As a professional designer, you probably don’t need to be convinced that color has a profound impact on your designs and the people that view them. But if you find yourself wishing that you better understood the nuances of color and how to harness its vast potential, you’re not alone.
In part 1, we briefly touched on the subject about the different types of color families as well as when to (roughly) use them. So now we’re going to try to go a bit more in depth on the concepts and terminologies of colors such as hue, shade, tone, etc.
“Color is a power which directly influences the soul.” – Wassily Kandinsky
We’ll start off with the most simplest term, hue. Hue is the most basic of color terms and denotes an object’s color. When we say “blue,” “green,” or “red,” we’re talking about hue. The hues you use in your designs convey important messages to the people who view your designs.
The next item on our list is none other than chroma. Chroma refers to the purity of a color. A hue with high chroma has no black, white, or grey added to it. Alternatively, adding white, black, or grey reduces its chroma. It’s similar to saturation but not exactly the same. Chroma can be looked at as the brightness of a color when compared to white.
Next we have saturation which refers to how a hue appears under particular lighting conditions. Think of saturation in terms of weak vs. strong or pale vs. pure hues. In design, colors with similar saturation levels make for more cohesive-looking designs. Akin to chroma, colors with similar but not identical saturations can have a harsh effect on your designs. Hence why it’s important to mix your colors wisely.
Don’t be confused with the term “value”. Rather, just think of it as “lightness.” It refers to how light or dark a color is. Lighter colors have higher values. For example, orange has a higher value than navy blue or dark purple. Black has the lowest value of any hue, and white the highest. Simple, no?
Tones are created when grey is added to a hue. Tones are usually duller or softer-looking than pure hues. They’re often easier to use in and can lend a certain “vintage” feel to your designs. Depending on the hues, they can also add sophistication and elegance. Not every design needs to be bright and striking.
A shade is created when black is added to a hue, making it darker. You’ll often hear it incorrectly used to describe tint or tone, but technically shade only applies to hues made darker by adding the color black. In design, very dark shades are sometimes used instead of black and can serve as neutrals. Combining shades with tints or lighter neutrals is best to avoid too dark and heavy designs.
Last but most certainly not least, we come down to tint. A tint is formed when white is added to a hue, lightening it. Very light tints are sometimes called pastels, but any pure hue with white added to it is technically a tint. Tints are often used to create feminine or lighter designs. Pastel tints are especially used to make designs more feminine and but they also work really well in vintage designs.
While you don’t necessarily have to remember all of these technical terms, you should be familiar with the actual concepts. If you suffer from short-term memory loss, here’s a cheat sheet to jog your memory:
- Hue is color (blue, green, red, etc.).
- Chroma is the purity of a color (a high chroma has no added black, white or gray).
- Saturation refers to how strong or weak a color is (high saturation being strong).
- Value refers to how light or dark a color is (light having a high value).
- Tones are created by adding gray to a color, making it duller than the original.
- Shades are created by adding black to a color, making it darker than the original.
- Tints are created by adding white to a color, making it lighter than the original.