Choosing the right white paint can be utterly paralysing. I know! I’ve been there. But everything becomes easier when you learn that there are only three Resene whites you need to know.


Although there are a gazillion whites (and many paint colours that say they’re white but aren’t), whites fall into three useful categories – true white, off-white and cream. In Resene paint colours that’s Alabaster, Rice Cake and Pearl Lusta.


Will these be the only Resene whites you’ll use?

Of course not. In reality whites sit on a spectrum from the cleanest to the creamiest and there are gorgeous in betweens. Just like Rice Cake, Quarter Rice Cake is still an off-white and has that extra hint of warmth, but it pushes closer to true white. The Biancas are all divine, running from off-white into cream. 

Compare to the three known whites

What the three Resene whites do is give you a reference point that makes choosing the right white easy.   If you’re coordinating with exisiting whites, compare them to the three Resene whites to diagnose what you have and figure out which type of white you’re after. If you have true white kitchen cabinetry, you’ll want true white trim. That rules out all the off-whites and creams, leaving you with a handful of true whites. They’ll all look much the same once you paint them so save yourself some stress and don’t agonise over which one. If it’s a true white it’ll look good.

Let’s look at each of the whites more closely.

True White

True white is the one white that rules them all. It’s the cleanest whitest white with the least obvious undertones. It’s not the same as a white piece of paper but as far as paint goes, this is the one that you put on the wall and everyone can tell it’s fresh, true white.

Adore Home Magazine

This is the white to compare all other whites and colours to. Whether you’ve got a pale paint chip or a bench top sample, comparing it to a true white sample will help you see where it sits on the spectrum.

True white looks great with blacks, greys and clean colours. It’s not as good with browns, beiges and earthy colours – it can look a bit like undercoat because it’s just too stark.

It can look fabulous on the walls if your room gets a lot of natural light, but in dark rooms without that natural light it can look cold and shadowy. Sometimes a barely there neutral (or a darker colour) can be a better choice. Remember that there is no real life instagram filter transforming dark rooms into light ethereal spaces.

Some Resene true whites are Alabaster, Quarter Black White and Half Black White.


Off-white is often called warm white. It’s softer and warmer than true white and varies from whiter to creamier. 

Off-white is the perfect in betweener and looks good with a lot of colours – from fresher colours to earthier. It’s a great choice if you’ve got earthier hard finishes to work around but want a fresher, cleaner look (true white will be too stark). 

Half Rice Cake quarter Rice Cake
Homes to Love

It makes a lovely white wall colour in a room with plenty of light and is a great trim colour too. While it seems like the perfect ‘go with everything’ choice, be warned that it will be too creamy for blue white hard finishes like Carrara marble and too white for creamy hard finishes. Always compare your whites to make sure you get the one that suits best, rather than crossing your fingers that off-white is the middle of the road easy choice.

Some Resene Off-Whites are Rice Cake, Half Rice Cake, Quarter Rice Cake, Half Bianca, Quarter Villa White


Cream is the warmest of whites. It belongs with warm, muted earthy colours like beiges and browns. It’s a great trim choice if you’ve got hard finishes in those colours and it also makes a pretty wall colour. 

Cream kitchen

If you’ve inherited orange brick inside your home, think cream. Even if you prefer fresher whites, in the absence of any other whites, cream will look like the right white. Avoid cream if you have clean fresh colours and neutrals like fresh greys – it will look dirty. 

Some Resene creams are Pearl Lusta, Orchid White and Bianca.

My whites tool

When it comes to choosing the right white, my whites tool is an invaluable piece of homemade kit, which I’ve used over and over again. When you see a ‘white’ on it’s own it can be so hard to figure out which white you’re looking at and if it really is white. All the guess work is taken away when you compare it to known whites.

You’ll notice that I’ve got Quarter Black White on the wheel instead of Alabaster. They’re both true whites so either works – see how you really don’t need to stress too much about which one?

There are a couple of extra ‘whites’ on there too. They’re not-really-whites (hello barely there neutrals), but I find them helpful and they worked with my circle so I added them in! Artistic licence.

Nicola Warner whites wheel - how to choose the right Resene white
Nicola Warner whites wheel

Grey White

Grey white isn’t really white. It’s a barely there grey. Grey whites are often called cool whites and if they’re white enough and in the absence of other whites they’ll read true white.

Resene sea Fog walls
Sea Fog walls | Habitat by Resene

Resene Quarter Black White and Black White are true whites but stronger versions will start to look grey. It’s the same for Alabaster which moves from a true white to a barely there grey once it becomes Seafog (4x Alabaster). I’ve put it on my wheel so I can see when true white is veering into grey territory.

Ivory Beige

Is it a cream or isn’t it? Ivory beige is more like a complex cream – a warm barely there colour. This is your lightest choice if even cream looks too bright or too yellow for a home with earthy finishes but you want the closest thing to white you can get. It’s the type of colour you might choose if you had slate floors and no white in any of your hard finishes but you wanted a white kitchen.

Ivory beige
Lauren Liess

If you’ve seen the fabulous rustic interiors by designer Lauren Liess, you’ll have seen plenty of ivory beige on the walls. I’ve got Resene Parchment on my whites wheel so I know when I’m veering off cream and into something richer.

So which white should you choose?

According to colour expert Maria Killam, choosing the right white really depends on what’s going on. 

Starting from scratch? Choose a foundation palette. Working with hard finishes? Diagnose what they are and choose the best white to coordinate with them.

If you love fresh colours or blacks, whites and greys, or have hard finishes in these colours choose WHITE or OFF-WHITE (the whiter off-whites rather than the creamier ones).

If you love warm muted colours or browns, creams and beiges, or have hard finishes in these colours choose OFF-WHITE (the creamier off-whites rather then the whiter ones) or CREAM.

I once chose Half Black White for all the wrong reasons. Because it felt like less of a commitment than full strength Black White. I was lucky that true white is what I was after and that’s what I ended up with. 

There’s a much easier way. Choose the right white by using the three Resene whites as a starting point. Keep to the right category of white and always test your paint colours before you commit to them. Then you’ll be miles ahead of where I used to be.