What Are Chromatic and Achromatic Colors?

Illustration of toy windmills in chromatic and achromatic colors

Chromatic and achromatic colors are groups of colors that can create a specific look or feel whether you use them in art, photography, or interior design. Saturation is a determining factor in distinguishing one from another. The intensity and vividness of a color is created by the saturation. The absence or presence of saturation determines whether a color is chromatic or achromatic.

Chromatic colors are ones where there is only one particular wavelength that predominates. These would be colors like blue and green. They are referred to as pure colors. Achromatic colors have no dominant hue. They are the colors that contain all wavelengths in equal amounts such as white, black, and gray. Achromatic colors are considered to be shaded or tinted.

How Color Affects Us

In order to understand how chromatic and achromatic colors are used, you need to know how colors make us feel or react. How a color is used will have a psychological effect on people. The temperature of a color, the chromatic value, and the saturation all work into how each color makes you respond.

Color Temperature

Illustration of warm and cool color palette schemes

Color temperature is an attribute that is found across the color spectrum. For example, what color do you associate with hot? What about ice? Did you say red and blue? Your answers are a result of nature and culture creating an association between these colors and our feelings.

Warm colors are found in the color spectrum from red to yellow. They include orange, pink, and burgundy as well. These warm colors are often associated with the sun or fire. They are frequently used to indicate motion and heat. Keep in mind that when you work with these, warm colors will dominate when placed next to cool colors.

Cool colors include green to blue in the color spectrum as well as violet. Cool colors have a calming effect that is often used to reduce tension. They work wonderfully as a background color, as they appear to recede rather than overpower when it comes to interior design, photography, or when creating advertising pieces.

While violet is categorized as a cool color, it can be a bit tricky. A violet that is closer to blue feels cool. On the other hand, a violet that is closer to red can feel warm. Remember this when you work with shades of violet. It can be used as a warm or cool color, depending on the exact hue.

Chromatic Value

Illustration displaying chromatic value of the color blue

Chromatic value is the measure of light or darkness in a color. Tint is created by adding the achromatic color white. Shade comes from adding black. Chromatic value impacts how you feel when you see a particular color. For example, chromatic value is often used to represent the time of day. This is a trick used in advertising. A night club would use darker shades in their ads than a store with daytime hours.

Tint, on the other hand, is used to represent daytime as well as things like spring or childhood. This is why pastels are commonly used for baby items, but they can just as easily be used for grown-ups in certain situations. Lighter tints are ideal in hospital settings for their soothing effect. They also offer a bit of personality to an otherwise sterile location.

Color Saturation

Illustration explaining saturation of the color blue

Saturation is the intensity of a specific chromatic color. It is described as the purity or strength. Vivid, intense colors will stand out. Some colors can still draw attention, even if they are cool, with the use of saturation. Blue is an excellent example of this.

Adding an achromatic color such as gray, black, or white dulls or mutes a color. These muted colors are not as exciting or appealing, but they do serve a good purpose. Dull shades are used to provide a meditative feeling or dreamy mood.

Achromatic Color Schemes

Achromatic color wheel and palette for achromatic color schemes

You will find achromatic color schemes in many places. It is used in contemporary decorating, professional photography, and advertising. An achromatic color scheme offers a simplicity and cleanliness that you can only find with gray, black, and white combinations. After all, achromatic colors are neutral.

Interior decorators and homeowners alike use achromatic color schemes to make rooms look fresh and simplistic. An accent color is often used in conjunction with this color scheme. This pop of color is perfect for accessory items.

Selection of achromatic colored beauty products on white table

In the kitchen, white cabinets give the appearance of space. This is a trick often incorporated into small kitchens. Dark cabinets would be used to lessen the space in a room. Picture how dark cabinets can bring the eye down in a kitchen with high ceilings. The popularity of an achromatic color scheme in the kitchen has made materials like granite commonplace in decorating.

Bathrooms also utilize achromatic color schemes for a clean and fresh look. White and gray tiles and fixtures create the illusion of a large room without overwhelming the space.

Even a bedroom or living room can take advantage of the benefits of an achromatic color scheme. One of the most appealing benefits is the calming effect it has. This is ideal in an area created for resting. Many homeowners enjoy this, especially when black furniture is used to add a touch of elegance to the room.

Utilizing Chromatic Colors

Chromatic color wheel and palette for chromatic color schemes

Chromatic colors can help create a striking image. Monochromatic color schemes use one solid color in many shades to provide interest. While chromatic colors will work beautifully in photography, they can be found everywhere.

Blue is a chromatic color that evokes a feeling of serenity and calmness. It is commonly used in home decorating because, along with its relaxing properties, people love this color. Blue is associated with a relaxing mood because it reminds one of water. We seek out settings with water when on vacation. Beaches are quite calming, and who wouldn’t want to recreate that feeling in their own home?

Photograph using chromatic colors with girl in red jacket pointing in front of field at sunset time

Green is another commonly used chromatic color. It brings about the idea of vitality and growth. We associate it with plants and nature. Feng shui uses colors like green that are pulled from nature in order to maintain a positive energy. This makes green a good color for a study or business where one strives for growth. Due to green’s optimistic feel, use it sparingly in spaces used for relaxing.

If you want to create feeling the next time you are working with color, consider how chromatic and achromatic colors work. Use them on their own for a dramatic effect, or combine them in ways that will stir one’s emotions. With a little experimenting, the results will get you the reaction you are looking for.