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Color Theory Terminology

Hue: The hue is what we usually think of as "color." Hues are created by different wavelengths of light. So we can also think of "color families" here. All of the blues are the same hue, but red is a different hue.

Chroma: This refers to the "purity" of a color. Although different colors can be recognized as part of a certain color family (hue), some of those colors are more "pure" than others. Usually it's white, black, or grey added to a color that affects how pure it is. You've probably used this concept even if you didn't know what it was called: "That blue is a really blue blue," for example.

Saturation: This refers to the intensity of a color and is based upon how the color looks under certain lighting conditions. If you have a room that is painted a certain color, take a look at it during different times of the day (and night). Does the color always look the same or does it change based on how the light hits it? The following three terms are ways to desaturate a color (which also makes it less pure).

Tint: When white is added to a color
Tone: When grey is added to a color
Shade: When black is added to a color

Value: This refers to how light or dark a color is, based upon how close it is to white. This can be a hard concept to fully grasp, even though it sounds easy, especially when you start trying to figure out value of different colors based upon one another. Using a grey scale to compare values is a really helpful tool and is something I'll mention in the next part. (Value and saturation can be easy to confuse, but truly it's not important if you get the specific names correct as long as you understand the basic concepts.)

Temperature: You've probably heard of colors referred to as "warm" or "cool." This is an important concept for color combinations because mixing warm and cool colors can add dimension.

Warm colors are those that are closer to red, orange, and yellow.
Cool colors are those that are closer to green, blue, and purple.

But red, for example, can be warm or cool, depending on whether it leans more toward orange (warm) or violet (cool). So you need to pay attention to the undertones of a color to really decide if it is warm or cool.

It's also important to consider the lighting because different methods of lighting can affect how colors appear:
Daylight is considered cool (although it can be warm at sunrise and sunset).
Incandescent light is considered warm (and has a decidedly yellow cast to it).
Fluorescent light is considered cool (with blue and purple hues).

So it's good to look at your color combinations in different types of lights to get a clearer picture of them.

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