How to Paint an Ombre Effect

Photo Courtesy of Allison Lind

The ombre effect has made its way to the Trends du Jour list in home furnishings, décor, and even hairstyles! But how do you get the ombre look with a paint application? To paint a DIY ombre effect may seem somewhat daunting (especially with a severe lack of instructions out there on the usually plethoric World Wide Web), but it is an easier task than you might imagine - as long as you have an extra set of hands and some patience (ok, and a lack of a perfectionist's attitude).

What Is Ombre, Exactly

In the paint world, an ombre finish is typically three shades of color on one wall. The ombre look has the lightest color bleeding into the medium color, which leads to the darkest hue so that the wall seems to get darker as it goes to the floor. Think stripes, but blended colors without any clear delineation between them.

Bold and Brazen 

The look itself can be either bold and brazen (with the use of bright, blended hues or even unexpected colors creating a rainbow effect) or whimsical and serene (with a soft, gentle hue). It is best applied on a single accent wall. And the use of three different shades of the same color has the most "natural" effect. Simply select your desired color from a paint swatch and select the two adjacent shades on that swatch. Or, do as we did with expert help courtesy of Sherwin-Williams: Select your favorite color and have the paint store do a special mix for the other shades.

For our wall, we used Sherwin-Williams' Collonade Gray as the medium color, then had the specialist mix a 25 percent version for the light top shade and a 75 percent version for the dark bottom shade.


Tape measure
Chalk or pencil
Two paint rollers
Two roller covers for each color
Two emulsion brushes
Three detail brushes (or one for each color)
Plastic paint sheet
Painters tape to protect ceiling, moldings, and other details

Painting with several different shades on the same wall adds texture and interest to space. Using three different shades of the same color gives a subtle look that doesn't overpower the room. Shades on a paint chip also will coordinate with each other, making it easier to choose colors that match. Paint three shades of the same color on an accent wall or throughout the space for an unusual paint treatment that adds character to plain walls.

Step One

Prep the space as you would for any other paint project: Move furniture out of the room (or as far away from the wall to be painted as possible, remove any light switch and outlet plates, apply painter's tape around moldings and at ceiling, and cover your flooring with a drop cloth to protect from drips and spills.

Step Two

Determine the level at which you want each color to blend to the next. Identify that location on your wall using a light pencil or chalk mark. Use a tape measure to mark that same height at various points across the wall (or use a level to help achieve a straight line).

Step Three

You'll primarily be working with a roller and emulsion brush (or sponge) to create "transitions" between each color, but first "prep" the wall for that technique by painting the edges and details of each color zone with its designated color (along the ceiling and sidewall edges, and any other areas a roller won't cover).

Step Four

Start with your lightest color, Color #1 (typically ombre starts from light at the top and works its way to dark at the bottom, but you can mix it up if you see fit). Apply the paint to the wall of that designated zone with the roller, applying a heavier amount of paint across the area that will blend with the next shade.

As you're applying the light color at the "transition" area, have your partner begin to apply the 2nd shade to the next (middle) area. Using a light amount of Color #2 on the roller, begin to roll over the wet transition point of Color #1, doing short, gentle roller strokes in an attempt to "blur" the colors but not blend. You may have to play with this technique a bit and apply more of either color until it looks just right. Use an emulsion brush (or a sponge can work as well) to help blur the transition line.

Fill in the rest of the open areas with a roller, up until the next transition point, where you'll want to apply a thicker amount of paint for another blurring session.

Step Five

Now move to your darkest shade, Color #3. And repeat the technique described in Step Four.

Note: This isn't a fool-proof task. Ombre is meant to be a bit "imperfect" as it's a subtle blending or blurring of hues to give the effect of a fade. Play around with your colors and your techniques (even the tools you use - try rags, small rollers, a paint sprayer even) until you get the look you desire! A little hard work will pay off in the end.