Practical Guide: Hue, Saturation, Brightness in Design
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is hue in design?
  2. How to use hue in your designs
  3. What is saturation in design?
  4. How to use saturation in your designs
  5. What is brightness in design?
  6. How to use brightness in your designs
  7. Why hue, saturation, brightness matters in design
  8. Practical examples of hue, saturation, brightness in design

Imagine you're painting a picture. Now, what's the first thing you think about? If you're like most people, it's probably color. In the world of design, color is a key player too, and understanding how to use hue, saturation, and brightness is a game-changer. But don't worry—this isn't about memorizing color wheels or technical jargon. It's about gaining practical knowledge that'll help you make more informed design decisions. Let's start by exploring hue, the first component of our color trio.

What is hue in design?

So, what exactly is hue? In the simplest terms, hue is what we commonly refer to as "color". Red, green, blue, yellow—these are all hues. It's the component that gives a color its identity. Think of it as the first name in a color's full name. For instance, in 'light blue', 'blue' is the hue.

Let's say you're planning to design a poster for a summer beach party. You'll probably lean towards hues that evoke feelings of warmth and joy—like orange or yellow. On the other hand, if you're designing a logo for a tech startup, you might choose cooler hues, like blues or greens, to convey a sense of innovation and trust.

Here are a few things to remember about hue:

  • Hue is the core identity of a color. It's the 'red' in 'dark red' or the 'blue' in 'light blue'.
  • Every hue carries its own emotional weight. For example, red often signifies passion or intensity, while green can symbolize growth or tranquility.
  • Using hue effectively can set the mood for your design. Just think about how different a sunset would look if it was green instead of orange!

Now that you've got a handle on what hue is, you're well on your way to understanding how to use hue, saturation, and brightness in your designs. Stick around as we delve into the next component—saturation.

How to use hue in your designs

Now that you understand what hue is, let's talk about how to use it effectively. Using hue right can make your designs not just visually stunning, but also emotionally resonant. Here's how:

1. Pick the right hues for the emotion you want to invoke: Remember, each hue has its own emotional weight. So, if you're designing a poster for a relaxing spa, you might want to use blues and greens to promote feelings of calm and tranquility. But if you're designing a logo for a fast food joint, you might go for reds and yellows to create excitement and stimulate appetite.

2. Use contrasting hues to make key elements stand out: If you want to draw attention to a particular part of your design, use a hue that contrasts with the rest of your palette. For instance, if your design is largely blue, a dash of orange can make your call-to-action button pop.

3. Use complementary hues to create harmony: Complementary hues are opposite each other on the color wheel, like red and green, or blue and orange. When used together, they can create a pleasing balance in your design.

4. Be consistent with your hues: If you're working on a collection of designs—for a brand, for example—using consistent hues can help create a unified look and feel.

As you can see, understanding how to use hue isn't just about picking pretty colors—it's about using color strategically to communicate your message and evoke the right emotions. But hue isn't the only player on the color field. Let's move on to saturation, the next key component in our trio of how to use hue, saturation, and brightness.

What is saturation in design?

Let's turn our spotlight to saturation. If hue is the personality of a color, then saturation is its intensity. It's all about how pure or vibrant a color is. Picture a bright, vivid red—that's high saturation. Now imagine that same red, but faded and washed out—that's low saturation.

Saturation can be a real game-changer in your designs. It can add depth, create mood, and guide the viewer's eye. Just like hue, saturation isn't about making things look pretty—it's a tool you can use to tell your design story. And just like our friend hue, knowing how to use saturation is a key part of mastering the art of design.

But how exactly do you use saturation? Let's get to that in the next section. Prepare for the next exciting chapter of 'how to use hue, saturation, and brightness'.

How to use saturation in your designs

So, how do you make saturation work for you in your designs? It’s simpler than you think.

First things first, remember that saturated colors are bold and attract attention. Use them when you want to highlight important elements in your design. For instance, a 'Buy Now' button in a vibrant red will catch the viewer's eye quicker than a pale one.

On the other hand, less saturated colors—those faded, washed out colors we talked about—can add a vintage or retro feel to your designs. They can also create a sense of calm and tranquility. If you're designing a wellness blog, for example, you might want to lean towards these less saturated, more soothing colors.

But, here's the catch—balance is key. Too much saturation can overwhelm the viewer, while too little can make your design seem dull. The trick is to find the right balance that works for your specific design. And remember, it's okay to experiment. Design is a journey, not a destination!

So, now that you know how to use saturation in your designs, are you ready to take on brightness? Let's go!

What is brightness in design?

Let's dive into brightness, the third amigo in our color trio. If you've ever tried to read a book in low light, you know what brightness is all about. In design, brightness refers to how light or dark a color appears. It's like turning the knob on a dimmer switch—up for more light (higher brightness), and down for less light (lower brightness).

