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A Dictionary for Colour Lovers

You might have heard of some of these terms, but what do they mean? Here’s a handy guide to common colour terminology.

COLOUR WHEEL: a universal diagram that shows the relationship between primary colours, and the secondary colours they make when two primary colours are mixed together. You can also get large colour wheels that show tertiary colours and what happens when you a secondary colour and a primary colour together.


COMPLEMENTARY: these appear opposite eachother on a colour wheel for example, orange and blue. Visually complementary colours look good together.


CHROMA: is the ‘purest’ version of a colour, when you start to add things to it, like mixing it with another colour.


EARTH COLOURS: these colours have literally come from the earth so could be colours that come from rocks or stones


HUE: the actual name of the colour so green, purple, yellow.


MONOCHROME: when you use different tones of one colour and but commonly used when you see just black and white together.


PANTONE MATCHING SYSTEM: Pantone is an international system of recognising a colour buy using its assigned Pantone colour number.


PRIMARY: these are colours that can’t be made by mixing other colours. There are three primary colours, red, yellow and blue.


POLYCHROMATIC: another word for describing multi-coloured, or something having more than one colour.


SATURATION: how ‘intense’ a colour looks by either increasing or decreasing the amount of colour you use.


SECONDARY: When you mix two primary colours together the new colour that’s created is a secondary colour.


SHADE: a darker version of the original colour, created by mixing in black.


SYSTEMS: These are the terms used by designers and printers to determine how a colour pigment is created and therefore how expensive it might be to print such as RGB, CMYK, HSL.


TEMPERATURE: how warm or cold a colour makes something feel.


TINT: when you add white to a colour it becomes lighter and that is a tint. In painting, you can describe a ‘wash’ in the same way as you’ve added white.


TONE: when you start to darken a colour, by mixing in a grey.


VALUE: is how light or dark a colour something is. White representing light is considered highet value while black is low value.