How to Paint Ombre Walls

Living room interior with gray armchair and standing lamp against blue and white ombre wall with empty space. Real photo.
KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

An ombre wall treatment begins with a single paint color and slowly melts into another, creating a dreamy, water-colored effect as it covers the spectrum between two colors. Sound complicated? It’s not as hard to pull off as you might think. The trick is to prep the wall and paints before you start creating the ombre effect. Once the paint colors are on the wall, you will quickly blend them with a dry brush before the paints dry.

Choose Two Colors That Blend Well

Choosing shades that blend well can be tricky, especially if you hope to fade from one color into another. If you’re not sure which colors will work, try consulting a color wheelAnalogous colors, or colors that share a single base color and sit beside one another on the color wheel, will always blend well. Choose two adjacent shades on the color wheel for a subtle effect. If you're looking for a more dramatic result, skip one shade, and choose the colors on either side.

If you’re planning on sticking to variations of a single color, you’ll need to choose a light shade and a dark shade of that color. Keep in mind that the greater the difference in colors, the more dramatic the result.

For example, for a soft, soothing effect, you can pair a pale pastel with a medium hue of another color, or choose a single shade of paint to blend with white. If you prefer a bold look, go a little deeper into the spectrum, starting with a pale-to-medium shade and finishing with something a little richer.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

  • Primer
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Yardstick
  • Ladder or step stool
  • Masking tape
  • Two colors of paint
  • Measuring cup 
  • Bucket or recycled plastic container
  • Paint stir stick
  • Three paint trays
  • Three medium-size paint rollers 
  • Small paintbrush (for cutting in)
  • Two large paintbrushes

Instructions

Determine Your Color Flow

Decide which way to direct the flow of color. Transitioning from dark at the bottom to light at the top makes the ceiling seem higher and the space appear larger. Transitioning from light at the bottom to dark at the top can make a large room feel cozier. For this demonstration, the wall will go from darkest at the bottom to lightest at the top.

Prime the Wall

Cover the wall with an even coat of white primer, using a standard roller and paintbrush. If desired, tape off the baseboard and other trim before priming. Let the primer dry completely. Meanwhile, wash the roller, paintbrush, and tray and let them dry so they're ready for the painting steps.

Section Your Wall

Divide the wall into three equal horizontal sections, using a measuring tape, a pencil, and a yardstick. Measure vertically and make light pencil marks for each section, then use the yardstick and pencil to draw light horizontal lines through the marks.

Cut In the Top and Bottom Edges

Cut in around the base of your wall, using a small paintbrush and your dark shade of paint. Then, use your light shade of paint to cut in along the ceiling. Let the paint dry.

Mix the Paint

Set out three paint trays. Fill one tray with your dark color, and fill another tray with your light color. Using a measuring cup and a bucket or recycled container (a large yogurt or cottage cheese container works great), mix a third color by combining the two shades in equal parts, then stir thoroughly with a paint stir stick. Pour the mixed paint into the third paint tray.

Roll Each Section

Roll the bottom section of the wall with the darkest shade, using a paint roller. Keep the edge of the paint about 1 inch below the lower horizontal pencil line. Without waiting for the paint to dry, immediately roll the middle section with the blended paint, then roll the top section with the lightest paint. Use a different roller for each color. Keep each band of paint 1 inch from the marked lines, creating a 2-inch-wide strip of bare (primed) wall between the sections.

Blend the Sections

Use a large, dry paintbrush to blend the two colors between the bottom and middle sections, making crossing X strokes centered over the strip between the sections. Work quickly so that the paint does not dry. Immediately do the same to blend the middle and top sections, using a new dry brush. Blend as much or as little as you like, but do it quickly so the paint does not dry before it is blended. When you're done blending, let the paint dry completely.

Painting With More Sections

If you’re blending a single color with white or two completely different colors (e.g., blue and green), you will need more than three color sections. Choose an odd number, like five, seven, or nine. The more sections you create, the more gradual the color change will be.

Start by combining equal parts of your two original paint colors to create a custom half-and-half blend. If you have seven sections, mix six cups of light paint and six cups of the dark.

Paint the center section of the wall with the half-and-half blend. Add one cup of the dark paint to the blended paint, mix well, then roll the section below the center section. Add one more cup of dark to the remaining paint and roll the next section down. Repeat for the bottom section, then blend the adjacent sections with dry brushes, using X strokes.

Mix another batch of the half-and-half blend, and repeat the same process, starting at the middle section and moving up. For each section, add one cup of the light color to the paint mix so the color gets lighter as you go up.