Color Theory for Marketers Part 2 – Do You Speak the Language of Color?

by Donna DeLeo – ETMG Designer and Art Director

Have you ever struggled to communicate clearly about color with your designer? Perhaps a color doesn’t seem to resonate or appear to fit the company persona yet you’re unable to articulate what it is about that particular blue.

Understanding some basic terminology—physical properties that allow us to distinguish and define colors—will provide you with a framework for your next conversation around color.

Let’s look at seven color properties and their meaning:


Hue is the most common name of a color such as red, blue, green, etc.

When we need to be even more descriptive, we can do so by using two hue names in combination. For instance the green shown below is more accurately described as “yellow-green”.  The blue is better described as a blue-purple.

Yellow-green and blue-purple

Chroma is the purity of a color.

Colors with a high chroma have not been diluted with black, white or gray. These colors (shown below) appear very vivid and well…pure. Colors with a high chroma are exhilarating and attract attention, by and large making them good choices for advertising to teens or young adults. Frequently, chroma is confused with saturation; however, they refer to two distinct situations, as we will explain.

Example of colors with high chroma

Saturation refers to the strength or weakness of a color.

Saturation can also be referred to as the intensity of a color. In the row below the colors are different hues of the same saturation or intensity. Pastel colors such as these have low or weak saturation and tend to produce a calming environment.

Example of different hues with the same low intensity

The second example below shows color of the same hue (blue,) but different levels of saturation or fullness. The pale blue on the far left has a weaker saturation than the navy blue on the far right with a strong, full saturation.

Example of same hue represented in different saturations

Value refers to how light or dark a color is.

Lighter colors have higher values. For example yellow has a higher value than navy blue. Black has the lowest value of any color, and white the lightest. Generally speaking, when applying color values to your design, using high contrast values typically result in more aesthetically pleasing designs.

Example of hues with high value and low value

You might also hear your designer refer to tints, tones and shades.

Quite simply, a tint is created by adding white to a color; making it lighter than the original. Tones are created by adding gray to a color’ making it duller than the original; and shades are created by adding black to a color, making it darker than the original.

Examples of tint, tone and shade

To sum it up, as a marketer, the more you know about color, the better you can use it to meet the goals of your next project. By mastering these basic concepts you will develop a richer color vocabulary, better articulate your color preferences, and ensure you and your designer our speaking the same language… of color.


Adams Morioka and Terry Stone, Color Design Workbook: A Real World Guide to Using Color in Graphic Design (Rockport Publisher, 2006)

Gunter Wyszecki, Color. (Chicago: World Book Inc, 2006)

Further Reading:

Color Theory for Marketers – How to Create a Winning Palette for Your Next Project

If Content is King, Typography is the Jack of All Trades

Photography’s Rule of Thirds and Why It Works

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