Colour Definitions


Oct 29, 2015

Choosing colour should never rely on luck. Yes, a good eye helps  but also understanding  colour rules and knowing the terms can give you the right colour language. When I talk about colour I like to use the proper terms so I want to start with this blog so that you can refer back to it if need be. Sort of like a reference book. I don’t want to fill you up with things you will just forget, so here are what I think are the important ones.

HUE: Hue simply means the colour you are looking at. Every colour in the picture below is a hue, even the white background. And when you change a colour it becomes another hue

TINT: A hue is a tint or is tinted when you add white to it. Like white added to red makes pink.



SHADE: A hue is a shade or shaded when you add black to it, as in below. Note that the yellow looks a little green because the black probably had green pigment in it. Pure blacks are difficult to produce, they are often the combination of many colours.

NEUTRALS: In fashion Design school we were told that a neutral was a colour that went with every colour. In the paint and decorating world it means: Black, White, Gray, Brown, Beige. Some would also include Taupe and Greige. These are hues that would be difficult to find on the colour wheel as they seem to be without a recognizable colour.


UNDERTONES: When most people look at red they see red. Red would be the overtone. But if I look at the red closely, I might notice that it has a bit of an orange tinge to it. I know there is an undertone of yellow that influences what I see.

This becomes challenging with Neutrals. Unless the neutral is absolutely a pure white, a pure black, or a pure gray (pure black and pure white mixed) there will always be an undertone in a neutral. As you see in the picture below I have added a little brownish yellow to my white to get a creamy white or what some people might even call beige. Irregardless, it is important to understand what the undertones are in these neutrals in order to know how they will interact with other colours. It can be complicated at first.


SATURATION or LUMINOSITY: This simply refers to the relative purity of a colour. If the colour is very close to its original colour then it would be highly saturated such as the red below. The yellow would be considered to have a low saturation.


Be careful not to mix up the darkness of a colour with the saturation. For instance the dark blue in the picture below has low saturation and the coral pink would be highly saturated.

VALUE: Value is the tough one. It is simply described as the darkness or the lightness of a colour. This can be deceiving when dealing with yellow or colours that have a lot of yellow in them. In the picture below the yellow seems to be as bright as the red and blue

But when I take a the same picture  in black and white you can see that the values are very different. The yellow is much lighter than the blue and the red.


Our brains see value and find rooms quite boring when there is a lack of variation in value. This is good if you want to sleep or be calm …… not so good if you want to feel awake and stimulated.

As a colour designer I am constantly comparing colours to a gray scale to make sure I have good variations in value.  This is a grayscale I use from NCS.

greyscale chart from NCS

In Part Two I will be talking about the colour wheel.  An excellent colour tool.

If you would love to love where you live call me 416-577-4944 or email me at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *