Deciphering Undertones: What’s My White?

by Quinn Larson

For those of us who work with color on a daily basis, terms like undertone, muted or clean generate an immediate understanding of a color’s properties.  This isn’t necessarily the case for most people though, and sometimes we forget that when giving descriptions.  These types of descriptions can be especially confusing when it comes to whites and other neutrals. 

For those of you that find yourself scratching your head at a description like, “a creamy white with a yellow undertone,” here is an easy breakdown to start you interpreting white color descriptions like a pro.

What is an undertone exactly?

To answer this we need to remember back to kindergarten art class.  Do you remember your finger painting project where the teacher only gave you 5 colors (red, yellow, blue, white and black), but you were instructed to mix peach and brown?  You thought, ‘How am I supposed to do that?’ You soon learned that by mixing certain combinations of colors together you could make those shades.  Undertones are obtained in essentially the same way, by mixing colors together.  If you start with green paint and add some yellow paint your color will still be green, but a far yellowy-er green right? Seeing how “yellowy-er” is not a grammatically accurate way to describe this new color, we would say you now have a yellow-green, or a green with a yellow undertone.  Generally of the two colors mixed one color will remain dominant and the other will color become an influencer or undertone.

The same is true when mixing whites and colors.  Let’s look at some examples of whites with color undertones.

White + Red = a white with a red undertone, or a light pink.

White +Orange = a white with an orange undertone or a light peach.

White +Yellow = white with a yellow undertone, or a cream.

White + Green = a white with a green undertone, or a light mint.

White + Blue = white with a blue undertone, or light/baby blue.

White +Purple = white with a purple undertone, or light violet/ lavender.

White + Brown = white with a brown undertone, or an offwhite.

White + Black = White with a black/gray undertone or a light gray.

All the resulting colors illustrated above are considered members of the white family each with a different influencing color, or undertone.  If you now hear someone say, “a creamy white with a yellow undertone,” you’ll know exactly what they are talking about.

Colorfully yours,



4 responses to “Deciphering Undertones: What’s My White?”

  1. Tiana Galloway says:

    So, should we pick a white with an undertone the same as color accents in a room? Say, for instance, I’m doing robin’s egg blue base cabinets and I want slightly off white uppers? Should I do white with blue undertones or brown or yellow?

    W/a Smile, Tiana

    • Deanna Torrez says:

      Hello Tiana, thank you for your interest in BEHR Products! 🙂 You do not necesarily need to get the same undertone has the accents in the room. You certainly can though. I will suggest Polar Bear 75 to serve has an nice color for upper cabinets or Swiss Coffee 12 for more of an off white.

  2. Paula says:

    This is the BEST breakdown I have found for trying to find color tones!!!!!. I actually am looking to match the color I painted on my walls 15 years ago. It was straight off the shelf (Behr) and I love it. I think it may have been an antique color. More grey then yellow. Would you know what color it may have been? Has it been renamed? I tried to have it color matched but came out a bit more beige. Help..I have rescheduled my painter 3x trying to find the right mix!! ps. I am sticking with BEHR …so much better than the other leading brands!!

    • Quinn Larson says:

      Hi Paula,

      Besides the ULTRA PURE WHITE base of our paint, we have had five premixed white colors. These colors are as follows: Linen White 70, Swiss Coffee 12, Off White 73, Navajo White 22, and White 52. The color from this set that best fits a gray undertone description would be White 52. All these colors are still present in current color fixture at Home Depot, the digital ColorSmart kiosk can help you locate them. Let us know if we can help with anything else. Good luck!

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