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Understanding colour tones


Published: 04/12/2012


Since most colours are derived from mixing various other colours (orange equals red plus yellow), there is a certain
amount of ‘ghosting’ that can occur. This is called undertone and it can dramatically alter the resulting colour. Here’s how to ensure undertone doesn’t undermine your decorating.


Practice discerning undertones by analyzing colours closely. See if you can see a yellow undertone in a red-orange terracotta pot. Once you identify the undertone, you could use other yellow tones beside the terracotta, confident they will blend harmoniously.


Learn to identify the tone of a colour as well; this refers to the warmth or coolness of a colour. A warm blue will likely contain some red, which makes it more plum; a cool green will contain some blue, making it more aqua.


Consider undertones carefully when choosing a wall colour. If you love green but want the effect to be subtle, you can
choose a white or grey with a green undertone.


Be ready to make mistakes. In order to give colour its proper, liberating role, be prepared to invest in several paint


Colours that are directly opposite on the colour wheel are complementary. Don’t emphasize an unwanted undertone by
pairing it with its complement. This will only intensify the problem.


Neutrals can have undertones, too, and grey is especially vulnerable to manipulation. To determine which undertone is
present in a grey paint chip, compare it to a true grey, which has no colour, only black and white.


Strong clashing undertones can react with each other. A bluish white next to a yellowish white might look garish and


Kimberley Seldon Design Group is a full-service design, build and decorate firm. For more information, visit

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