Color Theory Part 2: exploring hue, value, tint, shade and tone

When you first start to explore color theory, chances are that you’ll run across a lot of new terms (and they might seem at first to all refer to the same thing – color)! However, once you dive into this fascinating topic – you’ll learn the subtle differences between things like hue, value, tint, shade and tone.

To start, let’s go over the broadest term in this group of color theory words: hue. In painting, hue actually refers to a pure color – red, yellow, blue – without any white or black added to it. But in a broader sense, hue is just a fancy word for color!

Another term you’ll come across is value – this word is synonymous to what we describe a color as light or dark. You can also think about value in terms of how bright a color is.

Tint, shade and tone are three other terms you might see when reading through color theory. Let’s explore these qualities a bit more in depth.


color theory for knitting


Tints, shades and tones are all variations on the colors found on a color wheel – but with the addition of white, black or gray.

TINT: a tint is created when white is added to a pure hue or color. These colors are lighter and less intense versions of the original color. We often think of these colors as softer hues like pastels.

SHADE: a shade is created when black is added to a pure hue or color. These colors are darker than the original color and often have a more intense, richer quality to them.

TONE: a tone is created when gray is added to a pure hue or color. These colors will appear darker than the original hue used but the overall value or brightness will be reduced. You can see this in the above image when comparing the shades of red to the tones of red – the tones appear almost muted in contrast.

Although when working with yarn, you can’t necessarily mix colors in the traditional sense, like painting, but you can use these principles to help you in the process of choosing colors for your next project. This is particularly helpful when working with more than one (or many!) colors – like stripes or fair isle.

color theory for knitting 2

color theory for knitting 3

When planning out colors for your knitting project, one trick is to look at your colors in black and white. This will reveal their value or relative brightness to one another. For example, in the color group above – you might think that Caribbean is bright enough to stand out against the other two colors. Converting this into a simple black and white image reveals their true value – which is fairly similar.

This means if you do a colorwork pattern or stripes with these three colors, chances are the actual pattern will get lost in the colors (there isn’t isn’t contrast between the colors to make them stand apart from one another).


color theory for knitting 4 color theory for knitting 5

By changing out the light green and light blue for Green Tea Heather and Blue Note Heather, the overall colors seem to “pop” a bit more. That is because their relative value (as shown in the black and white version) is much stronger – you can easily see that there is plenty of contrast between these three colors. A small change can make a big impact on the relationship of the colors!

One yarn in particular that this can be a bit challenging with is Palette – mainly due to just how many colors there are to choose from, 150 all together! To make this process a bit easier, we’ve put together side by side images of the entire yarn line in both color as well as black and white.



(click to see the images above larger)

For your reference, you can download the Palette line up shown above as a PDF here.

Hopefully these basic principles and simple tricks will help you as you move through your own color journey!


  1. Mary M. / January 30, 2015

    This black and white trick is awesome! Thank you for the informative lesson. =)

  2. Fuego Azul / January 30, 2015

    Very interesting. Thank you for the lesson! I’ll keep this in mind when I decide to take on Fair Isle. I love Palette & am often overwhelmed with all of the beautiful colors to choose from.