Color Terms in Interior Design

Not too long ago I was shopping with a friend and happened to mention something about how the various tones of color were used in a particular display. She asked me what the difference was between a tone and a tint. That got me thinking, “what a great idea for a post!” I’ve already discussed monochromatic color schemes, using pastels, and a variety of other ways to decorate with color. Today, I’ll go over some of the basic color terms used in interior design and decorating.

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Summery girl’s bedroom in pink, yellow, and green via BHG


Hue means the same thing as color. The two words can be used interchangeably. Specifically, a hue is any one of the 12 colors on the color wheel. Here’s a quick breakdown of the color wheel.

Primary Colors: Primary colors cannot be formed by any combination of colors. All other colors are derived from primary colors. There are three primary colors:

    • Red
    • Blue
    • Yellow

Secondary Colors: This is what you get when you mix two primary colors together. There are three secondary colors:

    • Red + blue = violet
    • Blue + yellow = green
    • Yellow + red = orange

Tertiary Colors: This is what you get when you mix together a primary and secondary color. There are six tertiary colors:

    • Red-orange
    • Red-violet
    • Blue-violet
    • Blue-green
    • Yellow-green
    • Yellow-orange

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A shade is any hue on the color wheel with black added to it. The colors are more intense and darker. Shades can range from very dark to almost black.


A tint is any hue on the color wheel with white added to it. This lightens the color, making it less intense. For example, if you add enough white to red it becomes pink. Tints can range from pale to almost white. Tints are sometimes referred to as pastel colors.

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Danielle’s Charming, Classic Chicago Walk-Up via Apartment Therapy


Tone refers to a color’s intensity – lightness or darkness. Tones are created when you add both white and black to a color. This is often referred to as “greying down” a color. Depending on the amount of white or black added, tones can be darker or lighter than the original hue. Most colors we see everyday are tones.


Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color.


Saturation refers to the intensity of a color.

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Hot pink seating area by Abbe Fenimore via HGTV


I hope these terms help you when choosing colors for fabrics and paint colors. What’s your favorite color to decorate with?

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