Colour Basics – Why Colour Theory Matters

You may wonder why it is important for an artist or a decorator to learn about colour theory. The thing is, your choice of colour should not just be about trend, and personal taste. Colours that you use does a lot to your space and paintings.

With colours, you can set a mood, attract attention, or make a statement. You can create an ambiance of elegance, warmth or tranquility, or you can convey an image of playful youthfulness. By selecting the right colour scheme, you can use colour to energize, or to cool down.

In a nutshel, colour is one of your most powerful design and art element when you learn how to use it effectively.

What is Colour?

Colour is light, and light is composed of many colours—those we see are the colours of the visual spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Objects absorb certain wavelengths and reflect others back to the viewer. We perceive these wavelengths as colour.


A colour is described in three ways: by its name, how pure or desaturated it is, and its value or lightness.

Value vs. Hue

Any given colour can be described in terms of its value and hueHue refers to just the pure spectrum colours. In additon, the various physical phenomena and pyschological effects combine to affect our perceptions of a colour.

Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a colour. It is an important tool for us the designers and artists because it defines form and creates spatial illusions.

For example, you can use contrast of value to separate objects in space while you can use gradation of value to suggest mass and contour of a contiguous surface . In the above image, same value techniques are used to create the illusion of a three dimensional diamond (graduation) in the middle of a dark space (contract)

Here are some terms we use to differentiate colours:

  • Chroma:  Chroma refers to how pure a hue is in relation to gray
  • Saturation:  Refers to the degree of purity of a hue.
  • Intensity: Intensity measures the brightness or dullness of a hue. You can lower the intensity by adding white or black.
  • Luminance / Value: A measure of the amount of light reflected from a hue. Those hues with a high content of white have a higher luminance or value.
  • Shade and tint are terms that refer to a variation of a hue.
    • Shade: A hue produced by the addition of black.
    • Tint: A hue produced by the addition of white.

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