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Describing Color

Use the Right Terms to Find the Color for You

There are countless ways to describe color, and the way you explain midnight blue might differ from your spouse's. Save yourself some of the pain of attempting to describe which colors you prefer by arming yourself with the right terms. Knowing these words will help you describe and find the exact colors that are right for you.



Hue is any pure color with no white or black mixed in to lighten or darken it.


Click on the different colors below to see different sections of the visible light spectrum.




When a hue is mixed with white, it creates a tint that is lighter than its hue. For example, powder blue is a tint of blue.

Select a hue, then create a tint by adding white.




When a hue is mixed with black, it creates a shade that is darker than its hue.

Select a hue, then create a shade by adding black.


Compare Colors Using the Right Terms

Like the words we use to define colors, some terms help us compare them. Describing a color's saturation, brightness and temperature helps you specify the exact shade you want.



Example of chromatic Change

Sometimes called saturation, chroma describes the intensity of a color. The more saturated a color, the higher its chroma. Colors with high chroma are vivid, while colors with low chroma appear dull. In this example, the images at left are unsaturated and have low chroma, while the images at right are saturated and have high chroma. Both pink and maroon, red's tint and shade, have lower chroma than their hue (red itself).



Example of Value change

Value describes a color's brightness. The brighter and lighter a color is, the closer the color falls toward white, and the higher its value. A vibrant canary yellow, like the example above left, has a lower value than a butter yellow. Similarly, maroon and midnight blue have lower values than their lighter tints.



Example of Temperature in Color Theory

A color can be described by its temperature. A color may appear warmer or cooler, depending on where it falls on the color wheel. Color temperature greatly influences the emotional impact of color: Warmer colors appear more invigorating and inviting while cooler colors look more calming and soothing.

More in this category: Color Combinations »


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