arts and crafts

Pastel vs. Muted Colors: Pros and Cons

Colors play an important role in the overall feel you want to achieve in your artwork. Often, when colors first come to mind, we automatically think of bright, vivid colors. There is no doubting the energetic and positive vibes that bright colors inspire; however, there is a certain understated power that is often overlooked when it comes to pastel colors and muted colors. Pastel colors can sometimes be described as muted colors, but distinct differences do exist. Using a muted color palette in your art designs may seem difficult to handle. With the right technique, you can use muted and pastel colors to create vibrant and sophisticated artwork.

The Color Theory Behind Muted and Pastel Colors

To better understand the difference between pastels and muted colors, we must first understand the following terms in color theory: hue, tone, and purity.
  • Hue refers to the actual wavelength that each color reflects. In other words, hue is the actual color that we see in our minds, without any tint or shade. Imagine the colors of a rainbow in your head. These are the hues of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
  • Tone refers to lightness or darkness. Lightness can be thought of as tinting a hue, and darkness can be thought of as adding shading to a hue. Think about the difference between sky blue and navy blue.
  • Purity refers to either the greyness or saturation of a hue or color. Highly saturated colors are seen as being vibrant and well-pigmented. The more saturated a color is, the purer it is considered. Consider the difference between a pure, fresh coat of paint and a faded or dirty one.
With these terms in mind, pastel color can be seen as a pure hue with a light tone, or a color that is tinted with white. Muted colors can be seen as either a pure hue with a dark tone added or as an impure color that has either grey added or is less saturated. You can create muted colors by adding any of the following to a pure color:
  • Black
  • Gray
  • Color complement
  • Earthy color
Sometimes these color terms are simplified. Pastel colors can be referred to as "tints", while muted colors can be referred to as "shades." Because pastel colors are considered to be less saturated colors, it is easy to see why they are easily confused with muted colors.

The Psychology Behind Pastel and Muted Colors

The smart use of color can have powerful effects on your audience or even yourself. Color can be used to evoke certain feelings. If you understand the color psychology of the colors you are using, you will have the ability to inspire emotions in a subtle but effective way. Pastel colors usually inspire soothing feelings and remind us of new beginnings, like a newborn or springtime. Muted colors can also inspire a calming effect; however, many view muted colors as exuding a boring or even sluggish feeling, much like that rainy day feel or Monday blues. As you read this, it's easy to envision pastel yellows or pinks at a baby shower or a grey-blue sky during a sleepy, cloudy day. Colors can easily affect how we feel, but is it possible for pastels and muted colors to be used for more vibrant things? Of course!

Boosting Artwork with Muted Colors

If you use all bright colors to create a scene, it can be difficult to direct your attention to one specific aspect of your picture. This is not a bad thing at all. Perhaps your goal is solely to create an energizing art craft. Using all bright colors is perfect for this aim. But if you want to direct your audience to a specific focal point in your artwork, using muted colors is the ticket. Blending muted colors with vivid colors allows for a more even visual distribution of colors, creating color harmony. If a piece of work is full of all vivid colors, the effect can be jarring to the eye and colors will compete for attention. Nothing can stand out in a piece with all vivid colors. It will be difficult to focus on any particular thing in that piece. Muted colors can be used as the background for vivid colors to direct the audience where to look. They provide contrast for bright colors to stand out. Muted colors can also be used together in a way to allow other muted colors to stand out. You do not always have to pair shades with bright colors to create a vibrant piece. Mixing muted colors together can create the same eye-catching effect.

Boosting Artwork with Pastels

Because of the calm feel that pastels exude, you can use them as background colors to showcase a photograph or illustration. Using pastel as the background color is a great way to provide color without overwhelming your audience. Like muted colors, you can use pastel colors to draw your audience's attention toward a specific picture. To add playfulness to a design, you can also draw words in pastel colors to inject more color without the garish feel of bright colors. When used with the right technique, pastel colors can deliver sophistication and glamour without that baby-centric feel.

Mastering the Muted Colored Palette

The only limitation of pastels and muted colors is perhaps our infrequent use of these colors. It can be difficult to use pastels and muted colors all the time if we only consider the initial feelings that these colors evoke. Pastels can seem too "feminine" for some, while muted colors can seem too "dull" for others. While your initial thoughts surrounding these colors are not necessarily a bad thing, they can limit the subtle powerfulness of these colors. When we blend pastels and muted colors with other mediums or bright colors, we can create an almost endless amount of styles and emotions. You can balance muted colors with vivid colors to create modern or edgy facades. You can use pastels with photographs and paintings to create a vintage feel. You can even use muted pastel colors as neutral hues to design household crafts!

Opening Our Minds to All Colors

So the next time you grab a new set of art supplies, don't just settle on the primary colors. Go out of your comfort zone and embrace those pastels or even those shades of grey. Using the full spectrum of colors and tones lets you express yourself in more fun and clear ways. At OOLY, we love color and we aim to share that love with people of all ages. Shop our gel pens and find new and exciting ways to add color to any project, plan, or craft!

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