Achromatic vs. Chromatic Colors: Exploring the Color Spectrum

Chromatic and achromatic colors differ in hue, value, and saturation. Chromaticism refers to the full range of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Chromatic colors are bright, unlike dull and muted achromatic colors.

Chromatic Colors

Chromatic colors

A chromatic color contains a hue, which distinguishes it from neutral colors. Its colorfulness results from the dominant wavelength of light it reflects. Chromatic color schemes have primary colors like red, blue, and yellow. Secondary and tertiary colors are also chromatic colors.

Achromatic Colors

achromatic colors

Achromatic colors lack hue and are considered neutral. They include gray, black, and white. White colors contain all the wavelengths of light and reflect all colors equally. Black lacks any light wavelengths, which makes it lack color. Gray is an achromatic color that mixes black and white in different proportions.

Understanding Their Place in the Munsell Color System

The Munsell color system categorizes colors based on hue, chroma, and value. Chroma refers to the level of purity or saturation in color. A color chromatic scale ranges from zero (neutral color) to saturation point. Value is the lightness or darkness of a color.

The value scale ranges from 0 (pure black) to 10 (white). The scale represents chromatic and achromatic colors, with lighter values closer to white. Achromatic gray and other dark shades are closer to zero on the scale.

Hue is the actual color of an object. The Munsell color system positions each hue on a color wheel. The primary hues are red, green, blue, yellow, and purple. The chromatic color wheel also contains five intermediate hues: yellow-red, green-yellow, blue-green, purple-blue, and red-purple.

Value and Saturation in Chromatic Colors

Value and saturation define the lightness and colorfulness of a chromatic color. A color with a high value is very light, while a color with a low value is dark. For example, pink has a higher color value than navy blue or dark green.

Saturated hues are pure and bright chromatic colors. Value and saturation work together to create a wide range of colors. Adding an achromatic color (gray) to a bright, saturated color makes it subtle and subdued. Also, a dull, low-saturation color appears more vibrant by adding a touch of white, which also increases its value.

Differences Between Chromatic and Achromatic Colors

Achromatic vs. Chromatic Colors

Contrast in Tone and Vibrancy

Chromatic colors range from bright and vivid to deep, rich tones. But, achromatic colors are muted and lack hue. Achromatic color schemes consist of black, white, and gray hues. Dark gray contains more black than white. Light shades of gray are made by mixing more white into black.

Impacts on Perception and Emotion

Chromatic colors create a sense of energy and vibrancy. Achromatic colors bring balance and simplicity to a color scheme. 

Uses in Different Contexts

  • Branding: A chromatic color scheme is ideal for brands that want to communicate a sense of excitement, passion, and energy. Most brands use neutral background colors since they bring simplicity and sophistication.
  • Fashion: The choice between chromatic and achromatic colors in fashion depends on personal style. Bright and bold chromatic hues like red or yellow are eye-catching and serve as statement pieces. Achromatic colors are more suitable for a professional and elegant look. They are also combined with other colors and patterns.
  • Interior Design: Achromatic colors are simple, elegant, and timeless. They create contrast and depth in space when used in paintings and walls. A neutral color scheme creates a clean and uncluttered look. It’s applicable in an achromatic kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom. Chromatic colors act as a focal point in a room, such as a statement wall, painting, or patterned pillows.

Symbolic Associations

In color psychology, chromatic colors have different symbolic associations. For instance, yellow symbolizes happiness and optimism. Gold represents wealth, which makes it a popular choice for luxury brands. Achromatic gray is often associated with neutrality, boredom, and old age. Black symbolizes power and mystery, while white represents purity and peace.

Common Chromatic Colors


Analogous colors are positioned next to each other on the color wheel. Analogous color schemes consist of three to five harmonious and balanced colors. Examples include:

Orange, yellow-orange, and red-orange.


Complementary colors are located opposite each other on the color wheel. They have very high contrast when placed together due to their difference in hue. For instance, the complementary color to red is green.


A monochromatic color is a single hue that forms the base of a monochromatic color scheme. The color scheme uses different shades, tints, and tones of color. For instance, a monochrome green color scheme includes mint, lime, jade, and dark green.

Common Achromatic Colors

Black and White

Black lacks hue since it absorbs all light wavelengths. White objects reflect and scatter all visible light wavelengths, making them lack hue. Black and white blend with almost any color. They also combine to create a bold and dramatic look.


Grayscale is a range of gray shades, ranging from white to black. White is the lightest shade, and black is the darkest. A grayscale achromatic color contains shades of gray with no hue or saturation.


Sepia is a reddish-brown color achieved by adding a brown tint to black and white. Neutral color was popular in traditional photography. It creates a sense of age and timelessness in photography and design.

Chromatic Color Scheme in Brands

Using a chromatic color scheme helps create recognition and differentiation from competitors. Companies use a consistent color scheme for packaging, advertisement, website design, and more. Chromatic colors connect emotionally with customers, contributing to the brand’s success.

Achromatic Color Scheme in Brands

Neutral colors enhance the readability of a brand’s message on advertisements, product labels, and more. Using black and white also makes it easier for people with low vision or color blindness to read a message. Achromatic colors also convey simplicity and luxury, which makes them popular among high-end brands.