The terminology around paint color can be quite confusing. If you love a pale green but don’t have a swatch, one person may visualize mint while another visualizes sage and a third imagines a shade of aqua.

All three of these are pale, and all contain green, but these three colors will not match when lined up side by side.

In addition, you can change the tint by adding white paint, the tone by graying the color down, and the shade by adding black paint.

color wheel
Color wheel


Key takeaways

  • Hue is a pure pigment without any tint or shade added.
  • Tint is a pure pigment with the addition of white.
  • Tone is a pure pigment with the addition of grey.
  • Shade is a pure pigment with the addition of black.

color wheel with primary, secondary, tertiary colors
Color Wheel

Hue

The simplest way to think about hue is to refer back to the primary colors and their combos. When working with pigment, red, blue, and yellow are the primary colors.

Combo colors, such as purple (from red and blue), orange (from yellow and red), and green (from blue and yellow) are also hues.

For those interested in mixing their own paint, it’s a good idea to start small. Head to the craft store and play with acrylics in small batches.

An even mix of blue and yellow can make green, but 2 parts blue to 3 parts yellow will make a different shade of green.

Because the purity of color is so important for those looking to blend their own colors, watching how these blends

  • change in direct sunlight
  • chalk or dull as they dry
  • gray out as the light fades

Do be aware that blending your own hues can become a bit addictive; once you get just the right green, you may need to come up with the perfect lavender.

Purple is your starting point! Now you need to tint your color.

color wheel showing hue

Tint

If you want a pale peach color on your nursery walls, the hue you’re starting with is orange. From here, you’ll need to tint or lighten it by adding white to the orange to get the color you want.

For those interested in doing your own tinting, be ready to start with a lot of white paint. In fact, the simplest way to come up with a very pale tint is to start with white and add a dab of color until you get the shade you want.

Do focus on pure paint colors; you can visit the scratch and dent paint rack to get a color in the hue you want but you want a very pure white paint to effectively tint a strong color.

If you like a stronger color and want to avoid a chalky pastel, you may have good luck starting with a white ceiling paint.

Try to buy a shade that contains no blue or pink additions and only use this in a room that you don’t need to wash. Ceiling paint isn’t formulated to be scrubbed.

Finally, do make sure you wait for the dry version to completely smooth out so you can truly assess your tinted color.

Warm colors that contain any red tend, oddly enough, to pink up as they dry and settle down when fully dry.

I had a peach shade that turned bubble gum pink halfway through the drying process. Let your sample dry overnight just to be sure.

color wheel showing tint

Tone

The tone of a paint color refers to the brightness. There are functionally two ways to tone down a bright color; you can either add a neutral gray to the color or apply the opposite color to a bright shade.

For example, if you have a bright pink that you want to nudge toward plum, add a dab of green.

If you have a paint off the scratch and dent rack that you want to use in your space in the pastel version, you need to tint it with white paint.

If you want to tone or dull it down just a bit, do your best to create the purest, richest shade of the color you want in pastel to start.

The risk when changing the tone of a color is that you can’t bring the shade back. For example, let’s say you find a shocking purple on the “oops” paint shelf.

You want lilac for your daughter’s bedroom. Add a bit of purple to a clean white paint and you’re probably good to go.

However, if you want mauve, you’ll need to tone down your purple and then tint it. Use a separate container to make your deepest mauve blend, then tint it with a pure white paint.

Once you tone down your boldest shade, there’s no bringing it back. You can make a lighter or a darker lilac shade, but if you dull down your original purple, you’ll never get the same shade of lilac.

color tint, tone, shade circles

Shade

Shade refers to darkness and lightness. If you swap the word shade for shadow, this will make more sense.

If you have a beige paint on your walls and want a piece of furniture or a rug in a darker color, hold your hand between the primary light source and the wall to see what happens to the color.

You have created a shadow and the shade has been darkened.

Technically, you can create a darker shade of a color by adding black. If your plan is to DIY your own color blends, do be aware that many shades of black have blue added to them to create a cooler black.

Adding a blue-based black to your beige may add a hint of green you didn’t expect because beige is functionally a warm or yellow color; pairing yellow and blue comes up green.

A final tip on paint, whether you’re mixing your own or buying pre-mixed: Always buy a bit more than you need and work out of a big bucket. Yes, storage will be a pain.

Yes, you may eventually need to dispose of it. However, if you have a custom tint and run out with just 2 more feet of wall, the match may be a serious challenge.

The science of color, particularly when using it in a room that gets a lot of warm, yellow sunlight, is endlessly fascinating.

Take your time when choosing a color, especially if you want to mix your own paints. Make a blend, put it on a canvas, hang it up and study it while the light changes in your space.

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