Value (Tint, Tone or Shade) Value is one of the many characteristics of color. It describes the lightness or darkness of a shape or object. Variations in light and dark values create patterns. Our vision uses these patterns to determine one shape or object from another, even in low lighting conditions when we cannot determine the hue or color. Value also conveys mood or lighting conditions. For example, values with little contrast evoke a different feeling than values with extreme contrast.


A tone is a single color swatch or shade of gray, which may be compared to another tone or a single step on a value scale. Tones can be light, dark, or in between. A tint is the lighter version of a tone, and a shade is the darker version of the tone. A gradation is a gradual change from one tone to another, depicting an object's volume, three-dimensional characteristics, or shape. Gradual changes in value create the illusion of a 3D object on a 2D surface.


Value is the lightness or darkness of a color.

A gradation is a minute change in value over several tones. It allows us to visually sense what we see when light falls onto a round or curved object, and the surface turns away from the light source. Soft lighting creates a gradual gradation. Harsh lighting creates a dramatic change in gradation.

Tint, Tone, & Shade

TONE is a single-color or color swatch with an individual combination of color characteristics. Each has a unique combination of hue (color), value (light or dark), intensity (brightness or dullness), and temperature (cool or warm). Note that tone is sometimes defined as any color or hue mixed with gray. In charcoal or pencil drawings, there are only gray tones.

The Vocabulary of Value

SHADE is created from any tone with the addition of black or dark (in a drawing, it would be a darker mark or darker pencil).

TINT is any tone mixed with white (in drawing, it would be the lighter marks or the paper's white).

Value Scale

A 'VALUE SCALE' or measuring device is used to help determine a single tone's lightness or darkness. The human eye can distinguish many values, but it is generally only necessary to represent 9 in the 2D visual arts. Next to other tones in context, a value scale has a TONAL RELATIONSHIP. Each tone relates to another, getting darker or lighter in equal increments. A complex scale may contain as many as nine to eleven distinct tones. Any scale can be simplified into six, five, or even three tones.

Value Scale or Gradation with 11 tones

Mixing colors with white may dull the color intensity. However, don't confuse brightness with lightness. Intensity is the brightness or dullness of a tone. Value is the lightness or darkness of a tone relative to its surroundings.

Simplifying Value

A complex value scale may contain as many as nine to eleven distinct tones, as shown above.

Any scale can be simplified into six, five, or even three tones. Light or dark shapes may be simplified using only two tones until the shapes are clearly defined.

Value Scale in Six Steps

Values may also be grouped into light and dark.

Light vs. Dark.

Natural Values

Hue affects the value of a single tone. Before being mixed with other colors, pigments straight out of the tube are at their highest intensity or chroma and have a pre-existing value. It is called a 'NATURAL VALUE,' apparent when placed next to different colors.

For example, yellow is generally lighter than other hues on the color wheel. Only a few colors can be mixed to make it lighter. Purple or Violet is generally on the dark side compared to other colors. As shown below, Orange, green, red, and blue are usually somewhere in the middle.

Every hue already has a natural value.

The Contrast Effect

Value is relative to its surroundings and can be deceiving. The horizontal strip of gray is the same tone across the background of tonal relationships. 

The Contrast Effect

A single tone induces lightness or darkness upon other adjacent tones and is mutually affected in return. It creates an optical illusion called the 'CONTRAST EFFECT.' Even though the middle strip of grey is one single tone, it appears lighter on the dark side and darker on the light side.

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