January 29, 2019

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!
Value & Shape

Achromatic, Monochromatic and Chromatic, Oh My!

What does it all mean? Let's explore with a good understanding of 'value.'

Any 2D image, including drawings, paintings, or photographs, can be defined or described by shapes in various contrasting values. 'Value' is a characteristic of color. It refers to the lightness or darkness of any single color swatch.

Tonal relationships, especially with various values, help us understand what we see in the world around us. Our vision uses the contrast of value to determine one object from another, especially in a low lighting situation when we cannot see the 'hue' or color.

Underneath every great painting is a contrast of light & dark values. Otherwise, shapes blend together. In this example, the original painting has a full range of values. Values are reduced to a limited value scale in the second image, using only mid-tones.

Without a full range of values, shapes appear to blur together, leaving little information for the viewer to distinguish one from another. A more comprehensive range of values is needed to convey this particular scene on a bright sunny day.

'Value' defines shape & form, not the brightness or dullness of the color or the hue. It's the lightness or darkness. Value does all the work to distinguish shape & form, but hue gets all the credit!

Value does all the work but, hue gets all the credit!

When we first learn to draw, we ignore all of the other characteristics of color, except value. It helps us simplify the complex observation process, which allows us to focus on getting the shapes accurate before mastering color.


Achromatic literally means "no color" or "without color." Graphite or charcoal drawings are 'achromatic' or without color, i.e., grayscale in black and white.


Monochromatic uses 'mono' or one hue or color only. White is mixed with lightening or 'tint' the color, and black is mixed with darkening or creating a 'shade' of the color.

A monochromatic color scheme uses only one hue or color but needs a variety of lightness and darkness to convey shape to the viewer. Monochromatic color schemes naturally create harmony. They are soothing, elegant, and easy on our eyes.

Monochromatic color scheme


Chromatic means having color or multiple hues relating to or produced by color. 'Chroma' is the purity or intensity of color. It refers to the brightness or dullness of any color.