Color Theory 101: Color Terms to Know

Posted by: Rebecca Atwood

Now that you have an overview of the color wheel, let’s talk about some other color terms that will help us talk about color. 

Understanding the language and structure between colors will help you pair individual colors better which is key to creating the mood you desire.


We use the term hue to refer to the broad color, for example red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Different hues are created by different wavelengths of light.



This term refers to the brightness of a color, and we use it to discuss how light or dark a color is.  If a color is brighter, it has a higher value and emits more light.  You can see this easily when you look at the gray scale of one color, or also consider that a color like yellow has a higher or lighter value than a deep violet.


Saturation is a term that refers to the intensity of color. This term doesn’t refer to the lightness or darkness of a color but the weakness or strength of the color, and the light in which you are viewing the color can even change this.

Tint, Tone, and Shade

While we often use the words tint, tone, and shade interchangeably in casual conversation these terms are actually very specific.  Tint refers to a hue with white added. A great example of this is pink, which is a tint of red or mint, which is a tint of green.  Tone is a hue with gray added, which will result in a more muted hue.  Shade refers to a hue with black added. An example of this would be navy, which is a shade of blue.

Warm and Cool

Warm and cool colors split the color wheel into two sections.  Warm colors are going to make you think of the heat and sun.  They include red, yellow, taupe, blush, and tangerine to name a few.  Warm colors tend to be stimulating, and when we view them they advance in space.

 Cool colors are the opposite, and they will make you think of water, greenery, and sky. They include blue, green, gray, mint, and marine to name a few.  Cool colors tend to be calming, and they recede in space. 

Photography by Lydia Hudgens.

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