15 Color Terms

By Mark Nichol

Words describing the qualities of color can confuse because they sometimes but not always overlap or are even interchangeable. Here’s a roster of color terms with definitions.

1. Cast: a change in appearance or color by adding one color over another; also, multiple senses of assigning, depositing, directing, shaping, spreading, turning, or twisting
2. Chroma: a combination of hue and saturation (see definitions below), or synonymous with saturation
3. Chromaticity: the quality of color based on wavelength and purity
4. Coloration: the condition of coloring, as in skin tone, an arrangement of colors, or the choice or use of colors
5. Colorway: a color or arrangement of colors
6. Contrast: the degree of difference in colors or light and dark, or their juxtaposition
7. Hue: color, gradation of color, or the characteristic that distinguishes one color from another
8. Pigmentation: coloration caused by the presence of a pigment, a substance that produces a color (or black and white) in a material
9. Saturation: purity of color; also, the state of being thoroughly wet, or heavy infiltration
10. Shade: a color produced by a mixture that includes black dye or pigment, or a color somewhat distinct from another, or, as a verb, to produce such a color; also, various meanings associated with the blocking or minimizing of light
11. Tincture: synonymous with color; also, a trace in a mixture
12. Tinge: color spread or stained over another color, or, as a verb, to spread or stain one color over another; also, a figurative sense of a light touch or effect, or, as a verb, to touch or effect lightly
13. Tint: a pale or slight coloration, or lighter or darker variations of a color, or, as a verb, to produce such an effect; also, a slight difference, or hair dye
14. Tone: a quality of color, or a shade, tint, or value (see definitions)
15. Value: the lightness or darkness of a color, or the difference in lightness and darkness

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3 Responses to “15 Color Terms”

  • Dale A. Wood

    Wow, you really need to look up the meanings of color words that are used in electrical engineering and in physics, such as in how to make color TV work right. There are about four precise terms that express everything much better than the mish-mash that you have written down above, and these words include:
    luminosity
    hue, which is the same as tint
    saturation
    shade
    hue and tint are also precisely defined in terms of wavelength, and not in the vague and unsatisfactory ways that you have stated.

    Also, several of your terms are completely undefined and useless, such as tone, value, colorway, and tincture. These are often used in advertising by companies that deliberately do not want to be precise, and they also butcher the meanings of the words shade and hue for the same reason.
    In other words, their use of the word “shade” doesn’t have anything to do with taking a pure hue and adding black to it.

    A prime example of a shade is taking white and adding some black to it to get gray, but you can also take red, orange, green, blue, or any other pure color and add black to it to get a shade.
    D.A.W.

  • Vince

    I knew that color-nerds existed, I just never knew that they could be so harsh. 😉
    Language is replete with color.

  • Jon

    Nice list – but you seem to have consistently missed the ‘u’ from the word colour 😉

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