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How do you determine color intensity?

Color intensity refers to how bright or dull a color appears. The intensity of a color is determined by its saturation and brightness. In this article, we’ll examine the different ways to measure and quantify color intensity.

What is color intensity?

Color intensity describes the vividness or dullness of a color. Intense colors are highly saturated and seem vivid and bright. Dull colors are desaturated and appear muted or grayish.

Color intensity depends on two main attributes:

  • Saturation – The purity of a color, how much gray it contains.
  • Brightness – How light or dark a color is.

Highly saturated and light colors are very intense. Colors with low saturation and/or low brightness have low intensity.

Measuring color intensity

There are a few different ways to quantify and measure color intensity:

  • Saturation percentage – Saturation can be measured on a scale from 0% (gray) to 100% (fully saturated). More saturated colors have higher intensity.
  • RGB values – In RGB color models, intensity increases with higher values. RBG values range from 0 – 255.
  • HSL/HSV values – These color models separate hue, saturation, and brightness/lightness into distinct values.
  • Delta E – Delta E (ΔE) represents color difference, including differences in intensity. A higher delta E indicates more difference between two colors.

Saturation Percentage

Saturation measures the purity of a color from 0% (gray) to 100% (fully saturated). It represents the amount of gray mixed with the hue.

Colors with higher saturation percentages appear more vivid. A saturation of 100% is extremely intense, while colors with low saturations near 0% will be very dull.

Saturation % Intensity Level
0% – 20% Very dull
20% – 50% Dull
50% – 80% Moderate
80% – 100% Very vivid

RGB Values

RGB (red, green, blue) is an additive color model where colors are produced by combining red, green, and blue light. RGB values range from 0 – 255 for each component.

Higher RGB values mean more of that color is present, creating more intensity. White has maximum RGB values (255, 255, 255) while black has minimum RGB values (0, 0, 0).

To find the RGB intensity of a color:

  1. Take the individual RGB values for the color.
  2. Add them together to get the total RGB value.
  3. The higher the total RGB value, the greater the color intensity.

For example:

  • Bright red = (255, 0, 0) → RGB Intensity = 255 + 0 + 0 = 255 (maximum)
  • Gray = (128, 128, 128) → RGB Intensity = 384 (moderate)
  • Dark green = (0, 64, 0) → RGB Intensity = 64 (low)

HSL/HSV Values

While RGB uses additive color mixing, HSL (hue, saturation, lightness) and HSV (hue, saturation, value/brightness) use subtractive color mixing. This models how colors are created with pigments or dyes.

These color models separate the color properties, making it easy to identify intensity from saturation and brightness/lightness/value.

  • Hue – The pigment/color itself ranging 0° – 360°.
  • Saturation – Color purity/intensity of the hue from 0% – 100%. Higher saturation = more intense color.
  • Lightness or Brightness or Value – How light or dark the color is from 0% – 100%. Higher lightness/brightness/value = more intense color.

For example, a bright red might have:

  • HSL values – Hue: 0°, Saturation: 100%, Lightness: 50%
  • HSV values – Hue: 0°, Saturation: 100%, Value/Brightness: 100%

The high saturation and lightness/brightness values indicate this red shade has intense color.

Delta E

Delta E (ΔE) represents the difference between two colors across various attributes. It is commonly used in quality control applications.

Delta E factors in multiple color components like hue, saturation, brightness, and more. A higher total delta E indicates greater perceived color difference between the two colors.

Delta E can also be used specifically to gauge differences in color intensity between a sample and standard color. The higher the Delta E, the greater the difference in intensity.

How the eye perceives intensity

While we can assign numeric values to color intensity, human perception is also important.

Our eyes contain special receptors called cones that are sensitive to different wavelengths of light. Signals from these cones are processed by the brain to give us our color perception.

Factors that influence perceived intensity:

  • Cone sensitivity – We have cones that are most sensitive to red, green and blue wavelengths.
  • Surrounding colors – Nearby colors provide contrast that enhances or reduces intensity.
  • Lighting – Dim lighting washes colors out, reducing intensity.
  • Size – Larger intense colors will appear more striking.

Since human color perception is subjective, it’s important to consider how the eye sees intensity when evaluating colors.

Applications of color intensity

Measuring and controlling color intensity is critical for many applications:

Digital Displays

Ensuring displays can reproduce a wide gamut of intense, saturated colors accurately.


Matching PMS colors and intensities for logos and branding across different media.

Paints & Coatings

Creating bright, bold colored paints that maintain intensity over time.

Textiles & Dyes

Achieving wash-fastness so fabrics retain saturated, vivid colors after washing.

Food & Beverage

Using natural or synthetic dye colors at specified intensities for foods and drinks.

Quality Control

Using delta E to quantify intensity differences between product batches or spot color variations.

Tips for adjusting color intensity

Here are some tips for modifying color intensity for different needs:

  • Boost intensity – Increase saturation and brightness/lightness/value.
  • Reduce intensity – Add gray or reduce saturation; decrease brightness/lightness/value.
  • Avoid intense colors side-by-side – They will appear extra vivid when viewed together.
  • Use complements – Pairing contrasting colors like red and green makes both seem more intense.
  • Check lighting – Colors may need higher intensity under dim lighting.


Color intensity is an important attribute that determines how vivid and striking a color appears. While intensity can be numerically quantified through saturation, RGB, HSL/HSV values and delta E, human perception is also key.

Across industries like displays, graphics, textiles, and quality control, properly specifying and controlling color intensity is vital for achieving optimal visual results.

By understanding the different factors that influence our experience of color intensity, we can better manage it in all sorts of applications.