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What does chroma mean in paint colors?

What does chroma mean in paint colors?

Chroma refers to the purity or saturation of a color. When talking about paint colors, chroma indicates how vivid or dull a color is. Colors with high chroma are pure, saturated hues, while colors with low chroma are more muted and greyed. Understanding chroma is important for choosing paint colors and creating color harmonies. This article will explain what chroma means, how it impacts paint colors, and how to use it when selecting paints.

What is Chroma?

Chroma, or colorfulness, is one of the three main attributes of color, along with hue and value. It refers to the intensity or saturation of a color. Chroma describes how pure or dull a color is.

A color with high chroma is saturated and vivid. It lacks greyness and appears brighter. Colors with maximum chroma are the pure hues you see in a rainbow or on a color wheel. A color with low chroma is more muted and greyed. It is a less intense, softer version of the hue.

Chroma depends on how much neutral grey or white is mixed with a pure hue. Adding grey or white lowers chroma and purity. Removing grey increases chroma, making colors more saturated.

How Chroma Impacts Paint Colors

Paint manufacturers alter chroma to create palettes with brighter or softer hues. Paints with higher chroma contain less white or neutral pigments. Paints with lower chroma include more white, grey, or black pigments to mute the colors.

Changing the chroma dramatically impacts the appearance of paint colors. A saturated, vivid red with high chroma looks strikingly different than a softened burgundy red with lower chroma. While they are similar hues, the chroma level creates contrasting aesthetic effects.

Understanding chroma gives you precise control when selecting paint colors. You can pick muted shades or neon brights depending on the mood you want to create. Chroma also determines how colors interact. Vivid paints with maximum chroma create high-contrast. Softened paints with low chroma promote harmony and fluidity.

Using Chroma to Choose Paint Colors

Considering chroma helps you pick paint colors to suit your goals. Here are some tips for using chroma when selecting paint colors:

– Brighten up a space with high-chroma paint colors. The saturated, vivid hues make rooms feel energized.

– Tone down a space with low-chroma colors. The muted shades create a gentle, calming atmosphere.

– Use high-chroma colors sparingly as accents against neutral backdrops. Vivid hues stand out dramatically against white walls.

– Combine low-chroma paints for fluid, harmonious palettes. Keeping chroma low creates unity.

– Distinguish adjacent rooms with contrasting chroma levels. A vivid blue dining room next to a soft peach kitchen defines the spaces.

– Coordinate chroma levels in a monochromatic scheme. Monochromes work best when the values and chromas vary.

– Balance warm and cool paints by matching their chroma levels. Keeping chroma consistent unifies diverse hues.

– Use lighter colors with higher chroma and darker colors with lower chroma. This creates pleasing, natural-looking palettes.

How Chroma Changes Based on Light

The perceived chroma of a color depends on the quality and quantity of light. Changes in lighting conditions alter the apparent chroma. This is an important consideration for paint.

Full spectrum natural daylight allows us to see the maximum chroma of colors. Paints appear most vivid and saturated in outdoor light. As light dims, chroma decreases. Colors look more subdued and muted.

Indoor lighting often has less spectrum components than daylight. So paint colors viewed inside will display lower chroma than they do outdoors. Different light sources also impact chroma:

Light Source Chroma Change
Warm incandescent Slight decrease in chroma
Cool fluorescent Significant decrease in chroma
LED Minimal impact on chroma

Chroma changes mean paint colors can look different inside than expected. View paint swatches in the intended room’s lighting to preview the real chroma. Paint companies provide fandecks coated to offset chroma loss under artificial light. Still, assess colors under true conditions before finalizing paint selections.

Using Chroma for Color Harmony

Harmonious color combinations result from balancing chroma across hues. Matching chroma levels creates unity, while contrasting chroma adds interest. Take chroma into account when coordinating paint colors:

Analogous colors: Choose hues close on the color wheel with similar chroma. Keeping chroma constant produces serene analogies.

Complementary colors: Pair contrasting hues with matching chroma. Consistent chroma helps bold complements vibrate without clashing.

Triadic colors: Maintaining the same chroma across triad hues unites this vibrant scheme. Triads work best when chroma is slightly desaturated.

Split complementary: Make one hue the highest chroma as the focal point, lowering other hues equally. The chroma contrast adds dynamism while preventing colors from fighting.

Tetradic (double complementary): Keep chroma very low to unify four contrasting hues. Subtle chroma variations distinguish the tetradic colors.

Monochromatic: Vary chroma dramatically across a single hue for interest. High chroma pops against soft low chroma shades of the same color.

Using Chroma with Tints and Tones

Adding white to a hue creates tints. Adding grey or black creates tones. Tinting and toning impacts chroma.

Tinting a color with white reduces chroma. The more white added, the lower the chroma. A pure hue at maximum chroma becomes progressively muted as a tint.

Toning a color by adding black, grey, or complementary hues also reduces chroma. The hue becomes increasingly subdued and greyed as more neutral tone is mixed in.

However, a small amount of white or black can improve some intense hues with overly high chroma. Softening down intense colors makes them easier on the eyes.

Chroma and Color Temperature

The warmth or coolness of a color, known as color temperature, relates to chroma. Warm colors like red, orange and yellow inherently have higher chroma than cool colors like green and blue.

Warm paint colors appear more saturated, vivid and active. They energize a space due to their high chroma. Cool paint colors seem more serene and restful with their lower chroma.

