I am constantly confused by art writing when the writers/artists refer to hues, intensities, values, tones, saturation etc. So I’ve written down, as best I can, the definitions. The reason I say ‘the best I can’ is because it’s obvious other people are equally as confused out there, so exact definitions are hard to come confusedby.

Let’s start with an easy one:


This is just the name of a colour e.g. red, blue, green, it sounds more technical than it is so use it when you want to sound clever.



How rich a colour is. It’s the difference between a bright stop sign red (saturated) and, say, the colour of a glass of red wine (it’s Friday and that’s what I’m thinking about).  A desaturated colour tends towards grey and is dull. Fully saturated is the pure colour usually straight from the tube.


The same as saturation.


This is the darkness or lightness of a colour.  We can split this down into:

  • Tints – adding white to a pure hue. This makes the colour lighter
  • Shades – adding black to a pure hue to create a richer darker colour.


What’s the difference between Value and Tone? This is a great question and the answer is not much. Tone is a general term for the quality of the colour. Adding both black and white (grey) to a pure hue alters the tone. The colour appears less intense or less saturated and can be altered darker or lighter depending on the proportion of black to white.

From this moment on I am going to assume tone and value are the same thing.

All high saturation colours (pure colours) have medium values because no light or dark hues have been added to desaturate the colour.

So, let’s summarize

Hue – colour

Value/Tone – Darkness or lightness

Saturation/Intensity – brightness of colour e.g. red or burgundy

Thanks for reading.

Ian Young

Confusing Art Terms
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