Should You Start with Light or Dark Colors? The Paint by Numbers FAQ


From the correct order of shading to the proper stroke technique. We’ll be thoroughly answering the question should paint by numbers start with light or dark colors.

Paint by numbers kits are becoming increasingly popular nowadays.  A way to relax after a long day, let out creative energy, or shape up your painting skills. Whether you take it up as a hobby or use it as a de-stressing outlet, you’re in for a good time.

As simple as this activity seems, some aspects may be confusing to customers. This guide is here to help with one that’s frequently asked about painting.


Should I Start with Light or Dark Colors in Paint by Numbers Kits?



All paint by numbers manufacturers mention this in their instructions, yet people still get it wrong too often – so should you start with light or dark colors?

The conventional way of painting when you’re using oil or acrylic colors is to start with dark shades and move to light ones. On the contrary, watercolor requires you to start from light and move to dark.

Do these rules also apply to paint by numbers? Well, the general rule, in this case, is to start with dark colors and finish with light ones. Most people follow this principle whether they’re using oil, acrylic, or watercolor paint.

The reason behind this rule is that dark colors are typically part of the background, which means that laying them down first will give you a better idea of how the painting will look as well as teach you a couple of things about color composition.

But if we dive a bit deeper into the matter, we can find a more thorough answer based on the type of paint as follows:


Paint by Numbers Start with Light or Dark Colors – Oil paint



When painting with oil, starting with the darks is simply the most convenient way to go. After all, light is the most important tool of a painter, so it makes sense to start from the darks, then add the middle, and finally move to the lightest shades. As such, you’ll be re-creating the light in your canvas.

Keep in mind, however, that you should start with darks only where they’re necessary for the final composition.

The advantage you get from this technique is that the brushwork will seem cleaner and more spontaneous when entering with a medium color into a dark area, or a light color into a medium area than if you’d have gone in with a darker shade on a lighter one.


Alternatives to Try


Lucky for you, there are a couple of alternative techniques you can try instead:

  • Use a wash under-painting: in this technique, you need to really thin-out the paint, then color in the entire painting like you colored when you were a child. The goal is to cover all the canvas with color.

Next, you’ll take a clean brush and use only the solvent to lift out the lights where you see them. The result is a map of your lights and mid-tones.

Now, go in with your darks and work up to the lights using the paint with or without a medium. Since one of the main reasons for painting dark to light is the ‘fat over lean’ rule with oils, this method solves the issue as the paint dries almost instantly.

  • Go from light to dark, then go back: another technique you can give a shot is to start with light colors then go in with the darks. After that, you’ll need to go in with the lights once again when you’re done. Consequently, your final lights will lay over the darks.


Paint by Numbers Start with Light or Dark Colors – Acrylic paint



As for acrylic paint, the situation is pretty similar to oil in that the darkest colors should generally go on last to help provide depth. This means that starting from lowlights and working to highlights is better recommended.

But when it comes down to it, acrylic paint is actually quite versatile. It allows you to work from light to dark, from dark to light, or even to start with a mid-tone and work both up and down from there.

If you want to start with lights when using acrylics, then you can try applying it like you would watercolor; highly diluted with water. From here, you can just use a watercolor technique to paint from light to dark.

The resulting color will be more transparent so you can layer it on as necessary. However, be careful not to thin out the paint too much, otherwise, it might not adhere properly to the canvas.





While it’s true that many will advise you to apply watercolor dark first in your paint by numbers, the best way to get the job done is the exact opposite. With watercolor, you want to start with your light colors first then work towards the darker shades.

Yes, this will take longer, but have patience. It’s better to not rush than make irreversible mistakes. Starting with the light colors first gives you flexibility with errors because once you lay down the dark colors, undoing is practically impossible.

The high transparency of watercolors prevents light colors from showing if they’re covered up by dark colors. Also, you should plan in advance the areas you want to keep white as they’re coming from the paper rather than the paint.


Tips for Applying Color in Paint by Numbers Kits



Now that you have a better understanding of which color to lay down first, here are some tips to help you achieve the best results:

  1. Paint the larger sections first, then go smaller as you progress. Not only will this save you time, but it’ll also help prevent accidental smudging.
  2. Paint the top section of the canvas first, then move to lower areas. This will help you avoid smudges.
  3. Cover the numbers by using multiple layers of paint.
  4. Always clean the brush before going in with a different color.
  5. Don’t rush the painting and allow enough drying time.
  6. While painting, try to paint all the areas corresponding to the color you’re using before moving on to another color. This will help eliminate any confusion regarding the coloring sequence.
  7. Carefully plan the amount of paint you’ll lay down. You want to use enough paint to provide good coverage but stay as precise as possible. Don’t use too much paint so you don’t run out mid-painting.
  8. Close the paint cup when not in use. Otherwise, the paint may become too dry to paint with.


Paint by Numbers Start with Light or Dark – Wrap Up



So, should paint by numbers start with light or dark colors? We’d have to say the answer depends on your preferred technique.

For the most part, you can’t go wrong by starting with the lights then going in with the darks as this will help you get a better idea of how the painting will look at the end.

However, if you’re having trouble sticking to this rule, we’ve mentioned a few methods you can try to make things work the other way around.

To view a complete gallery of all of our paint by numbers kits, CLICK HERE!



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