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What is hue vs tone vs value?

What is hue vs tone vs value?

Hue, tone, and value are three important properties of color that every artist should understand. These elements help determine the visual impact of color in a painting or drawing. Learning how hue, tone, and value interact allows artists to make thoughtful color choices that contribute to the mood and message of their artwork.

What is hue?

Hue refers to the color family of a pigment. The hue is what gives a color its general classification as red, blue, yellow, orange, green, etc. For example, a lemon and a ripe tomato have different tones and values, but they share a similar yellow hue.

The hue of a color has a major impact on the feeling it evokes. Warm hues like red, orange, and yellow tend to feel energetic and intense. Cool hues like blue, purple, and green have a calming, relaxing effect. Neutral earth tones like browns and grays feel settled and subtle.

In color theory, there are considered to be six main hues – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. All other hues are variations of these six. For example, chartreuse is a yellow-green, magenta is a purplish-red, and turquoise is a mix of green and blue.

The hue refers only to the color and not its lightness, darkness, or intensity. Two colors with the same hue can have very different tones and values.

What is tone?

The tone of a color describes its lightness or darkness relative to other versions of that hue. For instance, navy blue, royal blue, and baby blue all share a common blue hue, but have different tones.

Tone is about how light or dark a color appears under specific lighting conditions. Adding white to a pure hue produces a tint and lightens the tone. Adding black produces a shade and darkens the tone. Tones are often described with words like light, medium, or dark.

In general, darker tones feel heavier, richer, and more formal. Lighter tones appear delicate, airy, and understated. Skillful artists think carefully about the tone relationships present in the colors they choose.

What is value?

The value of a color describes its relative lightness or darkness. However, value differs from tone because it is an absolute measure of how light or dark a color is, not just relative to other versions of its hue.

The value scale typically runs from white to black, with white being the lightest value and black the darkest. A color’s value refers to how light or dark it seems on this universal scale. For example, a light blue and dark brown may be similar in tone, but the blue has a higher value as it appears closer to white.

Value has a big impact on the sense of depth and contrast in an artwork. Colors with similar values will appear flatter, less distinct from each other. High value contrasts make elements seem more 3-dimensional. Artists carefully balance values to make their compositions visually engaging.

Comparing hue, tone, and value

To see the differences between hue, tone, and value, consider the following hypothetical color swatches:

Color Hue Tone Value
Yellow Yellow Medium 7
Lemon yellow Yellow Light 9
Ochre Yellow Dark 5

While different in tone, all three colors have the same yellow hue. But the lemon yellow has a higher value than the ochre since it appears lighter on the white-to-black scale.

Hue, tone, and value are independent aspects of color. Tone and value affect how light or dark a color looks. Hue influences the color family. Artists think about all three as they make color choices.

Mixing hues, tones, and values

With painting, an artist can mix colors to achieve desired hues, tones, and values:

  • Mixing colors with different hues produces intermediate hues – red + yellow = orange
  • Adding white to a hue lightens its tone and increases its value
  • Adding black to a hue darkens its tone and decreases its value

For example, an artist could start with a medium-tone blue paint. Adding white would lighten the tone and value to make a sky blue. Mixing in black would create a darker navy blue. The hue remains blue through the process.

Using hue, tone, and value in art

Masterful painters and drawers use their understanding of hue, tone, and value to create compelling compositions. Here are some key ways they use color’s properties:

  • Establish mood – Warm or cool hues create different moods. Dark tones feel solemn, light tones joyful.
  • Create emphasis – Areas of high contrast in tone and value draw the viewer’s eye.
  • Build dimension – Overlapping shapes will recede or advance depending on their relative values.
  • Direct the viewer’s eye – Strategic value and tone relationships can lead the viewer through a scene.
  • Convey distance – Distant objects have lower contrast and value than foreground objects.


Hue, tone, and value are central elements of color theory. Hue refers to the pigment family of the color. Tone describes how light or dark a color is relative to other versions of its hue. Value indicates how light or dark a color seems on an absolute white-black scale.

Mastering hue, tone, and value allows artists to make thoughtful color choices that contribute to the visual impact of their work. A strong grasp of these concepts helps artists use color intentionally to convey mood, direct the viewer’s eye, and create the illusion of 3-dimensional space.

Whether mixing paint or choosing drawing media, understanding the distinct characteristics of hue, tone, and value gives artists more power over their use of color in visual art.