By Rainie (featured guest writer for Decorator Secrets)

The popularity of the use of dark paint colors has also brought along with it some common and frustrating problems.  I would like to address some of these for you so you can paint with these rich colors with confidence.

First, red and yellow pure colored paint is about the most difficult paint to get proper coverage with. I have received a lot of e-mails requesting information on how to paint with these and other dark colors. Also, I’m often asked “ how to correct an already started painted surface.”

The problems and questions which most commonly arise are:

  1. I have applied 5 coats of a red paint and I still see white through the paint, how many MORE coats do I need to apply to get proper coverage?

  2. I painted my room in a dark color, but I have these shiny spots on the walls what has happened?

Let me deal first with the chemistry of dark paints and why they do some of the things mentioned above.

Red paint, along with other dark colors contains a great deal of pigment.  This is what presents the problems, to most do- it- yourself painters.  The more pure the color, the more difficulty you will have getting the proper coverage.  Red and yellows are the most difficult in the spectrum of colors.  Dark blues and greens are a bit better but still can present problems if the proper preparation work is not done.  Why does this happen?  Like all dark paints, they can contain 12 to 16 oz. of pigment per gallon, compared with a few drops for a pastel.  The pigments needed to create bright reds and bright yellows are transparent.  To further complicate matters, red paint is made from a tint base that's virtually clear instead of the usual white titanium-dioxide base. The base is what helps paint to look opaque.  Without that opaque base, red paints are virtually transparent.  If you are definitely set on using red paint, or any darker paint you should be properly prepared to do a few extra steps to have better success when painting in these colors.  The simplest solution is to choose a red that includes other pigments, such as black. These pigments add opacity and improve covering power. 

Preparation will solve the first problem of coverage mentioned above, with white still showing through after applying 4-5 coats of paint.  To prevent this, or at least help with this visually, ALWAYS apply at least two coats of a DEEP BASE tinted primer.  When purchasing your paint color ask the store to mix up some primer with the same exact amount of tint into the gallon of primer.  Apply this deep based tinted primer first.  This will eliminate the showing of white streaking underneath your dark painted top coat.  This will eliminate the frustration of not getting proper coverage.  You will still need about 3-4 coats of paint, but that should be all that’s needed for proper coverage.

Now onto the second most common problem. Shiny spots on a dark painted walls.   This is called burnishing.  Burnishing is the increase in gloss or sheen of paint film when subjected to rubbing, scrubbing or having an object brush up against it.  This occurs when a flat paint is used in a high traffic area, where frequent washing and spot cleaning needs to be done, where objects such as furniture or a person rubbing against the walls occurs or when you use lower grades of paint with poor stain and scrub resistance.

The trouble is, pigments used in dark colored paints, really never dry.  What happens is that you may rub up against the paint and you create a smoothing out or thinning out of the pigments which causes a shiny spot on your walls.  Dark colors absorb light and a semi-gloss paint reflects light so if you mix these two together you get the absorption of light and less luminous (reflection) when you use a semi-gloss paint.  Look at it like they cancel each other out.  Because the paint base used for darker colors is clear it also looses some of the luminescence once painted.  For instance, a semi-gloss will look more like an satin once it is painted.  To give your dark walls more durability use a semi-gloss base when painting in a dark color OR a paint base with some scrubability.

NOT all paints are created equal and all paint companies have their own dark color bases.  Make sure you talk to the paint stores and get them to show you the sheen level of a paint you are interested in. If this is not possible buy a litre (quart) only and try a sample board before doing the walls so you can get an idea of what the sheen level is as well as the color is before starting your walls.

Hope this has helped,



Hi! My name is Rainie (nickname) and I was an Interior Designer for 15 years.  I recently retired to take up my first love-- painting.  I paint custom-made canvas floor cloths in a trop l’oeil (fool the eye) technique on an individual commissioned basis.  You can see some of my designs by following this link. I also love to share with others my experiences and helpful hints in decorating.  My home pages will  provide some ideas and helps for the do-it-yourselfer.

My husband and I purchased a fixer upper home in 1995 and after 4 years we are still not finished.  However, is that not the case with any home?  I like to share my experiences with others and so does my husband.  He says, “the more I give away my thoughts and ideas the less I will tend to try and use them in my own home.”  I hope you find my tips, tricks and hints useful in making your house a home.