Warm and Cool Colors Explained -And Why it Matters


As you begin your foray into painting or decorating you may hear a great deal about warm and cool colors and wondered what it all means. In other words, colors have a “temperature” to them.  Understanding how that works is essential to developing your skills.

So what exactly are “warm” and “cool” colors in a nutshell? Well let’s go back to the good ol’ color wheel again. If you remember from my previous talks on color theory, colors have a relationship with each other and the key is to master a harmonious one between them as you work. Simply put,

Cool colors: Green, blue, violet, purple
Warm tones: Dark red (e.g. burgundy) red, orange, yellow

warm vs cool colors

The effects of color on people’s moods is purely psychological and emotional. “Cool” colors are associated with industries and professionalism. They help create a feeling of serenity, comfort, and stability. If you’ve ever read up on color analysis, you may have heard green tones described as emoting feelings of connection to nature, health, wealth, and clarity in thinking. My late husband told me one time that a “fun fact” he heard once is that most institutions of learning are painted in a light green.

That was back when I was trying to decide on a new color to paint my office and I finally decided on “Key Lime Pie” a pale spring-green. I don’t know if it has helped me to feel smarter, but I like it a whole lot more than the previous color!

cool colors in art example

Examples of cool colors

“Warm” tones emit vibrance, enthusiasm, emotion and feeling. They have a way of creating ambiance, coziness and an inviting feeling. Think of a fireplace going or the warmth of sunlight to get an idea. I’ve noticed that a lot of coffee shops I’ve been in tend to be decorated in warm tones. Which comes as no surprise as they have a way of drawing you in.

I do tend to paint a great deal in warm tones. You can see a good example here. It is the same painting I wrote about displaying in this post. You’ll also notice that whole room has been enhanced with warm tones to accentuate it – dark red, orange, dark yellow, brown. “Pure” orange is a highly vibrant color, so I use it sparingly.Well, my cat seems to be quite relaxed, lol…

warm tones example

When you start to combine colors, you’ll soon find out that the resulting shades are not always easily pegged into a “warm” or “cool” category. Take for example, spring green, which is made with a mixture of yellow and green (and possibly white)

In that case, we can call the resulting color a “warm tone with a cool bias” or vice versa depending on what the greatest amount of the color that was added is. Hypothetically if I begin with red , a warm color and add a smidge of blue (cool) you could say that I have created a new color that is cool with a warm bias.

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warm and cool tones

Two particular shades of brown you may be familiar with burnt umber and burnt sienna. You may recall that the latter has a slight reddish undertone to it. You would therefore call burnt sienna a warm variation of brown. Hopefully I’m making sense?

As you work, it will, more and more, so become familiar with your palette, get mixing your colors, the best route to understanding cool and warm tones is experimentation!


Updated: 08/17/2023 — 2:14 PM

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