What’s the Difference Between Hue, Saturation, and Value?

colour wheel showing the difference between hues

Colour is one of the most fundamental aspects of our visual world and understanding the three main properties will have a huge impact on your yarn and fibre projects. Let’s get into the difference between hue, saturation, and value.

How Does Colour Work?

To understand the differences between hue, saturation, and value, we need to first understand how colour works. Colour results from light interacting with our eyes and surrounding objects. When light interacts with an object, some of it is absorbed while some is reflected. The light that is reflected in our eyes is what we see as colour.


Hue is the property that allows us to distinguish one colour from another. It is the colour we perceive, or the wavelength of light that is reflected or transmitted, such as red, blue, or green. We often use hue interchangeably with the term “colour.”

The colour wheel is a helpful tool for understanding hue. It arranges colours in a circle, with the primary colours of red, blue, and yellow at the center.

Primary colours from the colour wheel: Coastline (blue), Crushed Berry (Red), and Buttercup (Yellow)

Our Element Colour System Collection primaries: Coastline (blue), Crushed Berry (Red), and Buttercup (Yellow)

Then the secondary colours of orange, green, and purple fall in between the primaries because they are made by mixing primary colours together.

Colour wheel with blue, yellow, and red primary colours and green, orange, and purple secondary colours

From the Element Colour System Collection: Coastline (blue), Cilantro (green), Buttercup (yellow), Chili Pepper (orange), Crushed Berry (red), Huckleberry (purple)

Of course, you can keep mixing colours to create MORE colours in between. For example, in the Element Colour System Collection, we mixed Chili Pepper and Crushed Berry in different ratios to get Dragon Fruit (more red than orange) and Watermelon (more orange than red).

Hue is probably the most essential part of our self-expression. We’re always asked, “what’s your favorite colour?” That’s because it reflects emotion and feeling on a subconscious level. Warm hues like red, orange, and yellow are often associated with excitement, energy, and happiness, while cool hues like blue, green, and purple are associated with calmness, tranquility, and relaxation.


Saturation is a measure of how pure or intense a colour is, also called “chroma.” A colour with high saturation is bright, vibrant, and intense, while a colour with low saturation appears more muted, faded, or washed out. It’s how much of a colour’s hue is present.

It’s often measured on a scale of 0 to 100%, with 0 as the completely desaturated colour. If a colour is 100% saturated, it means there isn’t any white or black in it.

For example, if you imagine a bright red tomato, that is a highly saturated red. If you were to add some white to that red, you would decrease the saturation and end up with a pinkish-red colour. Similarly, if you were to add black to that red, you would decrease the saturation even more and end up with a darker, more muted red.

All of the colours in the Ethereal Collection are the same colours as the Elixir Collection, but they are simply a low-saturation version of the Elixir hues. Moonlight is a low-saturated version of Stormy Night. If you were to combine them into a project, you’d have what’s called a monochrome palette (same hues, different saturations).

High saturation blue yarn and low saturation blue yarn to show the difference between hue, value, and saturation

Stormy Night (left, Elixir Collection) and Moonlight (right, Ethereal Collection)

In terms of colour theory, saturation is measured as the distance from the center of the colour wheel to the edge. Colours closer to the center have low saturation, while colours at the edge have high saturation. It’s a really fun way to play with colour.


Value is the property that describes the lightness or darkness of a colour. A colour with high value is very light, while a colour with low value is very dark. White has the highest value and black has the lowest.

For example, a bright yellow sun or flower has a high value because it is very light and appears illuminated (and has a wonderfully cheery effect). A dark yellow shade, like whole-grain mustard, appears more muted. Orange has a higher value than navy blue; it’s a lighter colour.

Low value yellow compared to a high value yellow

Honey Gold (left, Elixir Collection) and Buttercup (right, Element Collection)

Saturation and value sound a lot like, but they are actually quite different.

  • Saturation refers to the purity or strength of a colour
  • Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour

By understanding these three properties of colour, you’ll be able to mix and match colours with a lot more ease. If you want to deepen your colour theory skills, be sure to check out Felicia’s FREE Colour Play course on the School of SweetGeorgia. Regardless of the technical terms, I encourage you to play with your yarn stash or swatches and see what hues and hue combinations you like. That’s the best way to discover colour.


About Tabetha Hedrick

Tabetha Hedrick is a knitwear designer and writer raising a family just outside the Great Smoky Mountains in Eastern Tennessee. As the Design Director for SweetGeorgia Yarns, her days (and heart) are filled to the brim with knitting, art, writing, editing, planning, and finding ways to put it all together. In the midst of that fibre-filled life, you'll find her living simply in the sweet spot where creativity, discovery, parenthood, and life intertwine.

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