Color Terms: All You Need to Know about Colors

Design is built of the fundamentals which one of them is Color. In the hands of an expert it can affect numerous factors that contribute to the compelling visual perception. Color has a profound effect on our minds. Within seconds, it changes the way we feel about an object, makes people react, and even makes them do certain things. Color science may seem very simple at first glance, but diving into the details reveals that there are many peculiarities that need to be understood. In this article, we’re gonna learn the information that we need about color terms.

multicolored photo

What is color

In short, color is a visual manifestation of the spectrum of light following its transmission through a transparent medium, or its absorption and reflection off a surface. A color is the wavelength of light that the eye receives from a reflected source and processes.

What is the color terms

Color terms (or color names) are words or phrases that describe a specific color. Color terms may reflect the human perception of the color (based on context) and are usually defined by the Munsell color system, or they may refer to a physical property (such as a wavelength of visible light). Additionally, color spaces are numerical systems for specifying colors.

Often, color and shape are used together while describing things, but a clear distinction must be made between them. As an example, color terms and shape terms are labeled as alternative parts of speech.

In particular, people who cannot perceive colors generally and those who see colors as sounds may have psychological conditions for being able to discern colors.

Basic color terms

In the current day, every language with words for colors is considered to have from two to twelve  basic color terms. English contains eleven basic color terms: ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘red’, ‘green’, ‘yellow’, ‘blue’, ‘brown’, ‘orange’, ‘pink’, ‘purple’, and ‘grey’. Italian, Russian and Hebrew have twelve, distinguishing blue and light blue, while French has beige to refer to the color of undyed wool. There are two other color terms that may be developing in English as well: ‘turquoise’ represents green-blue and ‘lilac’ represents light purple.

What is color theory

A color theory is a set of practical guidelines for color mixing and the visual effects of specific color combinations in the visual arts.

Color theory is a science and art in and of itself, and some people make their living as color consultants or even as brand consultants. Designers who have a thorough understanding of color’s effects are able to offer their clients a truly valuable service.

Color theory is as much about the feelings a color evokes as anything else. However, here’s a quick guide to the colors and their meanings:

  • Red: Passion, Love, Anger
  • Orange: Energy, Happiness, Vitality
  • Yellow: Happiness, Hope, Deceit
  • Green: New Beginnings, Abundance, Nature
  • Blue: Calm, Responsible, Sadness
  • Purple: Creativity, Royalty, Wealth
  • Black: Mystery, Elegance, Evil
  • Gray: Moody, Conservative, Formality
  • White: Purity, Cleanliness, Virtue
  • Brown: Nature, Wholesomeness, Dependability
  • Tan or Beige: Conservative, Piety, Dull
  • Cream or Ivory: Calm, Elegant, Purity

What is color wheel

Complete color wheel of 12 colors with colors names and primary, secondary, tertiary colors for learning the basic of color wheel and it's usage in color term blog post of dopely colors blog

In color theory, a color wheel or circle is an abstract representation of color hues that depicts the relationships between primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Among the oldest ways of categorizing colors, the color wheel is still in use today. Visually, the wheel arranges colors according to their chroma relationship. A color wheel helps you to pair colors and  create color palettes.

Color types based on color wheel

Primary colors

Color wheel of 6 primary and secondary colors with bold primary colors of red and blue and yellow for learning about primary and secondary colors for beginners  in dopely colors blog post

These three pigment colors cannot be formed by combining any other colors. Primary colors form the basis of a whole system. Primary colors differ according to the type of color system. Cyan, magenta, and yellow colorations form a subtractive system, while red, green, and blue colors make up an additive system. The RYB painting system includes red, yellow, and blue colors.

Secondary colors

Color wheel of 6 primary and secondary colors with bold secondary colors of orange, purple and green for learning about primary and secondary colors for beginners  in dopely colors blog post

By combining two primary colors, these colors appear. Because each system has different basic colors, secondary colors also differ. The following is a schematic explanation of secondary colors in each system.


  • green+red=yellow
  • red+blue=magenta
  • blue+green=cyan


  • yellow +magenta=red
  • magenta+cyan=blue
  • cyan+yellow=green


  • yellow+red=orange
  • red+blue=purple
  • blue+yellow= green

Tertiary colors

Color wheel if 12 colors with primary, secondary and bold tertiary colors of cinnabar and magenta and violet and Salem and Rio grande and amber 
For beginners to learn about tertiary colors and their difference with primary and secondary colors in dopely colors blog post

Combining primary and secondary colors creates tertiary colors which typically contain two words, such as red-violet and yellow-orange.

The different components of colors


In a way, hue is synonymous with what we usually call “colors”. Red, green, blue, yellow, and orange are a few examples of different hues. Each hue has a different wavelength in  the spectrum. On the other hand, a hue is what we mean when we ask “what color is it?”. In essence, it is a range of twelve vibrant, pure colors presented on a color wheel.


Values of colors are measures of their brightness. The brighter a color is, the higher its value and the greater the amount of light it emits. In a visual example, a vivid yellow is more bright than a dark blue, so its value is higher. The best way to see the difference between the values of colors is to view the corresponding grey scale version.


A color’s saturation can also be called its intensity. This is a measure of how different a color is from pure gray. A color’s saturation isn’t a function of its lightness or darkness, but of how pale or strong it is. Color saturation is not constant, but it varies based on the surroundings and the light the color is viewed in.


