Color Vocabulary Lesson 1

by Quinn Larson

We’ve had some inquiries regarding certain color related terminology.  In this post I will define some of the more basic terms, and shed some light on their meanings.

Primary Color

A primary color is a color that cannot be mixed from any combinations of colors.  There are three primary colors: Red, Blue and Yellow.  From these three colors all other colors can be mixed.

Secondary Color

A secondary color is created by mixing two primary colors.  There are three secondary colors: Orange (red and yellow), Green (blue and yellow), and Purple (red and blue).  These six colors make up the base of the color wheel and are considered the predominant color families.

Tertiary Color

A tertiary color is created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.  There are six tertiary colors whose names are comprised of the two parent color names: Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Red-Violet.  Their colloquial names such as Aqua for blue-green, indigo for blue-violet and magenta for red-violet might be more recognizable to some.

Complementary Colors

Colors that oppose each other on the color wheel: Red and Green, Orange and Blue, Yellow and Purple are all complements. While primary colors complement secondary colors, tertiary colors will complement opposing tertiary colors.  Ex. blue-violet is the complement color of yellow-orange.


Hue is another name for the word “color”.  Color and hue are used interchangeably to describe a span of colors, as in a “hue family,” or a specific color; that hue is red.

Image via: www.handprint.com


The value of a color is how light or dark it is.  This is usually measured against a value scale which is a mathematical gradation of black to white.  A color’s value is determined by how much white or black the color contains. The below terms are associated with a color’s value.

–          Tint:  A tint is any color mixed with white, resulting in a lighter color.

–          Pastel:  Pastel is a term for a very light color or tint

–          Shade:  A shade is any color mixed with black, resulting in a darker color.

Photo via: http://www.handprint.com

Image via: www.handprint.com


Chroma is a color’s vibrancy.  Like a color’s value, its chroma is measured on a mathematical scale from the pure color to gray.  If the color is vibrant it has a high chroma, if it is muted it has a low chroma.   The below terms are associated with a color’s chroma.

–          Intensity:  How vibrant a color is, can be used interchangeably with “chroma”.

–          Saturated:  In the color world this is defined as a pure color of high intensity.

–          Pure/Clean:  Pure colors are colors that have not been muted or muddied with any other color that would lower their chroma. Because of this they are also know as “clean” colors.

–          Muted:  To “mute” a color we mix it with either its complement or gray.  Doing this lowers the color’s chroma, softening its appearance.

–          Neutral:  Neutrals are colors with very low chroma.  If we looked at them on an intensity scale they would be the colors very close to gray.


I hope this has helped, even in the slightest way, to understand some of the color terminology floating out there.  Stay tuned for additional lessons where I will define more terminologies from the world of color and interior design!

Colorfully yours,



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Instagram @BEHRPAINT