Tone, Tint, Hue or Shade?

When you are in an art class, these terms ‘tone’ tint’ ‘hue’ and ‘shade’ get used a great deal, but what are the differences?  Why is it important to understand the differences?

It is always nice to understand what terms mean but I have been in many art classes where terms are used and never explained. It is important to understand the differences between these terms when you are painting because it gives you language to explain your art.  It is also important to understand for colour mixing and colour theory.


Hue means a colour (red, green, blue, yellow etc.) There are six hues and they are the colours of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.  In colour theory a hue means pure colour (colour without a tint or shade).

The six hues
The six hues


Tone means how dark or light something is.  Below we see a tonal scale from dark on one side to light, all these different shades of grey are tonal values. We create a tone when we add both black and white.

Tonal scales
Tonal scale

Tones are not just greys of course, we can get different tonal values of a blue or red. The tones of a blue will be lighter or darker depending on how much black or white is added.


Tints are created when you add white to any hue.  Lightening a hue makes it less saturated or intense and you get what some refer to as ‘pastel colours’ they are lighter and feel calm and still in paintings.  A tint is always lighter than the original colour.

Tints of Cobalt Blue
Tints of Cobalt Blue


Shades are darker versions of hues and you create shades when you add black.

Shades of Cobalt Blue
Shades of Cobalt Blue

If you are have read other posts you know that some artists don’t use black or white.  They still create tones using by mixing darker and lighter colour mixes in with the original colour or hue.

Read my post Why You Can Have Too Many Paint Colours for more advice.

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