Colour For The Beginner

Colour is both one of the most basic and one of the most powerful aspects of interior design. In the process of creating an effective colour scheme for your space, whether residential or commercial, an interior designer must balance several considerations. These include your personal colour preferences, cultural factors, economics (eg, price), and trends, and even sometimes more involved factors like colour psychology (impact of colour) and human-centred design.

How many colours can one animal have?
©Marjon Besteman-Horn via Pixabay

Given the centrality of colour in our life, don’t you think we need to understand it much better? Here’s the first of several articles on colour. This first article will explain the jargon used by designers and colour professionals everywhere to provide the precision they need for their work.


The terms ‘colour’ and ‘hue’ are used interchangeably in general conversation, but a hue is technically a pure colour, without tint or shade (explained below under ‘Value’), on the visible spectrum of colours. Remember VIBGYOR or ‘Richard Of York Gives Battle In Vain’, the two mnemonics we learned in school to remember the so-called 7 colours of the rainbow? Of course, there are many more than 7 colours. We non-design professionals say, “There are an infinite number of colours on the visible spectrum”, whereas design professionals say, “There are an infinite number of hues on the visible spectrum”. So we determine a hue (eg, red, blue, green, yellow, etc) by its position on the visible spectrum. Here’s a ‘colour wheel’ showing hues:

Colour Wheel with HTML Colour Names
©Jacobolus via Wikipedia


Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a colour. It is the amount of black colour or white colour which is added to the pure hue (so a hue is said to have ‘normal value’). A tint is a hue with white or light grey colour added, resulting in a lighter version of that hue (eg, light blue). A shade is a hue with black or dark grey colour added, resulting in a darker version of that hue (eg, dark blue). In short, lighter values of a hue are called tints and darker values are called shades. There can be a light blue or a dark blue of exactly the same hue.

A space comprising only tints can appear cold, while a space comprising only shades may look gloomy. Design and colour professionals know what to do to avoid (or deliberately create) these effects. For a home space, for instance, an interior design will use contrasts of light colours (tints) and dark colours (shades) to make it look more interesting. Another tactic is to insert middle values between these tints and shades to avoid abrupt transitions.


The interchangeable technical terms ‘intensity’, ‘saturation’ and ‘chroma’ describe the relative purity, vividness or saturation of a hue (the opposite terms are ‘greyness’, ‘dullness’ and ‘neutrality’). Full intensity is by convention the normal value of a hue. Intensity can be reduced (‘dulled’ or ‘desaturated’) by adding a colour from the opposite side of the colour wheel. A related term is ‘tone’; this refers to a hue that has been neutralised or greyed and is produced by adding a grey (white and black) colour to the hue. Tones can be lighter or darker than the original hue.

There is much more to colour than we have covered here (or that meets the eye, no pun intended).

In summary, our reactions to colour are almost wholly beneath our conscious attention, yet colour has immense power to influence our life.


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