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color-ama color basics for the home decorating newbie by Yee-Fan Sun | 1 2 3 4
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a brief glossary of color terms
Design and decorating magazines can get hopelessly jargon-y in talking about color, making something as simple as choosing what color to slipcover your hand-me-down futon seem way more difficult than it actually needs to be. Here are some words you might find bandied about as you wade through the expert advice. Donít get too hung up on them. The technical terms arenít all that important, but getting comfortable with the lingo can be useful in easing the intimidation factor, and opening your eyes to the vast variety of colors that are out there.

hue: Hue is the basic pure color; this is what most of us are talking about when we talk about color Ė red, orange, yellow, blue, green, violet Ö you get the picture.

saturation: This describes the intensity of a color; think of this as how much color is in your color. A vibrant tomatoey red, for example, would be considered a lot more saturated a red than a muted brick red. Bear in mind that saturation is not the same thing as darkness; a terracotta pot is darker than the skin of a ripe orange, but the orange is far more saturated. The more saturated the color, the more punch itíll pack.

value: Value deals with the darkness or lightness of a color, which is affected by how much white or black has been mixed into a given hue. Related to value are the terms tint (how much white is in a color) and shade (how much black is in a color). Unless youíre going to become a serious color theory geek, thereís no real need to distinguish amongst these last two terms. Lighter-value colors tend to be more subtle; darker-value colors tend to be richer.

freewheeling: the color wheel
Youíve probably seen it before: that pretty circle of rainbow colors. Amongst those who like to obsess over all things color, itís known as the color wheel, and getting acquainted with it is a good first step towards understanding how different colors relate to each other.

The color wheel is basically composed of three different sets of colors. At its core are the primary colors we all learned about in elementary school -- the olí red-yellow-blue -- which canít be generated by mixing other colors together. Next up are the secondary colors -- green, orange, and violet -- which you get by mixing the primaries. Lastly there are the tertiary colors, which are the lovely in-between colors you get by mixing primaries with secondaries.

Truth be told, however, Iíve never found the primary/secondary/tertiary distinctions to be all that important or useful in choosing my color schemes. All you really need to know about the color wheel is this: colors that sit close to one another on the color wheel look more similar; ones that sit farther away look more different. So, if you want colors thatíll blend together subtly, you should choose colors that sit close together on the color wheel; when youíre looking for a color that will pop dramatically against another, youíll choose one that sits far away from it. Easy-breezy, no?

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