Understanding Chromatic and Achromatic Colors for Your Next Project!

Understanding Chromatic and Achromatic Colors for Your Next Project!

“I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music.” – Joan Miro, Spanish Painter

Color is one of the most powerful tools in design, but it can also be very tricky to use effectively. Since colors evoke different feelings in people, it’s important that you use the right colors to get your message across. While color theory can seem complicated, once you get your head around the basics, it’s much easier to create designs that communicate effectively. So, whether you plan to work with chromatic or achromatic colors, all you need to do is grasp some simple color theory to get started.

To help you understand some key concepts, in this post we’ll cover chromatic and achromatic colors, and how they work together in design. We’ll also look at how brands have used both types of color schemes in their branding. However, before we deep dive into chromatic and achromatic colors, let’s take a look at some shallow-water color concepts. Come on in!

Three attributes of color

Firstly, there are three properties of color that will help you understand different color schemes and how to use them. Say hello to hue, lightness and saturation.

Related: The Fundamentals of Understanding Color Theory

1. Hue or Pure Color

A hue or pure color is simply a shade of color on the color wheel. For example, red, yellow, green and blue.

Related: Hues, Tints, Tones, and Shades: What’s the Difference?

2. Lightness

Lightness, as you might assume, is the property of color that describes the degree of brightness. Colors are graded in relation to the amount of light they reflect. For example, yellow (a color that reflects a lot of light) has a high lightness value. Blue, on the other hand, does not reflect a lot of light, so it has a low lightness value.

Another fascinating effect of color, is how it affects other shades around it. In respect of lightness, the brightness of one color often ends up affecting the lightness of the color adjacent to it!

Also known as value contrast, artist Annamieka explains this concept in the best way:

Understanding value contrast can help you add a new dimension to your own art. Value contrast refers to the amount of contrast between two areas of different value. It’s the relationship between a light area and a dark area. There can be high contrast (a big difference between light and dark) and/or low contrast (not a big difference between the light and dark). Käthe Kollwitz’s Self-Portrait is a great example of high contrast. There is bright white as well as deep, dark black. The effect of this high value contrast is that it really pops.

Käthe Kollwitz’s Self-Portrait, Image source:

3. Saturation

Saturation is what expresses the vividness of a color or a hue. If you see a vivid color, it means it has a high saturation, while a dull color has a low saturation. As a result, the same color with the same level of lightness may appear clearer depending on its saturation levels.

Related: The Best Ways to Use Triadic Colors in Design

The Munsell Color System

Achromatic and chromatic colors both have dark and light colors. American art instructor and painter Albert H. Munsell developed a color system that defines colors by measured scales of hue, lightness, and saturation. These attributes each correspond respectively to dominant wavelength, brightness, and strength or purity. The values on the system range from 0 for pure black (a color that does not reflect light) to 10 for pure white (a color that reflects all light.)

Now that we all have all that background about the properties of color, it’ll become easier to understand the concepts of chromatic and achroma