rather than picking the perfect color.

Canva’s color palette tool is a bit different; it lets you upload a photo and generates a palette based on the hues it finds. It’s one to visualize how your walls might coordinate with a piece of art or upholstery in the room. These steps were more about figuring out what I didn’t like than narrowing it down to the exact right color.

I was already pretty sure I didn’t want red, green, yellow, or white, but seeing it on walls — even if they weren’t mine — reinforced my hunch. Now, all I had to do was pick from all the shades of blue, gray, brown, and clay.

The next step was to head to Houzz. There’s a way to search the home remodeling site’s photos by room, then filter them by wall color. This didn’t work perfectly — I ended up with a lime green wall in my brown paint search — but I found myself clicking on grayish-brown tones fairly often. I didn’t have the perfect paint yet — though the site does have a sponsored “show me paint colors” button — but I was in the spectrum.

I wanted to use the color as a starting point, so I uploaded a photo from a designer’s site to Image Color Picker. Based on where I clicked on the wall, the tool would show me different color codes, which I could use to find the same color in other web tools. It also showed me just how much the shade changed depending on how bright or shadowy the area was.

Next, I took a couple of those HTML codes to the Adobe Color Wheel.

Seeing paint samples on your wall is very different from looking at swatches in the store or squares of color on your computer.

When I entered A89B92 into the Hex value, I got a slew of very similar tones. The drop-down menu on the left changes the four other colors based on the kind of harmony: analogous, monochromatic, triad, complementary, compound, shades, and custom. This is actually a tool for web designers, but going through each option will let you see what’s close in color, what complements, and what doesn’t work for you.

In addition to the wall color, I wanted to find a complementary color for the window trim. Thanks to the Color Wheel, I knew it would be somewhere in the realm of a slate blue. But I also tried a similar tool, Paletton, which has a four-color harmony option where I found a purplish gray I really liked.

Swapping swatches

The problem with going from the computer to the paint store is that it won’t look the same no matter what. I decided on Behr Marquee, so I could skip the primer.

I found colors matching as closely as possible to my color codes on the paint-maker’s site, then compared them to swatches in the store. I bought a few samples of brown and purple-gray, put them on the walls, and chose from there. They didn’t exactly reflect what I’d seen online or precisely match up with the swatch, so seeing them in person was the only way to definitively decide on Masterpiece over Best in Show.

Once I finally had my paint, I was ready to get down to business. Sadly, I couldn’t find any tech that made the laborious process of taping and edging any better. For the rest of the wall, I tested the $129 Wagner Flexio 2000, a paint sprayer. The directions promised an easy experience, all the way through cleanup. The device has a series of dials so you can set it up for a variety of projects, depending on whether you’re using stain or paint and the coverage area.

The directions are simple enough to follow, but my first attempt was pretty zebra-like: lots of stripes where I hadn’t fully covered the area. The coverage area didn’t seem as wide as this video makes it seem. The overspray reached about six inches, so my countertops got a light misting, too.

The Wagner box promised the walls would be done in five minutes; my first stripe-y session took me about 45, while the follow-up was more like 30. That’s still much faster than either a roller or paintbrush, though, and the results are pretty seamless. There’s maybe one angle where, when the light hits it right, I can see where the spray lines start, but the rest of the time it looks pretty professional — or at least, more professional than any other wall I’ve painted.

The verdict

Jenny McGrath/Digital Trends

I’ve gotten a perfect score on the hue test, but that doesn’t make it any easier to translate a color from RGB to IRL. Using a bunch of paint and design websites got me very close to my final palette, but it didn’t save me from having to buy several sample jars.

On the other hand, I did purchase fewer than I would have if I’d been merely working with paint chips and booklets. If someone’s working on a way to get faster, more flawless taping done with technology, I wouldn’t mind waiting another year before painting the rest of my place. I should have the rest of my colors picked out by then.

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