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What are tints and tones in art?

What are tints and tones in art?

Tints and tones are important concepts in color theory and painting. They refer to variations in hue, value, and chroma that allow artists to create more dynamic and visually interesting works. Understanding tints and tones is key for any painter looking to expand their color palette and techniques.

What are Tints?

A tint is a hue with white added to it to lighten and desaturate the color. Adding white to a color reduces its saturation and makes it appear lighter. For example, adding white to pure red makes it pink. The more white added, the lighter and less saturated the color becomes.

Tinting is done by adding white paint or through mixing a color with white. On the color wheel, tints are colors that shift towards the white center while maintaining the same base hue. For instance, a red with white added is still a red tint even though it becomes less saturated.

Some key things to know about tints:

– Tints are lighter and duller versions of a hue created by adding white.

– They retain the base color but with decreased saturation.

– Tinting shifts a color towards the white center of the color wheel.

– The more white added, the lighter and closer to pure white a tint becomes.

– Tints allow for highlighting within a specific hue. An orange tint creates a lighter orange for highlights.

– Painters use tints to create subtle value variations within a color for shading and interest.

What are Tones?

Tones are colors that have gray added to lower the saturation and darken the hue. Adding gray makes a color duller, darker and less vibrant. For example, an orange with gray added becomes a more muted, darker orange tone.

On the color wheel, tones shift towards the center between the hue and black center. The more gray added, the closer to pure gray a tone becomes. However, tones maintain the essential hue character of the original color. An orange tone reads as an orange color, just muted and darkened by gray.

Key aspects of tones:

– Tones are muted, darkened versions of a color created by adding gray.

– They make colors darker but retain the base hue.

– Toning shifts a color towards gray on the color wheel.

– The more gray added, the darker and duller a tone becomes.

– Painters use tones for shadow areas and creating value variations.

– Tones allow painters to darken a color without shifting hue or using black.

Differences Between Tints and Tones

Though similar, there are several key differences between tints and tones:

Tints Tones
Created by adding white to a color Created by adding gray to a color
Make colors lighter and brighter Make colors darker and duller
Shift colors towards white on the color wheel Shift colors towards gray on the color wheel
Used for highlights and light areas Used for shadows and shaded areas

In summary, tints lighten while tones darken. Tints add white and increase value, while tones add gray to decrease value. Both tinting and toning allow painters to generate variations within a hue for different lighting effects.

Why Use Tints and Tones?

Using tints and tones in painting has several advantages:

– Allows more visual interest than using only pure hues.

– Creates shading and highlights within a color for 3D effects.

– Adds nuance and subtlety to color mixing.

– Provides tools for showing light falling across forms.

– Keeps shaded areas within the same general hue.

– Avoids the need for stark black shadows.

– Generates colors unavailable through mixing pure hues.

– Produces illusory contours, depth and modeling.

– Can harmonize separate hues when using the same tint or tone.

Tinting and toning thus expand and enhance the painter’s use of color. They open up new mixing possibilities while allowing color unity across lights and darks. Almost all painters utilize tints and tones to give their work greater luminosity and interest.

Mixing Tints

There are two main ways painters mix tints in their work:

1. Tinting with white pigment

2. Tinting with a lighter hue

Adding white pigment is the most direct method of tinting a color. The white reduces saturation and lightens the hue. Whites like titanium or zinc white work best. Avoid over-tinting, as too much white can overpower the hue.

Mixing in a lighter hue can also produce tints. For example, mixing a red with yellow generates a lighter, orangish tint of the red. This approach relies on the lighter color having a brightening effect. Light yellow added to purple makes a lighter violet tint.

When mixing tints:

– Add white gradually to slowly reduce saturation.

– For transparency, mix white with translucent hues like red lake.

– Keep the tint primarily within the original hue.Too much white overwhelms it.

– Alternate mixing white pigment with lighter hues.

– Use soft mixing to retain color luminosity.

– Test mixes before painting to match the desired tint.

Mixing Tones

Painters use two main approaches to mix tones:

1. Toning with gray paint

2. Toning with complementary hues

Adding gray paint is the most common method. Gray desaturates and darkens the hue. Cool grays like Payne’s gray work well for toning warm colors, while warm grays tone down cool hues. Add gray slowly to tone down the color while retaining the base hue.

