Characteristics of Color

Colors take up different properties when used as pure hues or when mixed with other colors. Here is an overview of the different characteristics of colors such as chromaticity, tints, shades, and tones.

Colors can also be divided into warm and cool color categories. Understanding the differences helps designers and artists achieve the right mood and message through color.


Chroma, or chromaticity, refers to the purity of a hue. A hue with high chroma does not have any white, black or gray in it. Chroma is often confused with saturation. Saturation, on the other hand, can have white or black added and still remain saturated. High chroma colors are vivid. Low chroma colors, which have zero or very little hue, are called achromatic.

Achromatic Colors and Neutrals

An achromatic color is any color that does not have strong chromatic content. Some call achromatic colors desaturated or near neutral.

Black, white and all types of gray are pure achromatic colors. Near neutrals are browns, tans, pastels and dark colors. Neutrals can be light or dark and of any hue. Gray is any color in the black and white spectrum, also called the grayscale.

Grays can be either warm or cool. When using yellow, orange and red pigments, a warm gray is obtained. A cool gray is produced by using green, blue and violet. When there is no amount of saturation, the gray is called a neutral gray. To obtain a neutral, pure colors need to be mixed with white, black or gray. One can achieve a neutral by mixing two complementary colors as well.


A monochromatic color scheme contains one color. This color is then modified to produce tints, shades and tones of that same color. In a monochromatic color scheme, you will have variations in lightness and saturation of a single color. The effect is often soothing and clean. However, there may be little contrast.

Tints and Shades

When looking at the color wheel, we only see bright, or saturated, hues. In reality, every color on the wheel can be modified to become a tint, shade, or tone.

A tint is any hue mixed with white. Tints are lighter, softer and closer to what we call "pastel" colors. The amount of white added determines the lightness of the hue. To produce a shade, you must add black to any hue. Shades are darker and richer.

A tone can be created in different ways. Some like to add gray to a hue to produce tone. Another method is to take the hue and add its complement. The difference between tone and tint is that you are not changing the value of the color when you make a tone.

Warm vs Cool Colors

The color wheel can be divided into warm and cool colors. The warm colors include red-violet, red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, yellow, and yellow-green. The cool colors include yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, violet and red-violet.

The warmest color on the color wheel is red-orange while the coolest color is blue-green. Red-violet and yellow-green are two colors that can be either warm or cool depending on the environment of the color. Some colors are activated by their environments and can become warm or cool.