Think about a field of grass under the midday sun. The grass is bright green, right? Now imagine that same field at dusk. The grass still looks green but it's a darker, less bright shade. That's brightness in action!

But, here's an interesting fact—brightness is not about the amount of light a color reflects. It's about how our eyes perceive that light. Confused? Don't worry, you're not alone. Just remember this: Brightness is all about perception, not reflection.

Okay, that's enough theory for one day. Ready to learn how to use brightness in your designs? Let's do it!

How to use brightness in your designs

So, how can you make brightness work for you in your designs? Here are a few practical tips:

1. Set the Mood: Brightness is a powerful mood-setter. Bright colors can create an uplifting, energetic mood, while darker colors can evoke a more serious, contemplative tone. So, if you're creating a poster for a summer festival, you might want to crank up the brightness. But if you're designing a brochure for a luxury watch brand, you might want to dial it down a notch.

2. Guide the Eye: Our eyes are naturally drawn to bright areas in a design. You can use this to your advantage by making important elements brighter to attract attention. For instance, you could use a bright color for your call-to-action button to make it stand out.

3. Create Contrast: Contrast is key in design, and brightness is one of the easiest ways to create it. By using colors with different levels of brightness, you can make elements distinct from each other. This can improve readability and make your design more interesting.

4. Be Mindful of the Background: If you're using bright colors, it's usually a good idea to pair them with a darker background, and vice versa. This can help ensure that your design is easy on the eyes and that your colors don't clash.

Remember, learning how to use hue, saturation and brightness effectively takes time and practice, but with these tips, you'll be well on your way to mastering the art of color in design. So, why not give it a try on your next design project?

Why hue, saturation, brightness matters in design

Have you ever wondered why some designs just seem to 'pop' more than others? Or why certain logos are so instantly recognizable? More often than not, it's because of the clever use of hue, saturation, and brightness. Let's explore why this trio is so important in design.

1. Communication: Colors are more than just visual elements. They're powerful communicators. The hue, saturation, and brightness of a color can evoke specific emotions, associations, and responses. For example, a bright, saturated red hue might be used to convey urgency or excitement, while a muted, darker blue might suggest trust and reliability.

2. Hierarchy: By adjusting the hue, saturation, and brightness of different elements in a design, you can create a visual hierarchy. This helps guide the viewer's eye to the most important parts of your design. So, if you want to highlight a particular section of your webpage or brochure, playing around with these color properties can help.

3. Readability: The right balance of hue, saturation, and brightness can significantly improve the readability of your design. For instance, high contrast between text and background color (achieved through differences in brightness) can make your content easier to read.

4. Brand Recognition: Consistent use of specific hues, saturation levels, and brightness can lead to instant brand recognition. Think of Facebook's blue or Starbucks' green - they've used the same colors so consistently that they're instantly linked to their brand.

In essence, understanding how to use hue, saturation, and brightness isn't just about making your designs look pretty. It's an essential part of effective visual communication. So next time you're working on a design project, remember to give this dynamic trio the attention they deserve.

Practical examples of hue, saturation, brightness in design

Let's dive right in and look at some real-life examples of how hue, saturation, and brightness can make or break a design.

1. Apple's iOS Icons: Ever noticed how app icons on your iPhone are so pleasing to the eye? That's no accident. Apple uses a broad range of hues to differentiate apps. They control saturation and brightness to make sure that the icons are vibrant, yet easy on the eyes. This smart use of hue, saturation, and brightness not only makes the user interface visually appealing but also improves the user experience by making it easier to distinguish between different apps.

2. Google's Material Design: Google's Material Design language is another great example of hue, saturation, and brightness at play. Material Design uses different shades (a result of changing brightness) of the same hue for different elements of an interface. This creates a unified, cohesive look while also establishing a clear hierarchy.

3. IKEA Catalogue: IKEA's catalogues are well known for their use of bright, saturated colors. The primary blue and yellow hues are instantly recognizable, creating a strong brand identity. At the same time, they use less saturated colors and different levels of brightness in their product images to ensure that the products, and not the colors, are the focus.

4. Monet's Water Lilies: Even in fine art, the principles of hue, saturation, and brightness are essential. Claude Monet's famous Water Lilies series shows a masterful use of these elements. By subtly changing the hue, saturation, and brightness of the colors, Monet was able to create depth, mood, and a sense of time in his paintings.

These examples clearly show that understanding and skillfully manipulating hue, saturation, and brightness can have a significant impact on a design. Whether you're designing a user interface, creating a brand identity, or even painting a masterpiece, knowing how to use hue, saturation, and brightness can take your work to the next level.

If you found our practical guide on hue, saturation, and brightness helpful and want to extend your understanding of color in design, don't miss out on learning from our 'Daisie Original Animation Course' with none another than Alex Jenkins who will you take you through his complete animation process. Dive in and take your animation skills to the next level!