Color and performance of paints from design to delivery

Photos courtesy Sherwin-Williams
Photos courtesy Sherwin-Williams

by Rick Watson and Sue Wadden

What is in a can of paint? It is more than color. Paint can evoke certain feelings, both positive and negative, and plays a crucial role in the anticipated outcome of a space. When it comes to pigments, there is much more to it than aesthetics. The genetic makeup of a pigment and coating can help provide desirable performance characteristics.

Understanding the history of colors, how performance is impacted by pigments, and getting back to the basics of paint will help design professionals select high-quality, innovative coatings that deliver meaningful benefits to their project’s owners and occupants.

A history of color

The history of color is told through the art, design, and fashions of the past. Throughout the years, colors have earned a reputation for evoking certain feelings due to specific roles in history. From insects, plants, and stones, people have been using the natural materials around them for years to develop pigments spanning across the color wheel to create art and bring emotions to life.


Viewed as an exciting, dramatic color, red draws attention, stimulates energy, and encourages interaction and confidence. It has more personal associations than any other color, and is often used as an accent in spaces. Examples of red pigments found in nature include carmine, brazilwood dye, and madder.


Considered universally appealing, blue creates a feeling of serenity and openness while encouraging communication and promoting interaction. In the past, blue pigments were rare in nature and only affordable to the wealthy, creating the association with aristocracy and royalty. The color elicits a feeling of calm and aids in intuition. Azurite, indigo, and pollia condensate are examples of blue pigments found in nature.


Associated with extremely positive emotions, yellow is the most visible color. Hence, it is often used for road signs and school buses. It is primarily linked with the sun. Therefore, positivity, happiness, and cheerfulness are often associated with this bright color. Examples of naturally occurring yellow pigments include yellow orchre, naples yellow, and orpiment.

Paints can evoke certain feelings, and play a crucial role in the anticipated outcome of  a space.
Paints can evoke certain feelings, and play a crucial role in the anticipated outcome of a space.


Signifying a strong association with nature, green refreshes and restores. It is perceived as calming and serene. Green brings balance to the human brain and can have relaxing and renewing effects. Buckthorn, terre verte, and malachite are examples of green pigments found in nature.


Giving off an aura that is cheerful, bold, and exciting, orange is the color of vibrancy. It is described as daring, joyful, and adventuresome. Examples of natural orange pigments include realgar, cadmium orange, and carnelian.


Considered a luxurious shade, purple has both warm and cool properties that uplift and calm the mind. Depending on the shade, it can be exciting and energizing or mysterious and mystical. Purple is also calming to the mind and nerves while encouraging creativity. Tyrian purple, hematitie manganese, and caput mortuum are a few examples of this hue found in nature.


A neutral, yet dramatic counterpoint to any color, black is an authoritative, elegant, and classic shade that conveys sophistication. In all cultures, black has established itself as the quintessential color of luxury and power. Examples of black pigments found in nature include vine black, bone black, and vantablack.


Known as the color of earth, brown is a relaxed neutral that is easy to live and work around. It evokes feelings of wholesomeness, reliability, and naturalness, and can be used anywhere. Umber, mommia, and sepia are examples of natural brown pigments.


Symbolizing freshness, purity, and cleanliness, white is the sum of all colors. It typifies pure thoughts, encourages de-cluttering, aids in mental clarity, and enables fresh beginnings. Examples of white pigments found in nature include kaolinite, zinc, and titanium white.

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