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The Values of Colors

If you have looked at Underpainting in 5 Values you may have wondered how to be sure that the colors you put down in the color stage match the gray values of your underpainting. Determining if a color mixture is the same value as a particular gray can seem daunting at first. The chart to the right can help explain how to determine the value (degree of lightness or darkness) of a color.

The vertical gray stripes behind the letters represent the values of a 9-step value scale. Each colored letter appears against each value. The value against which the letter seems to blend in (is most difficult to read) is the same value as that color.

For example, if you look at the orange O that is repeated from left to right, you will notice that against value 1 (white) the O is obviously a dark letter on a light background. If you look at the same exact orange O against value 9 (black) the O is obviously a light letter on a dark background. But against which gray does it almost blend in, seeming neither darker nor lighter than the background? If you scan your eye along the Os from left to right you can find the one value it matches - value number 4. So value number 4 is the grayscale equivalent of this particular orange. Try the same thing for the green G. It is most difficult to read against value 5. The blue B is most difficult to read against value 7. The magenta M is value 6. The yellow Y is value 2. The red R is value 5. The purple P is value 8. (If these don't seem correct to you, it is possible that your computer monitor shows the colors slightly differently than mine.)

It may help you to squint very slightly to quickly narrow down the possible values that are close to a particular color. Of course, this chart is not meant to say that green is always a value 5 - just this particular green on the chart. If you mixed some white into this green it would have a completely different (lighter) value equivalent.