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What do you call a black and white color scheme?

What do you call a black and white color scheme?

A black and white color scheme refers to a combination of only black and white colors in an image, design, or other visual work. This high contrast color scheme is also known by several other names including monochrome, achromatic, and grayscale.

Black and white color schemes have been widely used in visual arts and design for centuries. The stark contrast between the two colors creates bold, dramatic effects and draws the viewer’s attention. At the same time, black and white imagery has a classic, elegant, and timeless look and feel.

In this article, we will explore what a black and white color scheme is, look at its different names, discuss its uses and applications, and examine why it has remained such a popular choice in visual media over time.

What is a Black and White Color Scheme?

A black and white color scheme includes only tones of gray, black, and white. It contains no other colors. The tones can range from the deepest blacks through light grays to the brightest whites. But there are no color hues present.

Black and white schemes are also called monochromatic. The term monochromatic comes from Greek roots “mono” meaning one and “chroma” meaning color. So a monochromatic image literally only contains variations of a single color—in this case, black and white.

The different tones and values create contrast and gradients. But a true black and white scheme does not incorporate any other colors or hues. It may sometimes be called an achromatic color scheme as well. Achromatic means having no color or hue.

Other Names for a Black and White Color Scheme

In addition to monochromatic and achromatic, a black and white color scheme has several other common names:

  • Monochrome
  • Grayscale
  • Black and white
  • Tones of gray

Monochrome is probably the most widely used term. It emphasizes the presence of a single color in various shades and tints.

Grayscale is another very common name. It refers specifically to the range of gray tones present, from black to white.

Black and white is a plain, literal description. Tones of gray also underscores the gradient of shades between the two extremes.

All these terms can be used interchangeably when referring to a color scheme of only black, white, and tones of gray.

Uses and Applications of Black and White Color Schemes

Black, white, and grayscale schemes have been used across many artistic and design media for centuries. Here are some of the most prominent examples:

  • Photography – From early black and white photos to art photography
  • Graphic design – Logos, marketing materials, stationery
  • Architecture – From ancient Greek temples to modern minimalism
  • Printing – Newspapers, books, documents
  • Fashion – Black and white clothing pieces
  • Television and film – Classic black and white movies and shows
  • Digital art – Black and white drawings, digital paintings, pixel art

Photography adopted black and white imagery from its inception in the 1800s. Early photographic processes could not produce color images, only monochromatic ones. Even after color film was introduced, black and white photography continued to be used as an artistic choice for creating dramatic effects. Many photographers still specialize in black and white imagery today.

Graphic design makes frequent use of black, white and grayscale schemes. The high contrast provides maximum legibility and visual impact in logos, marketing materials, stationery, signage, and other applications. It also can appear clean, modern and sophisticated.

Application Example
Photography Early photographs, art photography
Graphic design Logos, marketing, stationery
Architecture Ancient Greek, modern minimalism
Printing Newspapers, books, documents
Fashion Black and white clothing
Film/TV Classic black and white movies and shows
Digital art Drawings, paintings, pixel art

Architects going back to ancient Greece and Rome have utilized a monochrome color palette in buildings. More recently, the modern minimalist and contemporary styles make frequent use of black, white and gray.

Much printed material like newspapers, books and documents have traditionally used black ink on white paper. Good contrast and legibility make a monochromatic scheme practical.

Black and white as a color combination has a sophisticated, elegant look in fashion design. Models on runways and brides at weddings often wear black and white. It is a timeless palette.

Early television and movies were in black and white due to technological limitations. Even after color filming, black and white cinematography remained a deliberate creative choice. Iconic shows and classic movie gems were shot in black and white.

Digital art forms like drawings, paintings and pixel art may apply a limited monochrome palette as an artistic constraint. Creating detailed images using only black, white and grays provides a fun challenge.

As technology has expanded the possibilities of color, black and white schemes remain a deliberate choice with unique visual effects. The versatility to convey dramatic or subtle moods ensures black, white and grayscale retains its place in design.

Why Black and White Color Schemes Remain Popular

There are both practical and aesthetic reasons why the monochromatic color scheme of black, white and gray tones has never gone out of style. Some key advantages that keep it popular include:

  • High contrast – The most contrast possible in tone provides maximum visibility
  • Bold and attention-grabbing – The stark difference draws the eye
  • Classic and elegant – A timeless, sophisticated look
  • Easily reproducible – Easy to produce in any medium or format
  • Conveys mood – Can be dramatic, moody, neutral depending on use
  • Accessible meaning – Interpreted similarly by different cultures

The high contrast between black and white creates the greatest possible visibility. This makes black text on white exceptionally readable and legible. Grayscale gradients also stand out clearly.

Such high contrast draws attention and creates bold graphics. Black and white schemes help focus the viewer on key elements of a composition.

A monochromatic palette also appears classic and elegant. The simplicity conveys a clean, timeless aesthetic. This helps explain its enduring use for formal attire.

Reproducing images in black and white is easier technically than capturing or producing the full spectrum of color. This practical aspect enabled early adoption in photography, printing, film and other media.

Black and white can convey dramatically different moods depending on use of shadows, highlights and contrast levels. It creates visually captivating textures and patterns.

The straightforward approach of the color scheme tends to be interpreted similarly by audiences across cultures. It transcends barriers and conveys meaning universally.


A black and white or monochromatic color scheme refers to the use of only black, white and tones of gray in an image, design or artwork. Some key points about this high contrast palette include:

  • Also called monochrome, grayscale, achromatic
  • Used in photography, graphic design, architecture, printing, fashion, film, digital art
  • Provides high contrast, boldness, classic elegance
  • Technically simple to reproduce
  • Conveys mood through contrast and textures
  • Accessible and transcendent meaning

Black, white and the range of grays between have formed the foundation of visual media since its origins. The versatility, elegance and visual impact of the monochromatic scheme ensure it remains a popular choice even as technology expands the possibilities of color. In design, black and white is truly timeless.