Black or White?

colorprimaryWhy are most ceilings painted white? Before we can figure that out, let’s review a bit about color. We need to go back…way back, to what you learned in kindergarten; primary colors. Red, blue and yellow are the three primary colors, these colors cannot be achieved by mixing other colors together and they are the basis of all other colors. Which brings us to black and white. Are they colors? Black is the absence of all color and therefore is not considered a color. White is the blending of all colors and is considered a color. What? You say.

Let’s jump ahead, to 8th grade science. The answer is light, vision and reflection. Objects are made of molecules and those molecules reflect or absorb light. We see the colors that are reflected back to our eyes from that surface. For example: we see a red apple because the molecules that make up the skin of the apple are absorbing the blue part of the light spectrum and are reflecting back the red wavelengths.

It’s time to run down the hall to art class and paint our masterpiece. We can mix the three primary colors together and create a very dark color. Technically you would need to add a substance such as charcoal to achieve black, but for this we will call our creation black. But, how do you create white? You can’t mix colors together and get white. Again, we create white with other substances such as chalk. Hmm… isn’t that the opposite of what we just said above?

Which brings us back to the science of light, vision and reflection. All paint colors have a Light Reflectance Value (LRV) which measures the amount of light that is reflected or absorbed by that color. The LRV value of black is 0% and is 100% for white. Which means that black is absorbing (almost) all the light and reflecting the lack of color back to our eyes. White is reflecting all the light (and color) back to our eyes and we see that reflection as the color white.

So, now we know why ceilings are usually painted white. A white ceiling will reflect all light and color back to our eyes making the room feel larger and livelier. A black ceiling will absorb all the light and color from the room giving it a dark cave like feeling.

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