Light Reflective Value of Paint

You choose a certain color for your walls because it looks attractive under the fluorescent lights in your local paint shop, so you hire painters to paint it for you in your own home. But the color seems… off? It doesn’t look like the same color you saw in the store. You check the paint can—it’s the same name as the one you chose at the shop, so they’re supposed to match. While holding your color swatch, you see the acronym “LRV” on the back along with a number: what does this mean?  

LRV is an abbreviation for “Light Reflective Value”; it is a measure of how much light a certain paint shade reflects. Even a slight difference in lighting can change a paint’s shade and the result may not be what you expect or even desire. That can mean an unsatisfied customer with time and money wasted. 

What is light reflective value? 

Light reflective value (LRV) represents how much a particular color reflects visible light when illuminated by a light source. LRV is not an established, scientific standard, but rather a relative measurement of how much light is reflected by that paint color.  

All paint colors fall in a LRV spectrum between 0 and 100. The lighter the color is, the higher the LRV number is. The opposite is also applicable: the darker the color is, the lower the LRV number is. 

White and some shades of yellow are on the higher end of the LRV spectrum because they reflect and scatter most visible light. Black is on the lower end of the LRV spectrum because it absorbs the most. However, the purest white that reflects all visible light (100 LRV) does not exist in paint, neither does the absolute black that absorbs all visible light (0 LRV). The highest LRV a light-colored paint can achieve is 95%; the lowest LRV for a dark-colored paint is 5%. 

How do we use LRV? 

Different kinds of light carry different wavelengths; therefore, they have different impact on color. Natural sunlight is the “purest” form of light. But even sunlight can change wavelengths throughout the day: it starts reddish or “warm” at sunup, then becomes more neutral as the sun climbs higher, and finally returns to “warmer” shades towards sundown. Even the angle of the sun effects wall color. In the Northern Hemisphere, like Lancaster County, rooms facing north receive cooler light from the sun. Rooms oriented towards the south, east, and west receive warmer light. 

Also, different sources and locations of artificial light have major impacts on LRV. For instance, ceiling or pendant lights scatter light more evenly throughout the room than a more directed table lamp or wall sconce. An incandescent light’s warmer wavelengths will make cool colors (blues, greens, and purples) more vivid and warm colors (reds, oranges, and yellows) more muted, whereas the fluorescent lightbulb’s blueish wavelengths have the opposite effect — warm colors become more vivid and cool colors dimmer.  

Typically, vivid colors like white, fire-engine red, or cadmium orange are best in rooms with brighter light sources, such as fluorescent lightbulbs or natural, north-facing sunlight. For rooms with dimmer light, more muted colors like slate gray and navy blue are more suitable. 

To see for yourself, Ville Painters suggests to paint a poster board with swatches of sample paint and move it around the room, hanging it on different walls to see how the light hits it. You can also swap out your light bulbs, replacing cool with warm or vice versa. You’ll be amazed by the difference! 

Ville Painters of Lancaster, PA offers free color consulting services with a professional who has specialized training in LRV and other aspects of color science. Our professional painters are here to service all your painting needs in Central Pennsylvania. Call us at (717) 396-1176 to get help selecting the right paint shades for your home or business, or contact us below!