Color Basics: Properties of color

Today we are going to look at the three properties of color. A color is composed of three parts; hue, value, and saturation. Understanding what these three properties are will help us understand the nature of color which will give us more control and flexibility when creating our art. 

<a href="" title="Red apple with water droplets">Red apple with water droplets</a>For example, when we look at a red apple we are seeing three properties that give us that particular red that we see. We see that it is a red but we also see that it is a dark red. We may also see that it is a strong red. We can break apart those distinctions we see into three different components. Those components are the properties of that color. We see the hue of the color is red. We see value of the color is dark. We also see that the red is very red or is a saturated red.

Let's take a look at those parts a little more closely.


This first one can be a bit confusing. A hue is the property of color that gives it the color we categorize it as. In our example above, the hue of the red apple is red. If we see something as the color blue then hue is blue. 

When we look at the color wheel, you can see that we have organized our colors by hue.


The second property of color is value. The value of a color is simply how light or dark that color is. If the color is light then it is high on the value scale. For example a pink would a light value color. If that color is dark, it is low on the value scale. Just like our apple is. 

This property is sometimes called brightness, depending on the tools you are working with or the people you are talking to. Here is a good example for those of you who paint in Photoshop. The HSB slider in color panel for the value is labeled B for brightness. You can see that it adjusts how light or dark the color is. When we adjust this slider we are adjusting the value.


Saturation is how pure or strong the color is in comparison to its original color. For example, we can have two different reds below the original red of the apple. 

Comparing the two color swatches to red the original red, we can see that one color swatch is closer to the original red and the other is closer to a neutral gray. The color that more closely matches the original color is a more saturated red. The other red is considered to be less saturated or muted.

Now that we have learned a little about the three different properties of a color, look around at the colors of the objects you see and try to determine the different properties of each color. First describe the hue. For example, is the object orange, red-orange, or yellow-orange? Then describe the value. Is the color a light or dark orange? Where does the color fall on the value scale? Then determine if it is a saturated color or a desaturated color. Does the color seem like it has a strong sense of color or does it feel more muted?