Color Theory for Quilters: Hue, Tint, Shades and Tones

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Color theory has a language all of its own. The words used to describe colors are known as the “properties of color.” These properties include hue, tint, shades, and tones.

Hue is pure color. It is any color on the color wheel — either a primary color or some mixture of primary colors. Hue is shown on the outside of this color wheel.

A tint is formed by adding white to a pure color. A shade is formed by adding black to a pure color. And, to get a tone, you add grey to a pure color.

Although there are no rules in quilting, understanding how tints, tones and shades are made can help you make better decisions. If you are making a monochromatic (single color) quilt, you may want to include many tones, tints and shades to provide depth and contrast. Or you may discover that the tones (with grey added) distract from a quilt made of hues, tints and shades. In addition, you can choose complimentary colors (colors that are opposite on the color wheel) that include more than just the hue (pure color).

It is also interesting to look at your stash of fabric. Many of us love buying pure colors and tints, but have very few tones and shades. Adding these to your fabric stash can give your quilts more visual interest.

This website shows an example of how to mix tones, tints and shades.

This short video contains some good information about mixing colors and color theory. I’ll admit that she is not the most engaging speaker, but there’s some great information — if you can make it through the 4 minutes

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