Paint visualiser apps – do they really work?

We’ve put some popular options to the test.

Choosing a new paint colour is not always an easy decision, however many times you’ve faced the challenge. When you’re in a DIY store viewing a rainbow of paint chips barely the size of a matchbox under artificial light, it’s impossible to imagine that colour on your walls at home.

couple sat on floor looking through tile and paint samplesCredit: Shutterstock/Fizkes

While tester pots, and more recently, stick-on paint samples from companies such as Lick and Coat, give you the option of seeing the colour in situ on your walls, there are still two issues.

Firstly, you’re faced with a small sample size that doesn’t really give you the full idea of the end result. Secondly, you could end up with a large painted square of colour you don’t like which then takes more coats of paint to cover than the rest of the wall and leaves you with an uneven finish.

Now, your phone or tablet could hold the solution in the form of paint visualiser apps.

Tech to the rescue

Can paint visualiser apps help?

A few years ago, smart technology started offering a potential solution – paint visualiser apps that allow you to ‘virtually’ see the colour on the walls of your room. They work by letting you upload photos of the room, or viewing the room ‘live’ through your phone camera, so you can then add a paint colour to walls and ceilings without having to pick up a paint brush.

Fast forward to today and you’ll find visualiser apps from a handful of UK decorating brands – including Dulux, Graham & Brown and Benjamin Moore. We decided to put them through a quick trial run to see if there was still any value in adding them to our interior design toolbox.

1. Dulux

Dulux Visualiser app review

With short explanatory videos for each section, the app allows you to either use the colours available in the Dulux range, or find a colour-matched paint from an image you take on your phone.

As with all the apps we tried, it works best in bright daylight. Otherwise, it struggles to find the outlines of furniture in the room, which then makes the image look very pixelated.

Using the app is fairly simple. You point your camera at the wall you wish to paint, choose a colour, tap the wall to virtually apply it and see the results on your phone screen. Alternatively, you can take a picture of the wall and then apply the colour to the photo.

screenshots of phone and paint colour app being usedCredit: Exceptional
Dulux Visualiser lets you virtually see new paint colours on your walls

As well as applying colours to your own rooms, generic room images are shown in a range of colour palettes, so you can see how colours might look together.

If you like your choice, you can save it to your ideas to reference in the future. Or if the experience has left you convinced it’s the right colour, you can find out which products and finishes (emulsion, satinwood, etc) are available and then add to cart or find a store near you.

On the day of testing the app, there seemed to be an issue with adding paint to the app’s shopping basket directly from a saved idea, but it would let me add the paint if I simply searched products and picked the colour in the finish I wanted.

Overall view

This was a simple app to install and play around with. It allowed me to try colours I might not have previously considered and it was fun to see the room changing straight away. Would it have encouraged me to order full-size tins of paint immediately? No. I’d still want further proof of how the colour looked to the naked eye, by way of a tester pot.

2. Benjamin Moore

ColorPortfolio app review

Despite the Americanised spelling of ‘color’, Benjamin Moore paints can be purchased in the UK.

The app was very similar to Dulux Visualiser in that it allowed you to use either a still image or video visualizer to apply a colour to walls.

As well as giving the option to choose paint from the Benjamin Moore collections, a colour capture function allows you to colour match from a photo on your phone’s camera roll and then apply this colour to the walls.

But there was less functionality when compared with the Dulux app, as it would only let you apply one colour to every wall when ‘live’ visualising.

screenshots of paint visualiser app in useCredit: Exceptional
Trying new shades of grey with ColorPortfolio

Colours from the Benjamin Moore collections can be saved for future reference and seen in two different views – a traditional colour-chip layout and a grid, which was handy for viewing a range of colours together.

Overall view

Simple to use, but less inspiring than Dulux Visualiser, which lets you choose different colours on different walls in a room and view them all at the same time. The app wouldn’t make me rush out to buy samples, but I did feel the ‘favourite’ function was helpful and would save time when browsing colour chips in store.

3. Graham & Brown

G&B Decorating app review

Graham & Brown specialises in wallpaper rather than paint, but the app follows a similar process and allows you to visualise both paints and wallpapers in situ. On opening you are immediately asked to give the app camera access, but the big difference here is that at this point it goes straight into what can be described as ‘floor-plan mode’.

