Color as Intensity

'Intensity' otherwise known as 'Chroma' is a characteristic of color describing the brightness or dullness.

Brightness is the intensity or purity of a pigment or color. Don't confuse 'chroma' with 'saturation.' Saturation refers to the colors created by a computer monitor, rather than by pigments or paints.

Paint colors are at their strongest intensity when they are straight out of the tube.

In painting, this is referred to as 'masstone' or 'top tone.' Each color's mass tone may vary slightly from one paint manufacturer to another depending on their own proprietary recipe or the pigment concentration used.

Think uncontaminated color!

Straight out of the tube is the most intense a paint color will ever be before we dilute it with either a medium or mixed it with another color.

Anything diluting the original pigment concentration makes the color less intense.



Are duller versions of any color by comparison. Intensity appears to be influenced by adjacent colors and may appear brighter in certain situations!

Color appears to intensify when their color complements are next to each other! Bright colors will also appear brighter when surrounded with neutrals. The impressionists used these color relationships to make their colors appear more vibrant! It creates an optical illusion, called simultaneous contrast. 

The Impressionists uses a combination intense colors combined with neutrals.

For example, if all of the colors in a painting are intense, then nothing will appear that intense. This painting appears to be high chroma but there are actually a lot of neutral colors used to surround the brighter colors which creates the illusion of bright color.

We create neutrals or “neutralize” a color by decreasing it's intensity. There are several ways do do this. You can mix them them with other colors or earth tone or use any of the following methods.

You can take any color and mix in or add white or black.

You can take any color and mix in or add gray.

You can take any color and mix in or add the color complement

Chroma Scale

Is created with a gradation of two complementary hues from bright to dull to bright, with colors of full intensity at both ends of the scale and neutralized colors in between.

Chroma Scale created using color complements.

Creating a chroma scale will help you determine the intensity of your color mixtures using complements.

When creating the scale mixing colors with complements may darken your colors, making it hard to see how the complement is affecting the color, you may have to add in some white to make the perfect chroma scale. However, don’t confuse the brightness with lightness that's the next characteristic of color 'value.'

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