Using complements is the other toning method. A small amount of the complement neutralizes and subdues a hue. Orange and blue are complements, so a touch of blue makes an orange tone. This approach generates more dynamic muted tones.

Key tips for mixing tones:

– Add gray paint gradually to reduce vibrancy subtly.

– Try toning with both warm and cool grays.

– Use just a small amount of the complement hue.

– Mix the complement into the color separately before applying.

– Test your mixes to find the right balance and tone.

– Glazing transparent tones over colors also mutes them.

Using Tints and Tones in Painting

There are endless ways painters employ tints and tones to enhance their work. But some common techniques include:

– Tinting for highlights on focal points. Light tints draw the eye.

– Toning down backgrounds so foreground subjects pop.

– Painting in tints and tones instead of pure colors. More naturalistic.

– Glazing tinted layers over darker tones to show light passing through.

– Unifying separate areas through matching tints/tones.

– Using a limited tint/tone palette for harmony and cohesion.

– Building up transparent layers from light tints to dark tones to create depth.

– Tinting within the shadow areas to show reflected bounce light.

– Cool tinting and warm toning to subtly suggest light temperature.

The options are vast, but in general:

– Use tints for illuminated and highlighted areas.

– Use tones for shadows, contours and shaded regions.

– Allow tints and tones to interact to create the illusion of form.

With practice, painters learn to see and mix the perfect tints and tones to make colors luminous and three-dimensional. Using only pure hues can look flat and dull by comparison.

Tinting and Toning with Watercolors

Watercolor’s transparent layers are perfect for gradually shifting from light tints to dark tones. With care, the white paper can be left to glow through for delicate tints. Or it can be layered to rich tones.

Some watercolor tinting/toning techniques include:

– Wet-on-wet blending – Softly blends wet tints into tones.

– Glazing – Thin transparent layers shift light to dark.

– Graduated washes – Smoothly change from tint to tone in a single wash.

– Wet-in-wet drops – Allowing colors to bleed and blend into tints.

– Saving whites – Leave white paper exposed for tinting effects.

– Color lifting – Lightly lifting damp paint to reveal lighter tints.

Watercolor’s luminosity makes it ideal for exploring a range of delicate tints. But deep, muted tones can also be achieved through patient layering.

Tinting and Toning with Acrylics

Acrylics are equally suited for tinting and toning. Their opacity allows tints and tones to be freely overlaid and blended.

Useful acrylic techniques include:

– Mixing color with white or gray for direct tinting/toning.

– Glazing over lighter layers with transparent tints/tones.

– Scumbling – Dragging over paint below to subtly integrate tones.

– Building up gradual tints to tones with brushstrokes.

– Blending wet edges to fuse tints into tones softly.

– Wiping back to a lighter tint with a damp cloth.

– Dry brushing to apply broken tones over tints.

With acrylics, almost any desired effect of tinting or toning can be directly mixed and applied. Opaque tints and tones can also overlay and modify layers below.

Tinting and Toning with Oils

Oil paint’s inherently rich color and blending make it ideal for working extensively with tints and tones.

Key oil painting techniques include:

– Fat over lean – Lighter tinted layers first, then darker toned layers.

– Glazing – Multiple thin layers shifted from tints to tones.

– Scumbling – As with acrylics, softly blending tones over lighter passages.

– Impasto – Mixing thick textured tints and tones.

– Wiping back – Revealing lighter tints from below with cloth.

– Sgraffito – Scratching through paint to show tints underneath.

– Feathering – Lightly brushing wet tones into edges of tints.

– Alla prima – Directly mixing and applying wet tints and tones together.

Thanks to oils’ handling properties, almost any approach to layered and blended tinting and toning effects can be achieved.


Tinting and toning are indispensable skills for painters seeking to infuse their work with greater color nuance, light effects and naturalism. By moving beyond pure hues to explore the possibilities of tinted and toned color, artists gain a powerful expansive palette. With the techniques outlined here, painters can harness tints and tones to their full potential for vibrant, luminous and dimension-rich works.