This glossary of terms is Colour related. It covers most of the colour terms and vocabulary used by many designers on a daily basis. These can be confusing to clients who need to communicate with designers. This is a work in progress and updates are made frequently.
Achromatic – Literally, without colour. In art, a composition in shades of black, white and gray.
Additive – Colours made by light; the additive primaries are red, green and yellow.
After-image – The illusion of a visual complementary colour image that occurs after staring at a hue, then shifting the gaze to a plain white surface.
Analogous hues – Colours that lie next to each other on the colour wheel.
Attributes of colour – The three main descriptions or properties of colours, namely hue, value and intensity.
Balanced colour – Colours that are balanced by their complements and varied across their values and intensities.
Binocular vision – Two retinal images, one from each eye, melted by the brain’s visual system into a single image that appears three-dimensional.
Chroma – The degree of purity or brilliance of a colour.
Chromaticity – A term interchangeable with Chroma, saturation and intensity.
Colour constancy – The psychological tendency to see colours we expect to see even when the actual colours are different.
Colour harmony – The pleasing result of balanced colour relationships.
Colour scheme – a set of colours chosen to combine within a composition.
Colour wheel – A two-dimensional circular arrangement of colours that reveals colour relationships of the spectral hues.
Complement, complementary – Colours that lie opposite each other on the colour wheel. Placing them side by side enhances the brilliance of both; mixed together, they cancel the intensity of both.
Composition – The arrangement of shapes, spaces, lights, darks and colours within the format of an artwork.
Cool colours – Colours that connote the coolness of water, dusk and vegetation: usually violets, blues and greens.
Crosshatching – a method of shading by using short parallel lines, often in superimposed sets of lines crossed at various angles to darken an area.
Double complementary – A colour combination of four hues: two sets of complements such as red/green and blue-violet/yellow-orange.
Dyad – A colour scheme based on two colours.
Glaze (oil) / Wash (water media) – A transparent film of colour painted over another colour.
Grisaille – A method of painting that uses shades of gray in an underpainting to establish the value structure in a composition.
Hue – The name of a colour.
Intensity – The brightness or dullness of a colour; also called Chroma, chromaticity and saturation.
Line – A narrow mark that defines the edges of spaces and shapes in a composition. Line can also be used for shading, as in crosshatching.
L-mode – The language mode of the brain, usually located in the brain’s left hemisphere and characterized as a verbal, analytic and sequential mode of thought.
Local colour – The actual colour seen on objects or persons.
Luminosity – In painting, the illusion of radiance or glow.
Monochromatic – In painting, a work based on variations of one colour.
Monocular vision – By closing or covering one eye, the brain receives a single image, which appears to be flat like a photograph.
Negative spaces – In art, the shapes that surround the objects; sometimes considered background shapes.
Palette – A surface for holding pigments and providing space for mixing paints.
Perceptual colour – The actual colours of objects and persons.
Pictorial colour – The adjustments to perceptual colour needed to bring a colour composition into unity, balance and harmony.
Pigment – Dry colour ground to a fine powder and mixed with a liquid for use as a painting medium.
Primary colours – Colours that cannot be mixed from any other colours—for example, red, yellow and blue.
Reflected colour – Colour reflected from one surface to another.
R-mode – The visual mode of the brain usually located in the brain’s right hemisphere and characterized as a visual, perceptual and global mode of thought.
Saturation – A term signifying the brightness or dullness of a colour: used interchangeably with intensity, Chroma and chromaticity.
Scumble – A technique similar to glazing, except that the coating is opaque and is just painted on very thinly to allow bits of the paint below to shine through
Secondary Colours – Colours that are mixtures of two primaries—for example, mixing yellow and red (theoretically) makes orange.
Shade, shading – In Ostwald’s model, colour changes made by adding black, thus decreasing the proportion of the original colour.
Simultaneous contrast – The effect of one colour on an adjacent colour.
Spectrum, spectral hues – The sequence of colours seen in a rainbow or in the colours created by passing light through a prism.
Style – An artist’s personal, usually recognizable, manner of working with images and art materials.
Subtractive colour – Pigments and pigment mixtures used in painting that absorb all wavelengths except those of the colour or colours apparent to the eye.
Successive contrast – Interchangeable with after-image.
Tertiary colours – Colours made by mixing a primary and its adjacent secondary—for example, the tertiary yellow-orange results from mixing the primary yellow and the secondary orange.
Tetrad – A colour scheme based on four hues equidistant on the colour wheel—for example, green, yellow-orange, red, and blue-violet.
Tint – A light value of the colour.
Toned ground – A thin wash of a neutral colour on a surface to prepare it for painting.
Triad – A colour scheme based on three colours equally spaced from each other on the colour wheel—for example, yellow, red, and blue.
Underpainting – A preliminary toning of the surface to be painted, often somewhat more detailed than a toned ground.
Unity – The ruling principle of art and design, which all parts of an artwork contribute to the harmonious unity of the whole.
Value – The degree of lightness or darkness of a colour.
Warm colours – Colours associated with heat or fire, such as red, orange, and yellow.