Color palette with color picker

Learn to define and differentiate between the color terms Hue, Chroma, Tone, Tint, and Shade.

These terms are often used interchangeably when discussing color in art and design. They are essential elements of color terminology. To add to the confusion, the terms get used differently in specific art disciplines. It is vital to understand these definitions as an aspiring graphic designer or artist. Being able to differentiate and describe the color theory aspects is one of the essential design skills. If you design or paint, knowing how to define and add a Hue, Tint, Tone, or Shade will facilitate creating depth and dimension to your art pieces. It will give you the ability and knowledge to draw highlights and shadows correctly.

Do you know the exact difference between these terms? If not, please continue reading; we will help you clear the confusion once and for all!

Learn the basic color theory terminology of the color tone terminology of Hue, Chroma, Tint, Tone, and Shade. They are an essential component of color perception.

Color wheel with definition of color terminology
Color Wheel with Hues, Tints, Tones, and Shades. Image source:

The Hue

The Hue is the pure range of colors and their pigment on the color wheel. The color wheel consists of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. This includes the three primary colors, red, green, and blue; the three secondary colors are orange, green, and purple; and the six tertiary colors are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green yellow-green.

Black, white and gray are not considered a Hue and are not a part of the color wheel; they are defined as neutral colors. A Hue contains no added black, white, or gray.

For a deeper understanding of different color theories, you can read more here ->

The Chroma

Chroma colors indicate the Saturation or perceived strength level of a color, the chromatic intensity. The higher the Saturation, the higher the intensity of the color. Chroma displays increasing colorfulness as the level of illumination increases. A high color Saturation creates bold and striking artwork.

Colored triangles on a white background
Illustration of increasing colorfulness with an increasing level of illumination.Image source:

The Tint

The term Tint signifies the lightness of a color. The Tint is the pure color mixed with white; the resulting tints are often referred to as pastel colors. But do not confuse the Tint with the brightness attribute of hue. Tinted color schemes are generally perceived as soft, youthful, and soothing. Tints work very well for feminine products. The tinted color schemes are predominantly used if the target demographic are women. This process lightens and desaturates the hue. An actual Tint does not contain any gray. In classic oil painting or digital art, tinted shades are used to create highlights that simulate light particles hitting the surface of an object.

Blue tints
Tint variations of royal blue. Color on the left: #0535F7.Image source:

The Tone

Tones are made by adding gray to a hue. A pure gray that consists only of black and white.

Blue tones
Tone variations of royal blue. Color on the left: #0535F7.Image source:

A paler gray with more white will result in a lighter color Tone, and a darker gray with more black added with produce a darker tone. Mixing a color with gray will tone down (pun intended) the intensity and brilliance of the original color hue. In art and design, toned colors are generally perceived as subtle and sophisticated; if the amount of added gray is too excessive, the color can appear dull and lifeless.

The Shade

The Shade signifies the pure color hue with a certain amount of black. The Shade of color contains no gray. The color Hue remains the same but gets darkened. It is also possible to create a Shade by adding a darker hue to your base color.

Blue tones
Shade variations of royal blue. Color on the left: #0535F7. Image source:


Now, you understand the design terms Hue, Chroma, Tint, Tone, and Shade. You can now discuss color in design and color concepts and use them with precision and confidence while creating an image, designing, or painting. This knowledge is also beneficial while creating your color palette.

Watch the video below to learn more about Color Theory and how to use colors in your designs.

Color palette with color picker
Color palette with color picker