To enhance your understanding of colour,  it helps to know about the three different variables (hue, chroma and value) of every colour that you come across. Gaining a better understanding of these three variables will make mixing, matching and discussing colours much easier.

Hue

Every colour has a specific hue, which is determined by where it falls on the colour spectrum (blue, green or red etc.). While hue is most evident in bright primary colours, such as the yellow of a McDonald’s sign or the bright red of a sportscar, most of the colours around us have a less obvious hue. This means that we will often have to describe a colour by using compound hues, such as a yellow-green leaf or a red-brown brick. There is no definite way to describe these mixed hues, so just go with what you feel best matches the colour as you see/feel it.

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Chroma

The chroma of a colour is determined by how intense it is. In other words, how much of the pure hue is present. Every specific hue has a maximum purity, when this diminishes, the colour will become more washed out and grey. Think of a bright red shirt, the more you wash it the more dull it will become. The shirt’s hue hasn’t changed but it has become less intense over time, this is caused by the chroma lessening.

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Value

Value is determined by where the colour falls on the spectrum of between absolute light and dark – with black being at one end and white being at the other. This means that you can mix a very dark red-brown or a very light red-brown, with the the hue and chroma being identical but the value changing. The steps between black and white are made up of a gradient of greys transitioning from light to dark. Take a look at How to Make a Value Scale in the General Skills and Concepts category on the front page for more info about value.

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Conclusion

Hopefully this introduction helps you to understand colour better and makes it easier for you to use and discuss colour.

The way that these three variables interact is the most complex aspect of colour theory, so we will be looking at their relationship in more detail in future lessons.