Meaning of Color: 7 Concepts and Terms to Know and Love

detail of "Mixing Paint" photoA while back, i posted 12 examples of the meanings that are somewhat-commonly associated with certain colors, based on an article in Smashing Magazine. Today i present part 2 of their series, which lays out terminology for communicating accurately and intelligently about color. The original article is entitled “Color Theory For Designers”, but in the interest of educating clients as well, here’s the sum-up:

  • 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.

DON’T just take that list as a comprehensive education on the subject, of course. The original article is full of great examples and text describing the concepts, so i do encourage you to give it a look and a read. Then call me with your next graphic design project, and throw some color theory terms at me! :)


The image at the top of this post is just part of a photograph titled “Mixing Paint”, by Chester Weems of Yukon, Oklahoma. He won 2nd place in the Floral category of a photo contest held in 2010 by the Plains Indians and Pioneers Museum. i don’t have permission to use the image.

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