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Hue vs color: the most important difference explained

The essential thing a (beginner) artist needs to know is the difference between hue and color. Luckily, it’s a super simple color theory!

The difference between hue and color is that the hue only defines the root color; red, green, purple, orange etc. whereas color has more information than only the root color. It also contains saturation and value. For example, chartreuse is a color, but green is the hue of chartreuse.

Let me explain the three components of color and how to use them in any situation!

Does hue mean color?

Hue does not mean color. Hue is only one of the three components of color. Hue is, however, often incorrectly interchangeably used with color which causes confusion about whether or not they are the same.

The three components of color are:

  • Hue
    • The root color
  • Value
    • How dark or light a color is
    • Sometimes referred to as brightness
  • Saturation
    • How gray or pure a color is

All three of them combined are a specific color. Some of these colors are used a lot which is why they have names like chartreuse, teal, salmon, etc.

Changing any variable of one of the three components changes the color, albeit very subtle.

What is hue?

As you now know,

Hue is the root color of any color. It disregards any value or saturation. Hues are the color names of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors: Red, yellow, blue, orange, green, purple, red-orange, orange-yellow, yellow-green, green-blue, blue-purple, and purple-red.

If I were to show you a random color, you probably don’t know its specific name. But you do know the hue of it.

What does this hue look like to you?

Yes, it’s green!

What is color?

As we’ve discussed before:

Color contains two more components than hue itself. Color includes a hue, value, and saturation. These three combined create a specific color. Altering one of these will result in a different color.

Do you know the color of the image below?

If you guessed blue, then you are correct. This is because, technically, all hues are colors as well.

The more trained eye may recognize this specific hue, value, and saturation as a color named ultramarine blue.

So the hue of the example above is blue, and the color is named ultramarine blue.

Hue and color examples

I think you already get the gist of it. But just in case, here are some hue and color examples:

The following colors share the same hue (blue):

hue vs color

The following colors all share the same hue (red):

hue vs color

The following colors do not share the same hue except for the bottom two (green and yellow):

hue vs color

All hues are colors and all colors have hues.

What is more important, hue, value, or saturation?

Value is the most important component of a painting. If you don’t get the value of a painting right, your entire painting may become unreadable. This means that the viewer may have trouble recognizing shapes and therefore does not understand what you’re trying to say with your art.

Hue and saturation are secondary to value when it comes to art. Therefore one of the first things you should practice is painting in grayscale.

If you think that’s too boring choose a random color and use all of its values. So for example, take a blue and mix darks, mid-tones, and lighter tones to paint with!

Why hue is important

Hue is important because it can take your (digital) painting to the next level. The specificness of a hue can make or break your painting. Hues that aren’t at the right temperature may result in an incohesive painting. Hues that are carefully thought out may make your painting stand out.

If I just confused you, don’t worry. Let me explain.

If you want your painting to give off a certain mood, you need color to make that happen.

If, for example, I want my painting to look cold, grey, and gloomy, I need to darken my values, desaturate my colors, and for the hues… They need to lean towards blue.

This doesn’t mean you can only use blue colors, and colors surrounding blue. Not at all.

If you want to use red in a cold and gloomy painting, you need to make sure that that red, leans so far towards the blue that if it were to lean more towards the blue, the red wouldn’t be red anymore.

color temperature

As you can see in the image above, the gloomy red color shifted its hue toward magenta. Magenta is the hue right next to red. Shifting the hue this way, you read it as a cold red color.

If you’re interested in learning all about cool and warm colors and why they’re important you can read it here.

A color may look odd as a single swatch, but surrounded by other colors in the right context, it will read right.

Just look at the sleeve of Sally down below. Her sleeve reads as yellow. But when single-swatched, it looks like a muddy brown/red.

hue vs color
Sally’s hair looks red but the single swatch looks brown

You can find more illustrations on my Instagram feed.

Hue color codes

If you work digitally you can easily change the hues of any color by changing the slider, or by using numbers. The following digits are linked to each hue:

Hue color codes

The hue numbers go from 0-360. Every hue gradually blends into the next hue. Choosing one side of each hue determines how warm or cold that hue is.

What are tints

Tints are any hue plus white. Think of light colors.

When it comes to pigments, when added white to any hue, the resulting color may look desaturated as well. This is because white paint automatically desaturates.

Examples of tints are:

what are tints

What are tones?

Tones are any hue plus gray. Tones are muted colors. Think of earth tones.

Tints mixed with tones result in pastel colors.

Examples of tones are:

what are tones

What are shades?

Shades are any hue plus black. Shades are dark. The term shade is often used in interior design and is falsely used as not every color is a shade.

Examples of shades:

what are shades


I created a nice overview of all of the terms a (beginner) artist should know.

What is…Explanation
HueThe root color name (red, green blue etc.)
SaturationThe amount of purity of a color (completely gray or 100% pure color)
ValueHow dark or light a color is
ColorHue, saturation, and value combined which make a specific color
TintsAny hue + white
TonesAny hue + gray
ShadesAny hue + black

Frequently asked questions about hue vs color

Here are some questions people ask a lot about hues and colors.

Hue definition in art

A hue is the root color of any color. Examples of root colors are: red, green, blue, orange, purple, and blue.

Hues and shades meaning

Hues are the name of the root of a certain color and shades are a hue with black added to it. For example, the hue of the color salmon is red. The hue of the color chartreuse is green. A red shade would be a dark red, like burgundy.

Hue color example

The following colors are examples of hues:

  • Red
  • Red-orange
  • Orange
  • Orange-yellow
  • Yellow
  • Yellow-green
  • Green
  • Green-blue
  • Blue
  • Violet
  • Purple

What color is not a hue?

White, gray, and black are colors that aren’t hues. Technically, white, gray, and black aren’t even colors: they are values. All actual colors have a hue.

Is red a color or hue?

Red is both a color and a hue.

Is white a color or a hue?

White is neither a color nor a hue; it’s a value.

Easy, wasn’t it? I wrote another article about the differences between hue saturation and value explained.

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See you next time,

♡ Laura

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