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Tints, Shades, Hues, And Tones – What are the Differences

Tints, Shades, Hues, And Tones

A lot of times, people say stuff like “That shade of green is beautiful” or “I don’t like this tone, I prefer the other hue,” and you are sitting there wondering what exactly they mean. I mean, it’s not like you heard those terms before; in fact, now that you think about it, you hear it almost everywhere, used casually. These terms used every day, sometimes interchangeably, should have straightforward meanings, but yet this one just seems a little hard to wrap your head around.

Don’t get it twisted; the difference between tints, tones, hues, and shades can be confusing even for the most experienced graphic designers. Shade and tints have been used so often so interchangeably that it can have anybody fooled regardless of how many years you have under your belt. Think that’s bad enough? Now add hue and tone to the mix. What you then have is an exotic array of separate color terms that everybody knows, but yet somehow, nobody understands. Comparatively speaking, mixing these four is forgivable because they are all related to color theory and usually refer to the same concepts in design, but that is all they share.

Each one of them has a specific role that, if used correctly, would make the overall design process more engaging and fulfilling. A designer would be doing themselves a world of good by learning to distinguish between these four. Once you know how they differ from each other, you’ll never be confused. You’ll also be able to describe or mix colors much more easily. To understand the difference between tints, shades, hues, and tones, you first have to understand the concept of color theory.

How exactly is color theory Important?

Probably one of those essential skills to have to advance easily and go far as a designer is having a full grasp of the concept of color theory. Apart from the fact that understanding and using shades, tints, hues, and tones fall within this domain, maintaining a solid knowledge of this is the first step in improving yourself as a powerful visual communicator. Proficiency in color theory comes with an improved ability to understand color contrast, color combinations, and great composition.

Say, you got a branding job that focuses on visual communication and representation. Knowledge of color theory is invaluable in emphasizing the important aspects of the design. Lightening and darkening specific areas, using specific colors that may represent certain emotions help the audience recognize cues and receive the message being passed. With that out of the way, let’s take a deep look at tint, shade, hue, and tone to clarify their important differences.

Shades, Tints, Tones, and Hues – Defined:

1. Hues

To get the first one out of the way, hue is just another fancy name for color. More specifically, any color on the color wheel is known as hue. You probably know about the color wheel. Well, if not, here is a refresher anyways. You should know Red, blue, and yellow are primary colors. Combining any two of these colors give you secondary colors; red and yellow turn orange, blue, and yellow turn green and so on. There is a third set known as tertiary colors. They are formed by combining primary and secondary colors. You have red-green, blue-green, etc. Based on their names, they are simple to figure out.

Colors exactly opposite each other on the color wheel are known as complementary colors. Combining them will create high contrast. So they should be used when you want your design to stand out. You’ll notice that we’ve not made mention of black or white, and you won’t find them on the color wheel. That’s because they are not hues. So, where do they come in when color mixing is concerned? Well, they both play crucial roles. Mixing black or white to any hue create different variations, hence the shade, tint, and tone.

2. Tints

By definition, tint exists to reduce the darkness of a color. You get tint by adding white to any hue on the color wheel. A tint is essentially a paler copy of the same color; desaturates and lightens the hue making it less intense. Tints exist on a spectrum, just about any little amount of white can make a tint. The more you add white, the more tints of lightness you can get.

3. Shades

Like the eternal dance of day and night, shades and tints are separated by light and dark. While tint makes a color lighter, shades do the complete opposite. Adding black to a color affects the lightness of the color and creates different shades of the same color depending on the amount of black added, without containing any traces of grey or white. It creates a darker and more intense character of the hue, which can be tricky to use, to be honest.

4. Tones

Adding white or black to a hue creates a tone. Another way of putting this is, adding grey to any hue. Tones can be ultimately lighter or darker than the original hue. What determines this is the proportion of white, black, and the hue you use together. They can be more intense or less saturated than the original. Tones are actually true to the way we see colors around us, as it can reveal the complex and subtle qualities in a hue. One way or the other, every color we see around us has been toned to some degree.

Take a quick look around you where do you see colors that might be shades, tints, or tones? Having this knowledge can be the difference in how your design is accepted when designing for an audience.