What are Paint Undertones + Undertones Worksheet

Sharing is caring!

What are Paint Undertones + Undertones Worksheet

Are you struggling to figure out what color undertone your gray or white paint has? This guide will walk you through understanding  undertones.

Understanding paint undertones and how they relate to the elements already in your home (floors, cabinets, fireplace, etc.) can be one of the biggest challenges in choosing a paint color and decorating.

Have you ever painted a wall gray and it just didn’t quite look right? Maybe it didn’t look like you expected.  You saw a picture on Pinterest of Repose Gray and painted your living room.

But it doesn’t look like those Pinterest pictures and you don’t know where you went wrong. It looks really cold or maybe even yellow shadows depending on your amount of natural light.

Or were you about to start painting but can’t decide what color because there are too many choices? And you aren’t sure which one is going to work best in the space.

What are paint undertones?

Paint undertones are are the colors that peek through the overt paint color, the secondary color used to make that paint color. Often times you will see blue, pink or green coming through the gray or white paint color you have chosen. This is the undertone. 

How Can I Tell the Undertone of my Paint?

The easiest way to tell the undertone of your paint color is to place it against a pure white background. Next, hold up color chips next to it: blue, purple, green, pink, yellow, orange, red and you will see which paint chip your paint color leans towards. 

Often times these issues arise out of competing undertones. 

Each colors has a mass color, the main forward color. It also has an undertone, or less noticeable color used to create the color you see.

In our example above, let’s say you painted the living room Sherwin Williams Repose Gray. The room is southern facing, has oak floors and a stone fireplace with white trim. Each of these large fixed elements has its own undertone.

  • Oak floors- orange undertone
  • Stone fireplace- green gray undertone
  • White trim- relatively no glaring undertone

Fixed elements are the things in your home that are literally affixed to the structure such as wood flooring, fireplace, trim and moldings, built in cabinetry, cabinets, ceiling beams, paneling, or stone or carpet flooring.

FAQ: So how do you choose a paint color for the walls when you have these bold undertones in fixed elements?

First, we should identify the undertone in each element.

Then, you will assess which fixed elements we can change and which ones we are stuck with eight due to the size of the project, finances, or lack of contractors to complete your project.

Next, we can find a paint color that works well with all of the undertones we cannot change and note how we will change the fixed elements that we will change.

Finally, we can compare paint colors to the final undertones of the fixed elements we will be working with to find the best fit for those undertones.


I realize that this may all sound confusing and abstract, so let’s use our example and work through it. For that, I made a Fixed Element Paint Undertone Worksheet to help you keep track of all of the elements.

You can print out a blank copy and follow along with the steps below to work through your paint dilemma.

{Download your blank copy here.}

Fixed Element Undertone Worksheet ExampleIdentify Fixed Elements

The first step is to identify and list the fixed elements in the room or open concept area.

In this example the fixed elements are the:

  • Oak floors
  • Stone fireplace
  • White trim
  • Cabinets

What is the Fixed Element Undertone?

Now we can jot down the undertone of each of these elements.

  • Oak floors- orange undertone
  • Stone fireplace- green gray undertone
  • White trim- no glaring undertone
  • Cabinets- yellow beige undertone

Can we change the undertone of that element with paint?

Then, we will determine whether we can change the undertone of each element.

  • Oak floors- no, we cannot replace the floors
  • Stone fireplace- yes, we can paint it, but will not for now
  • White trim- no need to change
  • Cabinets- yes, we can paint cabinets

Which paint colors am I considering? What is their undertone?

From our example, we know that Repose Gray wasn’t working. It has blue undertones, which look cold and cooler than the existing elements of the warm orange oak and stone fireplace.

Given that the oak floors are a major element and the stone work is another, we need to choose a color that will complement those two undertones.

Understanding undertones in white paint colors with this example of Ice Cube, Pearly White and Dover.

Of these Sherwin Williams White Paint colors from my article on the Best SW White paints and when to use them, you can see that Ice Cube is cool and blue, while Pearly White is pinkish and Dover White has a yellow beige undertone.


SW Gray Paint Comparisons

Likewise, with these Sherwin Williams gray paint color choices, Agreeable Gray is warmer than and has a more beige undertone than Repose Gray and Light French gray.

Therefore, we want to lean towards a color with warmer undertones to account for the oak flooring which is visually a large element in the room we cannot change.

Which paint color best brings all of the fixed elements together?

Based on the fixed elements in the room that we cannot change, like the flooring and fireplace stone, our best choice is a paint color with a beige/taupe undertone like Agreeable Gray, Accessible Beige or even Alabaster for a lighter fresher look.

Do you feel like you have a better understanding of undertones and how they affect which paint color you should use on walls (and trim) in a space.

For the best articles on paint undertones, I highly recommend Maria Killiam’s color wheel and ebook.

You can grab a copy for the Fixed Element worksheet below to work through your paint dilemma.


{Download your blank copy here.}

Fixed Element Undertone Worksheet Example

What are paint undertones and how to figure them out

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.