While warm hues naturally have higher chroma, the saturation can be adjusted. Boosting the grey content in warm colors lowers chroma for a subtler effect. Likewise, cool hues can gain chroma by removing greys and muting ingredients.

Generally, you can balance warm and cool paints by matching their chroma levels. This creates cohesion instead of clashing temperatures.

Chroma and Value

The lightness or darkness of a color is called value. Lighter tints have higher value, while darker shades have lower value. Value and chroma share an inverse relationship.

As value decreases towards black, chroma also decreases. Darker colors lose vividness and become more muted and grey. Lightening a color to white raises value and chroma, increasing vibrancy.

Ultramarine blue demonstrates this link between chroma and value. The deep shade has very low chroma, appearing subdued and dark. Adding white to lighten value also enhances chroma, brightening the hue.

Generally, higher value colors have clearer chroma. Lower value colors appear more muted and neutralized. Use this relationship to guide your color choices.

Using Chroma to Convey Mood and Emotion

Chroma creates an aesthetic effect that impacts mood and emotion. Paint companies carefully adjust chroma when naming paint colors to communicate a certain feeling. Generally:

– High chroma expresses energy, excitement, youth, vibrancy, and brightness

– Low chroma conveys calm, relaxation, subtlety, professionalism, and transitionality

Chroma’s emotional impact makes it a useful tool for color psychology in interior design. Consider the mood you want before simply choosing colors with highest chroma for a lively effect. Sometimes, lower chroma works better for a quiet ambience.

Common Chroma Levels in Paint

Paint manufacturers classify colors into labeling systems indicating their chroma level. For Behr paints, chroma levels include:

– Premium Plus Ultra Pure: Maximum chroma for vivid intensity

– Marquee Pure: High chroma for saturated hues

– Premium Plus Vibrant Hues: Medium-high chroma with brilliance

– Marquee: Medium chroma for versatile colors

– Premium Plus: Medium to low chroma for subtle, transitional palettes

– Premium Plus Soft: Low chroma for understated elegance

Benjamin Moore categorizes their palette into:

– ChromaPremise: Deeply-saturated with high chroma

– Ben, Aura: Medium to moderately-high chroma

– Eco Spec WB, Regal Select: Lower chroma for muted hues

– Classic Color, Super Spec: Medium soft low chroma colors

– Historical Colors: Very low subtle chroma colors

Sherwin Williams uses:

– High Chroma: intensely-saturated pure hues

– Moderately High Chroma: bright vivid colors

– Moderate Chroma: neither dull nor overpowering

– Moderately Low Chroma: lower intensity with subtlety

– Low Chroma: softest greyed-down hues

Using Chroma Strength for Interior Painting

Consider the room size, lighting, and atmosphere goals when choosing paint colors based on chroma for interiors:

– Small dark rooms: Increase brightness with light, high chroma paints. Avoid low chroma colors that will make the space feel smaller.

– Large bright rooms: Lower chroma paints add cozy subtlety without becoming overwhelming. High chroma risks vibrancy overpowering the room.

– North facing rooms: North light is muted, so bolder high chroma paints make the space feel vibrant.

– South facing rooms: The intense light already amplifies chroma, so stick to lower chroma paints to prevent over-saturation.

– Bedrooms: Low chroma colors help create a calm soothing atmosphere conducive to rest.

– Kitchens/Dining Rooms: Medium chroma levels energize these active social spaces without tiring the eyes.

– Transitional rooms: Moderate chroma paints smoothly connect rooms with different functions and feels.

Achieving Medium Chroma Paint Colors

Many homeowners seek medium chroma paint colors to enjoy saturated hues without going overboard. Here are some tips to achieve medium chroma:

– Dilute a high chroma color with white, grey, or complementary hues until reaching desired chroma.

– Choose colors labeled as vibrant, bright, or intense rather than ultra pure or neon.

– For a given hue, medium value shades often have higher chroma than very light or very dark shades.

– Greens, violets, and teals inherently have medium chroma compared to warm primaries.

– Colored stains on wood naturally create a medium chroma effect.

– Glazes layered over base paints build chroma to medium strength.

– Avoid pure mixes of primary colors, instead adding a secondary hue to reduce chroma.

Medium chroma creates paint colors ideal for many applications, giving just enough saturation without tiring the eye. Adjust any paint up or down until you achieve the ideal vividness.

Comparing Chroma to Other Color Attributes

Chroma is a key color attribute, but interacts closely with hue and value. Here’s how chroma compares:

Hue: Hue determines the dominant wavelength and perceived color name like red or green. Changing hue while keeping chroma/value the same maintains color intensity.

Value: Increasing value makes colors lighter and often enhances chroma, except at the lightest tints. Decreasing value darkens hues and fades chroma.

Chroma: Chroma measures color purity and saturation. Boosting chroma intensifies hues, subtracting greys softens them.

Temperature: Warm hues naturally have higher chroma. Cooler colors seem more subdued. Chroma can be altered in any hue temperature.

Mastering all the color attributes gives designers maximum control over the aesthetic effects. Balancing chroma, value and hue creates beautiful, harmonious palettes.


For paint colors, chroma refers to the vividness, dullness, and purity of hues. High chroma colors are saturated and intense. Low chroma colors are muted and greyed. Chroma greatly impacts the appearance and effect of paint colors. Considering chroma helps create paint palettes that are unified or boldly contrasting. Matching the chroma to the room size, lighting, and mood completes the space. Whether seeking bright, energetic paints or subtle, serene hues, understanding and controlling chroma is the key to success.