Making Colors Lighter or Darker

Playing with colors has fascinated humans for centuries. Whether for painting, textiles or digital purposes, one can achieve thousands of different colors by manipulating only a handful of them. 

One way of doing this is playing with the tone. Another way is to make a color lighter or darker, namely by playing with its tone or shade. So what is a tint of color? What does a shade of color mean? How do tint and shade change the appearance of colors to make them seem lighter or darker?

How Do You Create a Tint of a Color?

To make a color lighter, you need to add white. The more white you add, the lighter the color will become. ‘Tint’ is the name given to the mixture of a color with white. Simply put, this mixture is called ‘a tint of the original color’. In this context, pink is called a tint of red.

Tints are sometimes called pastels. This is because white added a color does not brighten it. Although a tint may sometimes seem brighter when compared to the original color, it is in fact only paler. This is why tints are sometimes called pastels.

In color theory, a tint is achieved only when white is added to a pure color. Therefore, a real tint would not contain any grey or black. A tint only lightens the color by adding white; it does not change its hue.

In addition, even a very small amount of white added to a color changes it into a tint. A tint that is achieved with a very small amount of white will be very close to your original color. Meanwhile one that is achieved with a large amount of white will get closer to white itself. Therefore, tints of a given color will occupy a very wide range, in relation to the amount of white added.

Artists trying to create tints of colors are advised to work gradually and with little amounts of white. This is because even a very little white might transform the brightest yellow to a pale cream color.

How Do You Create a Shade of a Color?

To make a color darker, you need to add black. The more black you add, the darker the color will become. This mixture called ‘a shade of the original color’. 

In color theory, a real shade is defined as a pure color mixed with only black. A true shade would not contain any grey or white. A shade will only darken the color by adding black and it will not change its hue. What follows is that while pink is a tint of red, burgundy would be a shade of red.

Similar to tint, even a very small amount of black added to a color will transform its shade. A shade of a color will range from your starting point all the way to black. 

Artists trying to create shades of colors are advised to start with the color itself rather than black and add small amounts of black at a time.

Meanwhile, colors can also be darkened by mixing. If you mix colors with the opposite one on a color wheel (complementary color), you will get a darker (and richer) version of the original color. However, this will not be considered as a shade in color theory since it was not derived from grey.

What is a Tone of Color?

For those who are new to color theory, tint and shade might be confusing. One might wonder why they are not simply called tones. Well, this is because they are not… So what exactly is a tone?

According to color theory, a true tone of a color is achieved when a pure color is mixed with grey. As grey contains only black and white, a tone might also be produced by both tinting and shading of the original color. Therefore, a tint or a shade of a color are not tones as they contain either only white or only black.

Mixing with grey will reduce (tone down) the intensity and brightness of a color. Psychologically, toned colors are considered more relaxing and sophisticated.

Artists trying to create tones of colors are advised to mix their greys beforehand in light, medium and dark batches to have them ready when needed.

What Is It Called When Color Goes From Light to Dark?

One color hue blended gradually from light to dark (moving from its tints to shades) is called ombré. This French word literally means ‘shaded’. 

In the 21st century, ombré has become a very popular hair, nail art and make-up technique. It is also popular in baking, with frosting on cake layers changing colors gradually. The use of ombré is also popular in textiles, glassware, wall painting and graphic design.


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