Posted on July 20th 2022
So far we know that value is the lightness or darkness of color, and temperature is the warmth or coolness of color. Intensity is the third color characteristic, and it can be confusing.
Intensity is about the purity or brightness of color. It’s relatively easy to spot intense colors: These are the “cartoon colors” of childhood and the brilliant hues of tropical fish. Lacquer red, lemon yellow and cobalt blue are examples of intense red, yellow and blue. Low-intensity colors are by comparison quiet and subdued. Brick, gold and cadet blue are low-intensity versions of red, yellow and blue.
Intensity is an important color concept because, more than value or temperature, it sets the mood in a color scheme. Intense colors are fresh and vivid, while low-intensity colors are quiet and understated. Varying intensity – introducing a slightly brighter green among duller greens, for example – can bring life to a scheme and keep it from looking like a color formula.
It’s easy to confuse the terms value and intensity. Value is about the lightness or darkness of a color. Intensity is about its brightness or dullness. Try thinking of the characteristics separately. First ask yourself, is it light, medium or dark? That’s the value of a color. Then ask, is it bright or dull? That’s the intensity.
The true neutrals – black, white and gray – don’t have a place on the color rings, but they play an essential role in decorating. Sometimes called “the non-colors,” true neutrals provide visual relief in a scheme with color, without altering the color relationships. Imagine a black leather chair in the company of a red sofa, or soft gray walls as a backdrop for blue furnishings.
True neutrals are stark and sophisticated. In the absence of color, a true-neutral scheme depends on pattern, texture and finish for visual interes
Just as true neutrals can calm a colorful scheme, color can enliven a true neutral scheme. One spot of intense color – from a favorite painting, for example, or other eye-catching artwork – in a neutral scheme can be stunning. Or repeating small bits of the color in the room so that it becomes an integral part of the scheme.
Have you heard someone saying this before?“This green has blue undertones; that gray is yellowish.” What difference does it make? It makes a big difference. The term undertones refers to the subtle, underlying color of a color. How can a color have another color? Few colors, especially those in interiors, are pure. Instead, they are mixtures of several colors, and the undertones reflect that mix. In another way, the undertone of a mixed color is the minor color that influences the main color. Pure red has no undertones because it is a primary color. But terra-cotta, a version of red-orange, has yellow undertones. Where does the yellow come from? Red-orange is half orange, and orange is half yellow.
The key is to really look at colors and analyze their content. Think of it as a game: Can you see the red undertones in a blue-violet fabric? ( violet is made up of red and blue.) That hint of red might cue you to consider adding other colors with red undertones, such as peach (made up of red and yellow) or melon (a lighter value of red-orange). Both colors are harmonious with blue-violet.
Undertones are especially important when considering wall color. If you love yellow but are reluctant to use it on your walls, look for a near-white with yellow undertones, a color you might call French vanilla. If you’re using a patterned fabric with a neutral background, study its undertones and choose a wall color with a similar color bias.
Neutrals can have undertones, too, and it is often easier to spot the undertones in a neutral than in a more vivid color. Comparing neutrals side by side helps; the green undertones in a greenish gray are obvious next to a true gray, which has no color.
To simplify it ask yourself, “Are the undertones warm or cool?” That information alone can help you choose compatible hues. Apple green, for instance, has warm undertones; aqua blue has cool undertones.
In reality, identifying undertones is more about avoiding disaster than anything else. Undertones that clash – a bluish white next to a yellowish white, for example – may look unpleasant. Even slight differences in the undertones of wall and trim colors can be noticeable.
Now that you know all the color characteristics it will be much easier to make the right choice for your next interior change. If you still feel that you need help, you can always reach out to me at: .