What the Colour Terms; Hue, Chroma, Tint, Shade, Monochromatic and Complementary Mean?

Colour Theory

Choosing colours can be tricky, and colour terms like hue, chroma, tint, and shade can make it outright confusing. But understanding what some of the colour terms mean, can make the process a whole lot easier and fun. You can walk into a paint store with a lot more confidence knowing you are looking to create a monochromatic harmony using a shade of blue that has a warm undertone, and know exactly what that means!
Here is an explanation of colour terms often used in the interior design world.

Hue versus Colour

Hue and colour are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference.
Hue – refers to the dominant distinguishing characteristic of a colour as seen on a colour wheel . It includes the primary (red, yellow, blue), secondary (orange, green, purple) and tertiary colours (red-orange, yellow-green etc).
Colour – is a general term that refers to every hue, tint, shade or tone.
Neutrals may contain a hue, for example a neutral grey may have a blue hue, or a brown may have a reddish hue.
Pure white, grey and black do not contain a hue but may be referred to as a colour.


A measure of the intensity or brilliance of a colour versus the extent to which it has been lightened or darkened. A fully saturated colour is the most intense and pure version of that hue. It is defined as Chroma divided by lightness.


The Greek word for Colour. Chroma measures the intensity of colour in relation to an equivalent strength of grey. For a better understanding of this think of the an image on your phone, you can change the chromatic value from full colour to black and white.


Refers to a colour with white added to make the colour lighter. For example pink is a tint of red.


Refers to a colour with only black added to make the colour darker. If even a small amount of white is added it is referred to as a tone.


Refers to a colour with grey added. The addition of grey will tone down the intensity of a colour. For example a tone of blue is blue-grey, blue plus grey. Most colours chosen for interiors are tones and not pure colours.

Monochromatic Colours

Decorating a room in just one colour by using different tints, shades and tones of the same colour. Paint companies make this easy as each colour swatch is designed from dark to light in a perfect monochromatic harmony.
White or shades of white are often used in monochromatic schemes as white is the lightest version of all colours.

Complementary Colours.

Colours that sit opposite each other on the colour wheel. When used together complementary colours enhance and balance each other. Complementary colours are. Red and Green, Blue and Orange and Purple and yellow. For more on this see Why Opposite Colours are Complementary.

Hope you find this helpful and have a colourful week.

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