Colour Theory Basics

If you’re familiar with the idea of the Colour Wheel, this next section begins to elaborate and go slightly deeper. Even if you’re colouring just for relaxation or fun, it’s worth getting your head around these principles - because understanding what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ when colouring can make all the difference to how you finished page turns out.

And don’t be put off by any of the technical terms - as with most theory or technical jargon, what they are describing is actually pretty simple!


This came into play when we looked at the different associations linked to each colour. Notice Red and Yellow are linked to the more fiery, in-your-face sensations. Whilst Green and Blue are more natural and calming. Red and Yellow are Warm Colours, whilst Green and Blue are more Cool. On the Colour Wheel, the Warm colours sit on the opposing side to the Cool colours. We can see how they deliver either a strong, cheery scheme or something more somber and mysterious depending how Warm or Cool you go.


Refers to the intensity of the colour. It’s not quite the same as light or dark, it’s more a case of how ‘pure’ the colour is. Highly saturated colours appear strong and punchy, whereas a de-saturated colour will look more subdued. A lot of the popular vintage colours used in home décor nowadays are good examples of de-saturated colours. Some can appear almost grey. A de-saturated colour scheme will generally be easier on the eye, and create a more refined statement.  


In colour theory, ‘Value’ is the sciencey term for how light or dark a colour is. So if you can understand Saturation, you can see how an intense, saturated colour can still be very light of very dark. Depending on its Value. Another way to think about it, is to imagine the colour with black added or taken away. Or if a strong intense colour was put in the shade. It would still be that same strong, intense colour. It would just look darker.    


Hue is simply another word for colour. The Hue is the basic true colour (imagine a colour of the rainbow) before it is altered to become a Shade, Tint or Tone…


Shades are created by making a colour darker. So they are tied to the colour’s ‘Value’ as described above. Shades can be quite dramatic, but you won’t want to use too many or else your design will be overpowering.


Also linked to the colour’s Value, a Tint is its lighter version. Tints are basically pastel colours, and will tend to look more soothing and feminine.


Tone is linked to the colour’s Saturation. If we remember that Saturation refers to how intense a colour appears, then we can understand a Tone to be simply a more or less intense version of a colour. De-saturated (more grey-looking) Tones will make your colouring page look subtle and sophisticated. Saturated Tones will look more garish and shouty.