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Color Theory for Quilters - Tones

In the first article of this series on Color Theory for Quilters, we talked about how to begin to read the Color Wheel. We recognised the 12 pure colors on the wheel and how they are positioned on the wheel. We also discussed the relationship between each of these colors.

If you would like to refresh your memory Click Here

In the second article of this series we investigated the first variations of the Pure colors – the Tints.

If you would like to refresh your memory Click Here

Now, let’s explore the second of the three variations of the 12 pure colors. The Tones.

Here’s a horizontal visual view of the 12 pure colors and their names and their places on the wheel.



The second variation of the pure colors are the TONES. Put simply, tones are pure colours with grey added to make them subtle. Tones are also often referred to as dusky, dirty, dull, muddy or muted. I recently had a student suggest antiqued as a good description of a tone. When the object needs to be “toned down”, we mean to reduce it’s appearance, sound etc.

In your mind imagine a paint pallette that is loaded with grey. Take the pure color of blue. What do you think will happen if you add grey to the blue? The color that we know as dusky blue will be made!

PROBLEM: In the world of color as we know it, there are probably many hundred different names for the color dusky blue and this creates a problem for us when we try to identify colors.

SOLUTION: To be able to identify color variations easily, we refer to the tonal variation of Pure Blue as Blue Tone.

So let’s look at what happens to each of the 12 pure colors, when grey is added, and they become tones.




Some colors simply become duller versions of themselves, and other colors change to almost new colours. But it is important to remember that each of the pure colours, when toned become muted colors.

Interestingly, the most common co-ordinating colour that goes with these tones is gray because gray is contained in all the tones.

In your mind’s eye, imagine a soft antiqued quilt containing the colors of dusky blue, dusky pinks and other muted colors. You wouldn’t add black or white to this quilt, but you would add gray. This is because gray is contained in all the tone colours.

That concludes this article on one of the variations of pure colors – the tones. The next article will explore the third and final variation of pure colors – the shades.



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