Color Theory for Beginners

Do you want to understand color theory better, but don’t know where to start? This article explains the three most basic elements of color theory for beginners..

The 3 Elements of Color Theory for Beginners

Every color is composed of three elements: Value, Chroma, and Hue. When learning about color theory as a beginner, it is best to consider each of these elements individually in order to better understand the exact color you are observing.

It is especially important when mixing paint colors to consider each variable separately as it will help you mix colors more accurately.

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Color Values

What is Value?

Value represents how light or dark a color is.

A stop sign is red, and poinsettias also red.

But even though they are both red, the red stop sign is a lighter value of red than the darker red of a poinsettia. The poinsettia is a darker value of red than that of the stop sign.

If you were to take a black-and-white photo of the poinsettia next to the stop sign, the stop sign would appear lighter in the photograph.

If you are a beginner, recognizing how light and dark colors are is one of the essential elements of color theory.

(But what about black and white? Read this article on black and white to learn why black – which is often just a very dark blue – will turn yellow into green.)

Colors can be light or dark. The stop sign is lighter in value than the poinsettia.

Color Chroma

What is Chroma?

Chroma is how intense a color is.

Purveyors of Caribbean vacations are often quick to showcase the “azure” water on island beaches. This water is appealing to us because it is intensely colored. There is less particulate in the water than the greyer seas found in New England, which gives Caribbean waters the appearance of a more intense blue.

So although New England waves are blue, and Caribbean island waves are blue, the Caribbean water is more chromatic – it is a more intense color of blue.

This is the color theory element of chroma. If the color you are looking at is very intense, it is chromatic. If it is not very intense, it is not chromatic.

New England Ocean Blue vs. Caribbean Ocean Blue

What is the opposite of chroma?

The opposite of chroma is neutral. The New England water is a bluish grey and the blue is not very intense, it’s a neutralized blue.

What is a true neutral?

It is possible for a color to be so neutralized that it isn’t any color at all. It simply looks like a grey that is not a green-grey, or a blue-grey, or a red-grey – not even a little bit. This is called a “true neutral”.

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Color Hues

In color theory, the word “hue” describes which color family, of you had to assign just one, the overall color belongs to.

The color families are red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple. Some people refer to this collection of hues in color theory as ROYGBP for short. (Sometimes they are also abbreviated as ROYGBIV, ROYGBV, etc.)

So in the example of the oceans mentioned earlier in this color theory article, we would say that the hue of both oceans is “blue”, even though these two oceans are different colors of blue. If we had to assign just ONE color – and our choices are limited to red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple – BLUE is the hue that stands out to us the most.

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Color Theory Hues – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple

Color Theory for Beginners Conclusion

You can start practicing these color theory concepts quite easily.

Simply find an object in the room and ask yourself the 3 color theory for beginners questons:

  1. What is the value (how light or dark is this object)?
  2. What is the chroma (how intense is the color of this object)?
  3. What is the hue (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or purple)?

You will find that just by practicing thinking about colors and their specific attributes that your eyes will start noticing more nuanced color.

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Want more color theory knowledge? Check out our other color theory articles:

Colour Theory

Opposites on the Color Wheel

Color Theory Lesson Plans

How to Make Yellow Darker

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