A complete guide to monochromatic color + 10 tips

If you need a visual to help you understand this concept, imagine those splashes of paint color at the hardware store. They are a perfect example of a monochromatic color wheel. They stick to a hue and show the gradation of its different intensities.

In this article, we’ll show you how to use monochrome in your designs and impress your audience with an outstanding application of color theory. They won’t know you’re not a professional graphic designer and we won’t tell them.

What is a monochromatic color scheme?

monochromatic color explained

In the definition above, we explained that monochrome refers to a color scheme containing a single hue (like blue) in different shades. But what is a shadow? Often we hear the term hue used to describe colors, and that’s an honest mistake. Words like tone also get thrown around, and they’re not quite right either.

So here’s a cheat sheet on these color terms that will help you better understand the concept of a monochromatic color scheme.


Hue is a good synonym for colors. Hue refers to the colors we grew up learning about the color wheel and grabbing from our pencil boxes.


Tints are colors mixed with white (i.e. pastels). This is an important term to consider when thinking about monochrome, because adding white to a color is a way to vary its intensity without changing the hue.


The tones are colors mixed with gray. It’s another key term whenever you talk about monochrome, because adding gray to the color is another way to change the intensity and darken the hue.


Shades are colors with black mixed in. Adding black to a color is yet another way to vary the intensity in a monochromatic scheme.

Why use monochromatic colors in designs?

If you’re not a professional graphic designer, embarking on a creative project can be nerve-wracking. It’s completely understandable, but you have this. One of the best ways to start creating is to understand what looks good and why. So here are some reasons why a monochrome design works well:

This limits your color palette:

monochromatic color - limited palette

Busy or clashing color combinations can be hard on the eyes. Using a limited color palette – in this case, a single hue – helps keep your design consistent. One of the design challenges is having an overwhelming number of options at your fingertips. Sticking to one color can help counter this stress.

Help with brand awareness:

monochromatic color – example

The color blue, thanks to the branding of social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, has become almost synonymous with technology. You can create the same effect for your brand by using a color that your target audience will forever associate with your logo and other marketing materials.

Monochrome is classy:

It’s a value judgment, but the monochrome carries a certain refinement. Why? It resists drawing too much attention to itself and allows other visual and textual elements like shapes and fonts to stand out.

10 tips for using monochromatic colors

Even seasoned designers can use a tip once in a while. So whether it’s your first time around the color wheel or you have an MFA, check out this list of 10 tips to improve your use of monochrome colors:

Think before acting:

When generating a monochromatic color scheme, you are stuck with the base color you choose. So research your industry and how certain colors make people feel before launching an entire marketing campaign (or branding) around one in particular.

Try neutrals:

No, beige isn’t on the color wheel, but it’s the perfect understated hue for visually busy spaces like social media.

Try the texture:

You can create visual interest in a unique color scheme by using textured elements instead of flat, solid surfaces.

Increase the contrast:

When working with similar colors you will need to create differentiation between them. One way to do this is to contrast lighter and darker shades of the same shade against each other.

Don’t take it too seriously:

If you think your monochrome design could use a black line or white space, go for it. You don’t always have to stick with your chosen color if it gets in the way of you doing your best. Black and white outlines can help to clearly delineate elements.

Be bold:

Neutrals can be refined, but bright colors command attention. Plus, when you use them in a monochromatic scheme, you reduce the potential for busy visuals because you’re already working with a limited (albeit powerful) palette.

Enhance your design with photos:

blue monochromatic color

Look for monochrome stock images that work with your color palette. These can be useful for social media posts or to fill in visual gaps on your website. You can also filter photos with overlays of your scheme color.

Shapes can help:

Using shapes in your design gives you the option to color the block, or in this case, the shadow block. And don’t just stick to geometric shapes. Also add organic shapes and symbols to vary the space.

Add a splash of color:

Yes, another one Color. If you have a refined monochromatic design scheme, you can use bold or complementary colors from time to time. If you get the accent color right, this scheme can become your brand’s special look.

Shades of gray:

Grayscale isn’t technically monochrome because gray isn’t a color, but you don’t need to cut your hair. Grayscale is another neutral scheme that’s easy to replicate (it looks great in print media, for example) and can denote luxury.

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