A hue’s chromatic quality, or chromaticity, shows its purity. The characteristics of a color can be measured by the amount of white, gray, and black it contains. As they do not contain any additional elements, the twelve basic hues described above have the highest level of chromaticity. High-chroma colors are usually bold and vivid.

Tint and Shade    

They are terms for describing differences in color from its original hue. White can change a color to a lighter tint if it is added. Adding black to a color makes its darker version known as a shade.


Basically, intensity refers to how bright/strong, or how weak/dull a pigment appears. Colors with more pigment in them are brighter and stronger. The weaker or duller a paint color is, the less pigment it contains. This applies to nearly every type of art medium and supply.

Colors can be classified according to:

Warm, Cool and Neutral

  • In the color wheel, cool colors are on the green-blue side. Having a cold feeling is what gives them this name.
  • Warm colors contrast with cooler colors due to the warm associations they  possess. Yellow, orange and red are the hues relating to the warm type.
  • In addition to these, neutral colors included gray, brown, and beige are left off the color wheel.

Receding and Advancing

  • Receding colors: Cooler colors such as light blues and light grays that make the room appear bigger.
  • Advancing colors: Warmer colors like yellow, red, blue, and violet which create a cosy feeling.

Addictive and Subtractive

  • Addictive color involves the mixing of colored light. An example of this are the colors on a television screen. Additive primary colors are red, green and blue.
  • Subtractive coloring is achieved by mixing colored paints, pigments, inks and dyes. The traditional subtractive primary colors are red, yellow and blue.

Color schemes

The color balance is important in design because users form their impression of a website or application from the first glance, and colors play a big part in this. Designers distinguish certain basic schemes, such as color harmony, which are effective.

The picture of 6 color wheels with 6 different color schemes consisting monochromatic and complementary and split-complementary and analogous and triadic and tetradic or square color schemes to show how different schemes are created based on the color wheel in dopely colors blog post


It is based on one color with various tones and shades of it. A monochromatic color scheme is usually a good option since it’s hard to mess up and create a distasteful scheme.


In order to create analogous harmony, you need to use colors next to each other on the  color wheel. In web design, or banners and web pages, this color scheme can be used whenever no contrast is needed.


The complementary scheme is a combination of colors arranged next to each other on the color wheel. The goal of this scheme is to create a high contrast, which contrasts with analogous and monochromatic schemes.


This scheme uses more colors than the previous one, but it still works similarly. As an example, if you choose the blue color, you must take two others that are opposite, that is, yellow and red. This scheme has less contrast than the complementary scheme, but it allows you to use more colors.


If your design requires multiple colors, you can try a triadic scheme. It is based on three equidistant colors on the color wheel. In this scheme, it recommends using one dominant color and another accent color.


Tetradic color schemes are for the most experienced designers because they are the most challenging to balance. It employs four colors from the wheel which are complementary pairs. When you connect the points on the colors you choose, you get a rectangle. The scheme is hard to harmonize, but if you do everything right, you will have a stunning outcome.

Color systems


The picture of three circles of red and blue and green with overlaps to show how colors are combined in RGB color mode
And show the basic colors of RGB coloring system in dopely colors blog post

RGB color system considers red, blue, and green as primary colors. The system is the basis of all colors used on the screen. The combination of primary colors in equal proportions of this system produces secondary colors which are cyan, magenta and yellow, but you need to remember that the more light you add, the brighter and lighter the color becomes. Results obtained by mixing additive colors are often counterintuitive for people accustomed to the subtractive color system of paints, dyes, inks and other tangible objects.


The picture of three circles colored with cyan and magenta and yellow with overlaps to show the CMYK color system and how colors are combined in it
And to show the basic of how cyan and magenta and yellow and black make all the possible colors together in dopely colors blog post

The system CMY has been modified with the appearance of the photomechanical printing. It received the key component meaning black ink and the system was named CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). Without this additional pigment, the shade closest to black would be muddy brown. Today this color system is mostly used in the printed design.

HSL and HSV 

HSL and HSV color mode

HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) and HSV (Hue, Saturation, Value) are two alternative representations of the RGB color model, which were designed in the 1970s by computer graphics researchers to more closely align with the way human vision perceives color-making attributes. 

These models arrange the colors of each color in a radial slice, around a central axis of neutral colors ranging from black at the bottom to white at the top. 

HSV: Based on the HSV representation, paints of different colors mix together, with the saturation dimension resembling various shades of vivid paints, and the value dimension looking like a mixture of those paints with bits of black or white paint.

HSL: In contrast, the HSL model attempts to mimic more perceptual color models such as Munsell or NCS, placing fully saturated colors around a lightness value of half, with a lightness value of 0 or 1 being fully black or white respectively.

HSI and HSB are alternative names for these concepts, using intensity and brightness; their meanings are less standardized, but they may be viewed as synonymous with HSL. 

Color Match

A color match occurs when two hues appear identical, even if their compositions differ. In commercial applications, this term is often used when an exact color cannot be identified and needs to be  replicated.


Color gamut refers to the entire range of colors available in any color system. There is no single system that can reproduce every color in the spectrum. To achieve this, you would have to use several gamuts. Gamuts can include colors that overlap.

Matte colors

A matte color is one that appears flat and has no luster, gloss, or reflective properties.


In consequence, You will need a few color concepts, as well as color theory terminology, to use color effectively in your designs.

So, if you use color effectively in your life and in your work, you will be pleased with the results. Therefore, knowing these color terms can help you a lot.

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This is Zahra. I'm in love with different languages and colors. So I decided to be the messenger of the world of colors! Here in Dopely, I write about colors and I like to take you to their world with me.

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