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various hues of paint and paint brushes

The Difference Between Tints, Tones, Shades and Hues

 Tints, Tones, Shades and Hues


The terms tint, tone, shade and hue are all terms you hear frequently and have probably used often, but most people don’t really understand the difference between them.

To make it more confusing, different industries tend to use different definitions for these terms. As an artist it is important to understand what they are and how they can be achieved through paint mixing.

Knowing how to achieve a tint, tone or shade of a color will give your painting depth, and insure you don’t have odd looking shadows or highlights. For more about shading and highlighting read my post on shadows and highlights.

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color wheel showing basic hues


The term “hue” can be a little confusing when it comes to art. First of all, hue is any color on the color wheel. So blue, green, blue green, etc. are all hues. It also refers to the dominant color in a color family, so Indigo, Cobalt, Navy, Cerulean are all blue hues.

Black, white and gray are not hues (you won’t see them on a color wheel). In essence, a hue is a pure color without any black, white or gray added to it.

Secondly, you may see “hue” written on some of your paint tubes. Manufacturers often use the term “hue” when they produce cheaper grades of paint, such as student grades for example.

These paints have more filler and less pigment and are not as light fast as pure pigment. So you may see a student grade version of Cerulean Blue labelled as Cerulean Blue Hue for example. It just means the paint has more filler and less pigment.



Tints are achieved by adding white to a hue. The white paint lightens the hue and gives it a soft, tranquil appearance. What most people think of as pastel colors are a good example of tints.

When you want to mix a tint, start with white and gradually add your pure color until you get the tint you want. Adding color this way will prevent you from over-mixing and wasting paint.

Adding a tiny bit of white to a pure pigment can increase the opacity of transparent colors. So if you are painting with a yellow, for example and are having trouble getting good coverage you can add a tiny touch of white to make it more opaque or solid.

You could also under-paint the object with white to give you better coverage over a dark color. Be aware that adding white will desaturate the color somewhat so use it sparingly.


various tints of blue


Example: Mix white with a tiny amount of Ultramarine Blue. The result would be a pale blue.

You can gradually add more and more blue to the white to get a darker tint. This is a good method to use when painting blue skies or water to give variations in the overall color.


various tones of blue


Tones are made by adding grey to a hue. A pure grey, which is a mixture of only black and white, will tone down the brightness of any hue.

You can use different amounts of black and white to mix your grey. A larger portion of white will give you a paler grey and therefore give you a lighter tone when you add it to your hue.

If you use more black to get a darker grey you will get a darker tone when mixed with the hue.

shades of gray

I like to mix a variety of grays on my palette to use when mixing various tones in a painting. If you mix a lot of grays you can store them in craft jars or old baby food jars or something similar.

 craft cups

If you are using acrylics, lightly mist them with water and they should stay workable for a few days.

Be wary of using premixed grey’s from a tube. They can work well in some instances but for example, Payne’s grey contains a blue hue that will turn a red into mud.

When you buy a new tube of grey do a color swatch and see how it interacts with the other colors you have.


various shades of blue


A shade is a hue with black added to it to darken it. Black is a very intense pigment and can easily overpower the hue it is added to.

It is best to add black paint in very small, gradual amounts.

You can also create a shade by adding a darker hue to your base color.

If you are adding shading to a painting, you can sometimes skip the black + hue mixture and use darker pigments such as burnt umber or payne’s gray for your shading depending on what is needed in your painting.

paint palette with tints, tones, shades and hues of paint



I hope this information was helpful. It all seems a bit technical but understanding the difference between tints, tones, shades and hues will help you choose the right colors for your artwork and give you beautiful blended shadows and highlights.

Doing a monochrome painting (using only one hue) is a great way to explore the various tones, tints and shades you can achieve with a hue. They are also a lot of fun to paint. 😊

If you have any questions or suggestions leave them in the comments below. You are also welcome to join our private Facebook group Trembeling Art Creative Corner where you can share your work and get feedback and advice. I hope you will join us.


Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly





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