The Basics of Paint Colors

All paint colors have a hue, value, intensity and temperature. Small changes to any of these elements can create an entirely new color.

  • Paint color fan deck.Hue – Hue is another word for color. All colors you see and can imagine are hues. Typically the term applies to combinations of primary colors with different values and intensities. Hue is a favorite term of decorators.
  • Value – This term refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. Value is determined by the amount of white, gray or black that is added to a pure color. Think of this as “light”, “medium” or “dark”. Other related terms are tint, shade and tone.
  • Intensity – Intensity is the measurement of the brightness of a color. If a color strikes you as light, medium or dark you are judging the value. While intensity is bright or dull. Low intensity hues are commonly used as main colors while higher intensity hues are used for accents.
  • Temperature – Colors are often referred as warm or cool. Red, orange and yellow seem warm, like fire. While blue and green are cool. Neutral refers to a combination of warm and cool, example is beige. The temperature of a color helps set the mood and can affect your perceptions of a room or space.


Hues can be combined with each other and lightened or darkened in an infinite number of ways. The goal is to find a balanced color you can live with and enjoy. In most cases, you’ll have to pick multiple colors, coordinating your flooring with your walls, accent colors, and furniture. You can read more about developing your own paint color scheme here.

Color Theory

Color is the result of light reflecting off an object. Every color in existence can be produced by mixing the three primary colors in varying amounts. White is the result of the three primary colors reflecting back in equal amounts. We see black when no light is reflected back. When mixing paint, the opposite is true. White pigment with no other color added will be seen as white. Combining the three primary colors in equal amounts will create black paint.

Primary Colors

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. They combine to make all other colors.

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are created by combining two primary colors in equal amounts. Red plus blue equals purple. Blue plus yellow equals green. Yellow plus red equals orange.

Tertiary Colors

Tertiary colors are created by combining a primary color with a secondary color in equal amounts. Adding blue (primary) to purple (secondary) for example, will still result in purple; it will just be a bluer purple. Combining yellow (primary) with green (secondary) will result in a yellowish green.

Quaternary Colors

Quaternary colors are the result of combining a primary color and a tertiary color in equal amounts.

It’s actually unlikely that you’ll ever use a “true” primary, secondary, tertiary, or quaternary color. Most paints combine all three pigments, plus white and black, in varying amounts. However, knowing how colors combine can help you determine what will look best in your room.

The Color Wheel

Color WheelThe color wheel is a fun tool that can be used to determine which colors you like.

They can be very simple, showing just the primary and secondary colors, or exceptionally complex, showing a huge range of colors that can be created by mixing the primary hues. Some versions also show each color in different values so you get a sense of what that blue-green would look like with white or black added.

The commercial equivalent of a color wheel, and perhaps more practical if you’re ready to narrow it down, is a manufacturers paint color deck. It contains all the colors available from a specific manufacturer.

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