Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!

Value & Shape
What does it all mean? Let's explore with a good understanding of the concept of 'value.'

Any 2D image including drawings, paintings or photographs can be defined or described by shapes in a variety of contrasting values. 'Value' is a characteristic of color, it refers to the lightness or darkness of any single color swatch.

Tonal relationships, especially with a variety of values help us make sense of what we see in the world around us. Our vision uses the contrast of value to determine one object from another, especially in a low lighting situation when we cannot see the 'hue' or color.

Underneath every great painting is a contrast of light & dark values, otherwise shapes blend together. In this example, the original painting has a full range of values. In the second image, values are reduced to a limited value scale, using only mid-tones.

Without a full range of values, shapes appear to blur together, leaving little information for the viewer to distinguish one from another. A wider range of values is needed to convey this particular scene on a bright sunny day.

'Value' defines shape & form, not the brightness of dullness of the color or the hue. It's the lightness or darkness. Value does all of the work to distinguish shape & form but, hue gets all the credit!

Value does all the work but, hue gets all the credit!

When we first learn to draw, we ignore all of the other characteristics of color, except value. It helps us simplify the complex process of observation and allows us to focus on getting the shapes accurate before mastering color.


Achromatic literally means “no color” or “without color.” Graphite or charcoal drawings are 'achromatic' or without color, i.e. gray scale in black and white.


Monochromatic is the use of 'mono' or one hue or color only. White is mixed to lighten or 'tint' the color, black is mixed to darken or create a 'shade' of the color.

A monochromatic color scheme uses only one hue or color but needs a variety of lightness and darkness to convey shape to the viewer. Monochromatic color schemes naturally create harmony. In general, they are soothing, elegant and easy on our eyes.

Monochromatic color scheme


Chromatic means having color or multiple hues, relating to or produced by color. 'Chroma’ is the purity or intensity of color. It refers to the brightness or dullness of any color.

Color Characteristic Review

The characteristics of color include:

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