In order to understand color, you should learn its language. Every color, also known as a hue, has three qualities: saturation, temperature, and value.
Saturation describes how intense a color appears, or in color theory terminology, the level of chromas in a color. A highly-saturated red will be vivid and bright, whereas a less-saturated red will appear dull or washed out. Temperature refers to a color’s warm and cool qualities. Blue, green, and violet are typically referred to as cool hues, while yellow, orange, and red are typically warm hues. It’s important to keep in mind that within a given color, the temperature can vary significantly—for example, a green with blue in it is cooler than a green with yellow in it.
Value (or lightness) refers to where a color falls on a black-and-white scale—or how much black or white is mixed into a particular color. “If one took a black-and-white photograph of a
, you would see the value distribution within the colors used,” offers William Miller, a technical assistant at the Rhode Island School of Design.
By mixing a color with white, you produce a tint; by mixing a color with with black, you produce a shade.
Pigment, the physical material that creates color in a paint, has many unique qualities, too, such as transparency and tinting strength. Transparency refers to how thin or opaque a paint is, and tinting strength refers to the power of the pigment that is in a paint. For example, a dab of Phthalo Green, a hue with a high tinting strength, will dramatically alter the color of a large amount of zinc white, a hue with a low tinting strength.