Color Characteristic of Intensity

Authored by Christy Olsen
3-minute read.

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

Color as Intensity

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 pigments or paints.

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

In painting, this is referred to as 'mass tone or 'top tone.' Each color's mass tone may vary slightly from one paint manufacturer to another, depending on their 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 mix it with another color.

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

Mass Tone


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 by neutrals. Impressionists used these color relationships to make their colors appear more vibrant! It creates an optical illusion called simultaneous contrast.

The Impressionists used a combination of intense colors combined with neutrals.
For example, if all of the colors in a painting are intense, nothing will appear that intense. This painting seems to be high chroma, but there are actually a lot of neutral colors used to surround the brighter colors, which create the illusion of bright color.

We create neutrals or "neutralize" a color by decreasing its intensity. There are several ways to do this. You can mix them with other colors or earth tones or use any following methods.

You can take any color and mix in or add white or black.
You can take any color and mix it in or add gray.
You can take any color and mix it in or add the color complement.

Chroma Scale

It 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 affects the color. You may have to add some white to create the perfect chroma scale. However, don't confuse brightness with lightness; that's the following characteristic of color' value.'

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