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
Overview
  • Working Time: 6 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $160

An ombre wall treatment is a decorative color effect using a single paint color gently transitioning into another, creating a dreamy, water-colored effect as it covers the spectrum between two colors. To get a picture in your head, think about a beautiful sunset with layers of various colors that look miraculous together as they paint the sky. Ombre is an inexpensive way to add color texture to your wall. It’s not complicated if you prep the wall and paints before you start creating the ombre effect.

Once the paint colors are on the wall, quickly blend them with a dry brush before the paints dry. The only drawback is this technique may not work perfectly if your paints dry too quickly, making the blend more difficult. You may need to spend a little more time getting it right, but this technique is forgiving and you can apply more paint to dried spots, so have fun with it.

Preparation

Choosing shades to create the ombre effect 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 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 a color on either side.

If you’re planning to stick 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 more significant 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 and blend it 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. You may need to do some experimenting to find the perfect hue. Make sure you have plenty of paint—and then some—with the help of The Spruce's paint calculator.

Safety

Inhaling paint fumes is toxic. Always ventilate the area well and wear a mask. Even if you use paint with no or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), when you add color pigment to VOC-free paint, it can increase the amount of VOCs by as much as 10 grams per liter. VOC-free paint may also contain other harmful chemicals; however, even at levels of 10 grams per liter, VOC-free paint is a far safer alternative to VOC-containing paints.

What Are VOCs?

VOCs or volatile organic compounds are chemicals that they evaporate at high rates when indoors. Paints, varnishes, and waxes all have volatile organic compounds, which are volatile or harmful. Though not considered extremely dangerous, contact with VOCs can cause headaches, nose and throat irritation, or fatigue.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Yardstick
  • Stepladder or step stool
  • Bucket or recycled plastic container
  • Measuring cup
  • 3 Paint trays
  • 3 Medium-size paint rollers
  • Small paintbrush (for cutting in)
  • 2 Large paintbrushes
  • 1 Face mask

Materials

  • Primer
  • Masking tape
  • Two colors of paint
  • Paint stir stick

Instructions

  1. Determine the 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.

    Tip

    Using oil-based paints may be advisable, as they dry slower than latex paints. Creating the ombre effect will require blending two sections of the painted wall, and you'll need the paint to remain wet to do it well.

  2. Prime the Wall

    Cover the wall with an even coat of white primer, using a standard roller and paintbrush. Beginner painters should consider using painter's tape. Tape off the baseboard and other trim before priming. Let the primer dry completely. While the primer dries, wash the roller, paintbrush, and tray and let them dry, so they're ready for the painting steps.

    Tip

    You can forego the painter's tape if you've painted before and have a steady hand. You could also consider using special brushes, such as an angle brush or an artist's brush. A small artist brush or angle brush can cut into the edge with some painter's precision.

  3. Section the 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. Use the yardstick and pencil to draw light horizontal lines through the marks.

  4. Paint the Top and Bottom Edges

    Similar to the priming step, you can use painter's tape to protect the baseboards and ceiling or cut in around the base of your wall, using a small paintbrush and the dark shade of paint. Then, use the light color to cut in along the ceiling. Let the paint dry.

    What Is Cutting In?

    Cutting in is a painter's term for freehand painting the edges without using paint edgers or painter's tape. You can use a regular paintbrush, angle brush, or artist's brush for carefully painting up to the edge. It can save time since you don't have to wait for the paint to dry before removing the tape, and you save money since painter's tape can get expensive if you're painting a large space.

  5. Mix the Paint

    Set out three paint trays. Fill one tray with the dark color and fill another tray with the 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 different 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. After blending, let the paint dry completely.

Painting More Than 3 Sections

If you’re blending a single color with white or two completely different colors (like 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 dark.

Paint the center section of the wall with the half-and-half blend. Add one cup of dark paint to the blended color, mix well, then roll the area below the center section. Add one more cup of dark to the remaining tint and roll the next section down. Repeat for the bottom section, then blend the adjacent areas with dry brushes, using "X" crosshatched 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 light color to the paint mix, so the color gets softer as you go up.

Rolling vs. Spray Paint

If you look online, you may see that some people opt for using spray paint for creating the ombre effect, but that painting method is primarily used for objects like lamps and picture frames, not walls. Ombre applied to a very large area is best developed when you can smudge with wet paint between two colors, using rolled or brushed paint. With spray paint cans, you can vary your spray concentration in the border between the two areas by moving the spray closer or farther from the object. A paint sprayer works the same way, but you will waste more paint when it atomizes the paint, and the spray gets everywhere, requiring the masking and covering of everything, including furniture in the room, trim, flooring, and ceiling.

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