Painting with dark colours - you know you want to!

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Painting with dark colours

You've been visualising that midnight blue / deepest olive / darkest burgundy (insert your favourite dark colour of choice here) feature wall in your living room for a couple of years now. You just know it would look fantastic. Perhaps you're feeling inspired by some wonderful interior designs you've seen online, and you have a Pinterest board crammed with complementary accessories to prove it.


So, what's stopping you from picking up the paintbrush and going for it?

Well, if you've ever tried to apply a very dark paint to your walls before, you’ll know that these colours can be very hard to apply evenly. And they almost always require more than two coats for complete coverage. This means that your paint job will probably take twice as long as using a lighter colour, and it can also be difficult to achieve a streak-free finish.

But why is this?

To explain, we need to delve a little into the science of how colour tones are produced. 

The science of paint colour tones

All paint comprises a base and a pigment. In simple terms, the pigment is added to the base and these are mixed to create the final colour.

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide pigment is added to the base in various quantities to determine how light or dark the final tone of the paint will be. Paint manufacturers commonly use it, as it makes paint easier to apply and can cover old paint coats much better than colour pigment alone.  

Each paint manufacturer decides on the maximum quantity of titanium they will use to “whiten” the base and produce the tone they want. The amount of titanium needed to achieve light, medium or dark tones works out roughly like this:

Light tone base: contains100% titanium dioxide. (At 100%, titanium will lighten a colour so much that it is still possible to see a darker colour underneath).

Medium tone base: contains 50% titanium dioxide. (Widely regarded to be the “Goldilocks Zone” - the balance between the colour pigment and titanium base is optimal in medium tone ranges, which is why these paint colours are easier to apply).

Dark tone base: contains 0% titanium dioxide. (The only way to make any primary or dark colour is to add colour pigment to a clear base).

Because dark colours have to be made from a transparent base, they're more difficult to apply when painting. Titanium dioxide alters the consistency of paint, making it much easier to apply - but titanium is only added to paint bases to achieve light and medium tones.

The Pigment

Another factor to consider is the amount of pigment needed to produce a colour. The whiter the base, the less the volume of pigment used—we all know that if you mix even a small amount of white with red, it will turn pink.

Here are the approximate volumes of colour pigment needed to achieve lighter and darker tones:

Light tone base: 2% pigment

Medium tone base: 5% pigment

Dark tone base: 10% pigment

What's wrong with using more pigment to achieve richer colours? Ask the planet!

All paint manufacturers understand that adding over 10% pigment to any base will reduce coverage performance, as well as long-term durability. Not only does too much pigment dilute the paint, it also scrambles its chemical composition. However, most paint manufacturers continue to use a pigment volume of 15% or more in their paints to produce their darkest colour ranges. They even brag about their highly pigmented colours as if this were a benefit, even though a 15% pigment can double or sometimes treble the VOC levels in their products.  

While paint manufacturers use these high VOC-laden pigment volumes, they only declare the VOC level in the paint’s base on the labels of their pots and tins. This is the case for many of the major paint brands found in DIY retail stores.

Here at The Positive Paint Company we use 10% or less pigment in our paint, and our pigments are virtually VOC free with no hidden "nasties."

Painting with dark colours from the Radical Plastic Free Paint range

Dark colours are wonderful, and you should not be afraid to use them. But it helps to be realistic, and to understand that dark colours simply require a bit more effort to apply because of the absence of titanium dioxide.

  1. Adopt a positive mental attitude. Educate yourself about what you’re letting yourself in for and proceed knowing that the result will be worth the extra effort.

  2. After fully preparing the surface, apply one or two coats of a tinted white base (we recommend our Base Grey), leaving at least two hours between coats. The final finish of the base should be relatively streak free and well covered.

  3. Wait at least 12 hours before applying the top coats.

  4. Apply two coats of your chosen dark paint (leaving at least two hours between each coat).

  5. Wait for 12 hours for the paint to dry fully. Do not try to patch up any light areas… you will make matters worse.

  6. If the paint appears streaky or patchy, apply another one or two coats (leaving two hours in between each coat).

  7. Wait another 12 hours. By this point, we would expect the job to be done - but it may not be (sorry!).

  8. Keep repeating until fully covered. Because we do not add over 10% pigment to our paint, we would expect even our darkest of colours to cover in 2–4 coats, as long as you have prepped the surface well and applied the base coat as recommended.

There is a growing trend to paint skirting boards and radiators the same colour. Besides looking much better overall, painting your radiator is a great way to camouflage an otherwise ugly artefact, and matching your skirting boards can make your walls appear taller.   

Once you see the final result, we’re sure you’ll agree that painting with dark colours is definitely worth the extra effort. And remember - we're always available to talk and happy to help in any way we can… even if it's only to keep you motivated!

Now, where did you put that paintbrush?
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