The purpose of this is so that it can measure the walls and calculate how many rolls of paper you will need. Now, I consider myself fairly tech savvy, but without watching the instructional video on the website, I found it tricky to navigate.

The app asks you to move your camera across the floor so that it can pinpoint the bottom corners. If this process doesn’t work, you point the camera at each bottom corner, click on a plus sign and then scan upwards for the app to calculate the height. A cut-out function lets you draw around furniture so that it isn’t covered with the wallpaper or colour.

screenshots of a phone testing a visualiser appCredit: Exceptional
Using the floor plan mode is a little complicated

It seems more guesswork than expert work and somewhat of an app flaw as you can’t click on ‘more’ to get to the instructional video until you’ve scanned a wall.

Once you’ve passed this stage, a range of wallpapers suggestions are offered. Otherwise, you can browse the range. Once you’ve made your choice, the wall is virtually covered. Move closer to the wall and you can see the paper in more detail.

Choices can be liked and added to your shopping cart – with the app having already calculated how many rolls you need to cover the wall. This is great if the floor-planning stage is performed accurately, but I’d probably want to measure up manually to check.

Overall view

Performs the visualising function as well as the other apps, but for someone with less knowledge of how visualiser apps work, it would be more helpful to have the video available when you open the app before you start trying to room plan.

The cut-out function also seems limited to rectangular shapes, making it harder to get a clean finish around objects. But it would work well on a scanned blank wall and certainly give a good idea of how bold prints would look in a larger space.

Calculating how much wallpaper you need is handy – but I’d probably still want to back this up with actual measurements calculated using a tape-measure.

Colour reality versus virtual reality

There’s a flaw in the process

Whether you use paint visualiser apps on your phone to colour match or virtually paint your room, there is one major flaw with the process – light.

When choosing colour, it’s important to remember that, as Sherwin-Williams explains in this blog post, how we see the colour is all down to light. When we view colour on a screen, it has light shining through it directly into our eyes. On a wall, we are seeing a colour that has light shining onto it, that’s then reflected back into our eyes.

We are essentially seeing two different colours – but the one we will have to live with is the one on the wall. The difference may be marginal, but when you have the colour in your world 24/7, it needs to be right.

The reality is that colours on screen will never truly match colours painted in situ. As colour experts at Sherwin-Williams put it, “relying on technology to specify colours is like holding a paint chip to the sky to match its blue.  Precision is just out of reach, and always will be.”

hand holding paintbrush towards the skyCredit: Shutterstock/Dmitry Demidovich
Colour matching can be tricky

Tried and tested

Nothing quite beats research and reality

While we feel using the apps may spark some ideas, changing a room colour or adding wallpaper is clearly a big decision and not one to be made via an app.

Key to the success of any new colour or wallpaper choice is the research stage. Look at a colour wheel, choose colour palettes, browse Pinterest and interior design magazines to look for rooms similar to your colour schemes, and if you can, create a mood board. Simply relying on a small paint chip card to choose a new colour is like viewing the world in miniature.

We’d possibly try paint visualiser apps to get some initial ideas when choosing a bold colour or wallpaper, as seeing it on a larger scale in the room (albeit via a mobile phone screen) may change your mind before you even get a sample – saving you both time and money.

Sarah Harley

Written by Sarah Harley she/her


Since first picking up a paintbrush and experiencing the joy of re-decorating her bedroom in a questionable red, white and grey scheme as a young teenager, Sarah Harley was hooked on the world of interior design. This obsession even led to a real life ‘Grand Designs’ project in 2005 when she donned a pink hard hat and appeared on TV screens, project managing the renovation and extension of a Grade II listed 17th century Folly in South Wales.

Throughout her career, Sarah has gained an array of experience in several different roles, ranging from copywriting, PR, events management and photography to interior design and home staging. With her two passions being the written word and the joys of a beautifully designed home, Sarah’s mission is to open the door on the world of interiors, inviting readers in to help them work their way through the vast choice of products, ideas and trends so that their own homes can reach their full potential.

Away from work, Sarah fills her Pinterest boards with more ideas, dreams of where to travel, takes photographs and loves being by the sea. She has two sons and if she absorbed everything they said would also be a football expert. The fact is she is often more interested in the colour and design of the kit – but don’t tell them that.

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